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With eye on China, India and Singapore vow to boost defence ties


India and Singapore on Wednesday signed an agreement to deepen maritime security cooperation in strategically key sea lanes and access each others naval bases, a move that comes in the backdrop of Chinas growing military manoeuvres in the Indo-Pacific region.

Nirmala Sitharaman and Ng Eng Hen

Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, after holding wide-ranging talks with his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman, said his country will provide its naval bases for refuelling and berthing of Indian ships, which will add teeth to Indias operational reach in Malacca Strait and nearby areas.

In a joint statement, the two sides said also called for ensuring freedom of navigation, in an apparent reference to Chinas aggressive behaviour in the resource-rich South China Sea.

The Malacca Strait is a narrow shipping channel linking the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and is considered very critical for global commerce.

The two countries also resolved to boost overall defence cooperation with a particular focus on combating terrorism.

The pact on naval cooperation provides for increased engagement in the maritime security sphere, joint exercises, temporary deployments from each others naval facilities and logistics support.

Under provision of the pact, India will provide logistics support to Singapore include live firing drills in the Andaman.

"India and Singapore remain strongly committed to tackle the transnational security threats," Sitharaman said at a joint media interaction with Ng, noting that both sides agreed to ramp up overall defence cooperation.

The Singaporean defence minister called the talks "overwhelmingly successful and productive" and emphasised the need for concerted regional and global efforts to deal with terrorism and other challenges such as tackling chemical and biological weapons.

"We would encourage the Indian Navy to visit the Changi naval base more often," he said replying to a question on whether Singapore will provide logistics support to Indian war ships.

Referring to regional security scenario in the maritime domain, both ministers reaffirmed the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and trade consistent with international law, a joint statement issued after the talks said.

Appreciating Indias leading role in the Indian Ocean Region, Ng agreed to Indias proposal for continuous and institutionalised naval engagements in shared maritime space of the two countries, including establishing maritime exercises with like-minded regional and ASEAN partners.

However, Ng, speaking at a think-tank yesterday, had expressed Singapores reservation over the proposed quadrilateral coalition of India, the US, Japan and Australia.

Both sides also signed the revised Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) to further strengthen the longstanding defence relationship between the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Indian armed forces.

The joint statement said both ministers look forward to the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Singapore- India maritime bilateral exercise next year.

They welcomed the renewal of agreement between the air forces of the two countries earlier this year and look forward to the successful renewal of a similar pact between their armies, the statement said.

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