Indian PM, Modi visits Singapore at PM Lee’s invitation

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his three-day official visit to Singapore today (31 May) at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Together with PM Lee, Mr Modi will start by attending a business event at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre today, featuring some of the fintech exhibits. Mr Modi’s three-year-old push to digitise India can open up a billion-strong market for Singapore’s fintech ventures, ST said.

Mr Modi will also be making a courtesy call on President Halimah Yacob at the Istana tomorrow (1 Jun). When Halimah became the Speaker of Parliament in 2013, Indian media, The Economic Times, described her as an ‘Indian-origin politician to become Singapore’s first woman Speaker‘, while The Hindu described her as an ‘Indian-origin politician to be Singapore’s first woman speaker‘. Halimah became the President of Singapore last year in a walkover at an Elected Presidency reserved for Malay candidates.

After calling on President Halimah, Mr Modi will hold discussions with PM Lee. It’s not known what will be discussed but ST alluded to a concern with regard to facilitating bilateral economic ties between the 2 countries – the 2005 Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

“The 2005 Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement is nearing the end of a second review but some knotty issues, like India seeking greater access in Singapore for its professionals and banks, have yet to be ironed out,” ST reported.

Tharman defends Singaporeans’ interests

Last year, at an economics forum organized by the Indian Finance Ministry, DPM Tharman defended Singaporeans’ interests saying that there must be limits to the movement of people between India and Singapore. Otherwise there will be less push for businesses to be more productive, and “more fundamentally, you become a society where people don’t feel it’s their own society”, he said. “This is a reality not just because of (President Donald) Trump in the US or Brexit in UK. It is a reality all over the world.”

Noting that a third of Singapore’s workforce is already made up of foreigners, he added, “It would be mindless to have an open border without any policy framework to govern and constrain the flow of people into your job market. It will not just be wrong politics but wrong economics.”

But it’s not known if PM Lee would override Tharman by agreeing to a greater flow of Indian professionals into Singapore in the interest of increasing “bilateral economic ties” between Singapore and India.

On Saturday (2 Jun), ESM Goh Chok Tong, the man who started a “mild Indian fever” in Singapore in the 90s, will personally call on Mr Modi. Mr Modi will also visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens where an orchid will be named in his honour.

MFA said the visit reflects the “close relations between Singapore and India”.

While relations between Singapore and India may be “close”, Singaporean PMETs, especially those in their 40s and 50s, continue to struggle to eke out a living in Singapore where costs continue to spiral upwards and “foreign talents” continue to flood in.

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