Source: PM Lee / Facebook

At the launch of a book dedicated on Singapore-India relations at NUS yesterday (7 Dec), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told everyone that Singapore was an early believer in India’s “immense potential” (‘Singapore an early believer of India’s potential, says PM Lee at launch of book on their relations‘).

He added that the book is a “timely reminder that to Singapore, India will always be a valued friend and partner”. He said, “I know these sentiments are reciprocated by our Indian friends, too. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Modi and his government to keep our relationship forward-looking, enterprising and substantial.”

In his address, PM Lee noted that it was his predecessor Goh Chok Tong who had sparked an “India fever” back in the 90s. At the time, Goh urged Singapore to start trading more with India and also investing there.

Today, India is a major player on the world stage, said PM Lee. “Debates on the major strategic issues of the day – climate change, WTO (World Trade Organisation) reform, security in the Indo-Pacific – are not complete without India at the table and playing a constructive role,” he added.

He said that the long-term future of India remains “bright and promising”.

He further noted that India’s PM Narendra Modi’s “Act East” policy has expresses his intention to unlock India’s full potential through greater openness and integration with the region, even though India decided to pull out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECP) agreement last year (‘India says no to joining huge Asia Pacific trade pact‘, 4 Nov 2019).

RECP was a trade agreement among ASEAN countries and 6 of its large trading partners: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand. This year, RECP was signed without India. But PM Lee hopes India will change its mind later.

He said, “In fact, India was on the minds of all the negotiators throughout the RCEP process, right till its very completion. The door will always be open to India.”

India’s “deep pool of intellectual talent” floods Singapore after signing of CECA

The 380-page book titled, “India On Our Minds”, features 50 essays by Singaporeans, including politicians, academics and even DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta. It also includes personal essays from former Singapore’s high commissioner to India, Karen Tan, with regard to her time in India between 2011 and 2013.

Ambassador-at-Large Prof Tommy Koh helped to edit the book while Goh Chok Tong was asked to write the forward.

Singapore’s ties with India are strong, substantive and broad-based today, Goh wrote. “I ‘infected’ Singapore with a ‘mild India fever’. The fever did not become full blown but I never lost faith in India.”

Goh added that the country has immense economic potential with a deep pool of intellectual talent and daring entrepreneurs, and can exercise a moderating influence in the ongoing strategic rivalry between the US and China.

It has been observed that after Goh ‘infected’ Singapore with a ‘mild India fever’, the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) was subsequently signed in 2005 between Singapore and India. After CECA was signed, it has also been observed that India’s “deep pool of intellectual talent”, as mentioned by Goh, began to flood Singapore’s job market quickly.

In 2013, Singaporeans working in the financial industry were already complaining about discriminatory hiring practices adopted by these “intellectual talents” working in Singapore. Things got so bad that then DPM Tharman and Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin had to call up some banks in Singapore to ask them to stop the practice of “hiring their own kinds”. This was revealed in Parliament by Minister Tan in 2013.

Minister Tan did not name the banks nor the nationalities of the hiring managers but many netizens have pointed that DPM Tharman and Mr Tan must have spoken to some of these foreign banks which were dominated by Indian nationals.

In Aug this year, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that another 47 companies with suspected discriminatory hiring practices have been placed on its Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) watchlist. The announcement came after the ruling PAP government lost another GRC and performed worse than it had anticipated in the recent GE.

Of the 47 companies, 30 are in the financial and professional services sectors. MOM revealed that all 30 of the financial and professional services employers have a “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities”. In one financial institution, almost three-quarters of their PMETs were of the same nationality and in another bank, almost two-thirds of the PMETs were also of the same nationality, MOM said.

And in a parliamentary speech on 31 Aug, West Coast GRC MP Ang Wei Neng recounted for the first time that he felt “like a foreigner in my own country” when he visited Changi Business Park prior to the coronavirus pandemic. He said that when he entered a lift, he noticed that the “well-dressed” people around him were “apparently foreigners” and speaking in a language foreign to him (‘MP Ang Wei Neng takes 9 yrs to feel like a foreigner in own country when visiting Changi Business Park‘).

In any case, Prof Koh said at the launch that the book has not shied away from sensitive issues, like CECA. “It would not be wrong to say the book contains 50 love letters to India. I should, however, inform High Commissioner (to Singapore Periasamy) Kumaran, that some of the letters are written by ‘loving critics’ of India,” he added.


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