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Singapore : Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Remarks at the Singapore Symposium, 31 October 2017 at ITC Maurya.

I say friends because I can honestly say that when I look around the room, there are many old friends. When I say old, I dont mean the white hair variety although the fact that Gopinath Pillai refers to me as a schoolboy appearing before you as a judge; that was several decades ago. Nevertheless, it is an honour to be here and to participate in this Symposium. I was told to talk about India, Singapore and ASEAN: Shared History, Common Future. But you know nowadays, in the days of the Internet and Twitter, most people have attention deficits. So let me quickly run through the key points that I am going to make before I launch into the speech proper.

Basically, there are three key points that I want to leave with you. The first point I am going to deal with is on the transformation of Global Value Chains (GVCs). The second is on connectivity and the third is on the digital aspects of connectivity going forward. I want to preface my comments by saying I am not going to be politically correct. Some of the things I am going to say, I hope, would not cause a diplomatic incident but may not necessarily be politically correct for planners, both in Singapore and India. The reason why I am doing so is because if I am going to take up your precious time, I might as well make it worthwhile, if not provocative. So a little bit of excitement in the relationship.

Lets start first with situating our time and space. This is 2017. We have celebrated 25th anniversary of ASEAN-India relations this year and I want to say that in fact, within ASEAN, within Southeast Asia, Singapore has been a key advocate, a key champion for India and Indias engagement in Southeast Asia. Many times, people think of Asia, when they actually mean East Asia and they dont naturally think about South Asia links with the larger Asia.

I want to tell you that Singapore has always been a believer in Indias role in Asia and in ASEAN. I can say with all honesty that we have always spoken up for India, we have always encouraged India to engage us and we have always done our best to ensure that there is a seat at the table. Now, the next thing you have to ask me is why has Singapore done so? There are a variety of reasons: history, kinship, relations, culture, language, trade and politics. Lets start with history. We all know that India is a great ancient civilisation. You dont need a foreigner to come to India to tell you that. But it is a fact, and India is a great ancient civilisation that has left an inedible legacy on Southeast Asia. In fact, there was a time where Southeast Asia was even considered part of a cultural region known as Greater India. This was certainly way before partition and the political arrangements that have occurred in the 20th century.

Therefore India exerted a profound influence on us through trade and religious missions. Even the story of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam in Southeast Asia is intertwined with this narrative of the Indian engagement with Southeast Asia. Generations of Indian traders found fortunes on our shores. They were seeking spices, gold, silk, porcelain. In fact, there are even writings dating back to the 1st century AD, where Greco-Roman mathematician Ptolemy wrote on the region called the Golden Chersonese. For those of you who are not familiar with this, the Latin term was Chersonesus Aurea The Golden Peninsula. He was referring to the Malay Peninsula. In his writings, you can see evidence of early trade between India and China. Of course today, that route is often trademarked as the Maritime Silk Route. The point is that such activity was already happening, and we are not talking in terms of decades or centuries, but millennia.

I mention the impact of religion. Hinduism and Buddhism defined many ancient Indianised Southeast Asian kingdoms. Names like Funan, Chen-la and Angkor empires in modern Cambodia to the Srivijaya and Majapahit empires in the Malay Archipelago and even Siam. If you travel to these countries today, you can see the ancient inedible footprints of Indian culture. You look at the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, the Buddhist temple in Borobudur and the Hindu Prambanan temple in Yogyakarta, just to mention a few. If you look at the scripts of Southeast Asian languages, you can easily see the Indian origin, thick with Sanskritic influence. Many examples, but just to cite one, the Thai alphabet, created in 1283, is modelled on Sanskrit and Pali. In short, pre-modern India left profound influences on our culture, religion, language, politics and business.

The Indian influence remerged in our region during the British Raj in the 19th century. As Britains crown jewel and source of power in the Far East, it should not surprise us that India was a springboard for even the British to gain access to Southeast Asia. Consequently, there were many immigrants who established the Indian diaspora in Southeast Asia. Our cities prospered from trade through and from, and to India. So one may then ask quite legitimately, where was Singapore in all this unfolding narrative? And the answer is that although Singapore has always been small, but through history, we have been the forerunners in engaging India. We serve as a gateway for Indias interactions with the region, in particular through the Maritime Silk Route because of our location. We are the southernmost tip of the Asian continent, one and a half degrees north of equator. Pre-colonial Singapore was part of the Srivijaya and the Majapahit empires and there was evidence that ancient Singapore served as an important staging post for India. If you come to Singapore and visit Fort Canning which overlooks the Singapore River, it was depicted as a seat of power for ancient rulers, with royal and sacred associations to the Hindu Mount Meru concept.

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Publication:Mena Report
Geographic Code:90SOU
Date:Nov 2, 2017
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