PM Lee: Asean, India can prioritise cooperation on digital transformation, public health

Digital transformation and public health cooperation are priority areas Singapore is committed to pursuing as coordinator for Asean-India relations, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday.

Speaking on the last of three days of virtual meetings with leaders from across the region, PM Lee said the 10-nation Asean bloc could tap on India's vibrant technology and start-up scene to grow and facilitate finance and trade in practical ways.

There is also much scope for collaboration on creating interoperable digital financial systems that are inclusive and present more opportunities for communities and businesses on both sides, he told his counterparts and Indian PM Narendra Modi at the Asean-India summit.

On health, including Covid-19 vaccine provision and distribution, PM Lee pointed out that India plays a critical role in the global pharmaceutical supply chain.

Singapore, as an aviation and transhipment hub with robust cold chain capabilities, can support India as an effective vaccine transhipment point for Southeast Asia and beyond, he added.

In an opening statement delivered in Singapore's capacity as country coordinator for Asean-India dialogue relations, PM Lee noted that to commemorate 30 years of ties, 2022 would be designated as a "Friendship Year" between the two parties."We can do much more together," he said.

On tackling the pandemic, PM Lee said Asean welcomes India's move to resume exports of safe and effective vaccines, including to the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (Covax) Facility.

The world's largest vaccine-maker stopped exports in April to focus on inoculating its own population as infections mounted. Last month, India announced that, with supplies increasing, it would start exporting vaccines again from October, prioritising the worldwide sharing platform Covax.

Asean also values India's support for the bloc's principle of centrality, amid an evolving regional architecture, said PM Lee.

He added it was important to promote synergies between the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and India's own Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative to "enhance mutual trust, respect and benefit".

The Outlook is a 2019 document presenting a collective regional voice on security issues seen as a response to the Quad grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States.

On Wednesday, at the East Asia Summit involving Asean and eight external partners, Mr Modi reaffirmed India's focus on a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

On Thursday, Mr Modi noted that Covid-19 was a test of the India-Asean friendship and both sides' mutual cooperation during this challenging time formed a base for goodwill between their peoples.

"History is a witness that India and Asean have had lively relations for thousands of years. It is reflected in our shared values, traditions, languages, scriptures, architecture, culture, food," he added. "That is why the unity and centrality of Asean has always been a priority for India."

The Straits Times


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