Singapore to foster closer ties with South Asia

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PM Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore could act as a springboard for the South Asia community to engage with the rest of Asia and the world. (Yahoo! photo/ Faris Mokhtar)
PM Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore could act as a springboard for the South Asia community to engage with the rest of Asia and the world. (Yahoo! photo/ Faris Mokhtar)

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday that Singapore will continue to forge closer ties with South Asia, and position itself as an attractive business hub for people from that region.

"We are well positioned here in Singapore to be a springboard for the South Asian Diaspora to engage the rest of Asia and the world," he said.

He was speaking at the inaugural launch of the South Asia Diaspora Convention, an idea first mooted by incumbent President SR Nathan.

The Prime Minister highlighted Singapore's business-friendly environment, strategic location and attraction for families.

"Singapore welcomes members of the South Asian diaspora. We are an open society, and we have welcomed people not just from South Asia, but also from Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia," he said.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, PM Lee said that Singapore has seen a "new wave" of South Asian settlers, with most arriving in the country to do business or set up homes here.

"And I'm confident that in time, the new arrivals, many of them, will also integrate into Singapore's society. Both with the Singaporean Indians, those who have come couple of generations earlier and also the other ethnic groups," he said.

He also hailed the significant contributions made by those who descended from the South Asian community and had pioneered Singapore's growth over the past decades.

He singled out the contributions of the late Deputy Prime Minister S. Rajaratnam, who is also one of the Republic's founding fathers as well as prominent businessman Rajabali Jumabhoy, who had first founded the Indian Chamber of Commerce back in 1935.

PM Lee also cited the Institute of South Asian Studies as one of the initiatives which will allow Singapore to continue to enrich its knowledge on South Asia.

The research institution, he said has already established the South Asian Link website and newsletter which tracks global activities of South Asia diaspora.

Pointing out that South Asian migrants not only play important roles in building trade ties between their adopted homes and their homelands, PM Lee said that they also form relations with the local communities in their adopted surroundings.

For example, the early traders from the community established vibrant trade links with Southeast Asia via the Malacca Strait and Indian Ocean.

However, he emphasised that it is important to balance these roles. He said that if the settlers choose to focus only on its links with their homeland, they might not be welcomed by the local communities.

On the other hand, if they become too localised, then they risks losing touch with its original culture and heritage.

"Either will compromise diaspora's effectiveness as a link between original homelands and adopted homes," he said.

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