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India and Singapore are set to sign a key pact on Wednesday to boost naval cooperation, even as the city-state's defence minister expressed reservation over the proposed quadrilateral coalition among India, the US, Japan and Australia for pursuing common interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
India's Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen will hold wide-ranging talks on Wednesday after which both sides are likely to ink an agreement providing for logistic support and live firing exercises to Singapore Navy in the Andamans, officials said.
In an address at a think tank, Ng talked about the pact while referring to growing defence cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries.
He called India a "regional power" in the Indo-Pacific region, adding it is a "natural partner" of all countries in Southeast Asia.
Delving into regional security issues, he sounded critical of the proposed quadrilateral coalition among India, the US, Japan and Australia, saying it is not useful to cast one bloc against another.
He said "polarising defence and trade" would not be helpful for the region and called for crafting a "stable system" wherein all small and large states have ways and means to resolve disputes through peaceful means.
Widening the security cooperation under the proposed quadrilateral coalition, officials of India, the US, Japan and Australia had held extensive talks on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Manila earlier this month, for pursuing common interests in the strategically important Indo-Pacific region where China has been aggressively expanding its military presence.
"We are trying to craft a system under which we can ensure peace and progress for everyone," Ng said.
Singapore is a key member-country of the 10-nation ASEAN grouping with which India has been intensifying its defence and security ties.
In an apparent reference to China's growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea, he said freedom of navigation and over flight must be respected.
The move to set up the quadrilateral comes in the backdrop of growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. The US has been favouring a larger role for India in the strategically important Indo-Pacific region.
The Singapore defence minister pitched for an "inclusive regional security architecture" to ensure peace and stability in the region.
At the same time, he said Singapore was open to multilateral exercises in the Indian Ocean region.
Ng also complimented India's Act East policy, saying it is making its impact.
He paid rich tributes to Jawaharlal Nehru, saying his country was inspired by the first prime minister of India.