Former Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo believes Indian and Chinese leadership will sit together after the G20 summit in Bali to to work for the Asian century

Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo has said that normalcy in the relations between India and China is key to regional prosperity and stability and hoped that the top leaders of the two countries will meet in Indonesia next month and work for the Asian Century.

Speaking to PTI on the sidelines of the launch of his book “George Yeo Musings" on Wednesday, the veteran politician said: “For us, if India, China relations are good, it will boom….and If India-China relations are bad, it will affect us."

Yeo, 67, served as minister in various capacities, the last was as the Foreign Minister till he retired in 2011. He also served on the revival of the 800-year-old Nalanda University in Bihar and stepped down after serving as its Chancellor in November 2016.

“My whole involvement in Nalanda University was partly in the hope that through this project we will bring India and China as civilizations closer together," he said.

Yeo believes there would be a summit in Bali between the leaderships of the two Asian economies after the G20 Heads of State and Government Summit scheduled on November 15-16.

He said the leaders will sit together at the summit to work for the Asian century. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to attend the G20 Summit. The two leaders have not met or talked to each other since the eastern Ladakh standoff broke out in May 2020.

Responding to a series of questions after delivering a lecture on ‘India’s Vision of the Indo-Pacific’ at the prestigious Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok last month, Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar said the relationship between India and China was going through an “extremely difficult phase" after what Beijing had done at the border and emphasised that the Asian Century would not happen if the two neighbours could not join hands.

“There was an immediate powerful resonance in China," Yeo said, referring to Beijing’s backing of Jaishankar’s statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a media briefing last month that “a Chinese leader said once that if China and India cannot achieve sound development, then an Asian Century cannot happen".

“A true Asia Pacific Century or Asian Century can happen only when China and India and other countries can achieve sound development. China and India are two ancient civilisations, two emerging economies and two big neighbours," he noted.

Yeo, currently a visiting scholar at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore and the Founding Patron of its Asia Competitiveness Institute, also said that he feels India would join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) soon.

“I do not believe that India will stay out of RCEP indefinitely. As the country develops a stronger economy and the Indian companies become more competitive. My sense is India will join RCEP. I hope sooner," he said.

RCEP is a free trade agreement among the Asia-Pacific nations. The 15 member countries account for about 30 per cent of the world's population (2.2 billion people) and 30 per cent of global GDP (USD 29.7 trillion), making it the largest trade bloc in history. The RCEP was conceived at the 2011 ASEAN Summit in Bali, Indonesia, while negotiations were formally launched during the 2012 ASEAN Summit in Cambodia. India, which took part in the initial negotiations but later decided to opt-out, was invited to join the bloc at any time. Any other country or separate customs territory in the region can accede to the pact from July 1, 2023 onward.

Experts believe that India had not signed the RCEP pact in Bangkok over concern that Indian farm produce and products from small businesses would not be able to compete in the regional markets.

Yeo cited the example of steel from Tata Group’s Jamshedpur plant being initially uncompetitive with products from Scottish and British mills, asserting that Indian steel is now in the international market.

He had visited Jamshedpur in 2007 at the invitation of Ratan Tata’s business executives.

He observed that Indian exports to China are complex products such as cables and chemicals while imports are simple products like air-conditioners.

“There are some businesses in India preparing to compete with China and they don’t lack self-confidence," he said.

“India is part of our birth and many of the laws and penal code came from British India. Today, there is more of India in Singapore than you realise. India is part of us and the name Singapore, as per Sanskrit, needs no explanation as all knows what it means," he said.

“India and Singapore were once part of a common larger system. Our old schools, hospitals, military and police masses, government buildings and law courts in Singapore were mostly scaled-down versions of similar facilities still found all over India," Yeo writes in his book.

“If India was the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, Singapore was only a little gem on its side," it says.

Yeo visited the Indian National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla in Maharashtra in 1988 as director of joint operations and planning in the Singapore Armed Forces. He was responsible for the construction of a new tri-service officer training school, the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI).

“As the Indian Military Academy was tri-service, we took a special interest in it," he writes in the book.

“It was the only academy with a Tri-Service at Officer level which we wanted to be," he says.

Yeo and his wife enjoy visits to India. His first visit was to the wedding of a classmate in Madurai in 1986.

“India is a huge canvas. It is the great land, the Maha Bharat. I don’t enjoy India the way I do Bali or Switzerland. In fact, oftentimes on arrival, the abject poverty, messiness and pollution hit me like a blast of hot air. After a day or two, however, India gets inside me and I enjoy it for what it is. My wife likes India too and is always happy to accompany me whenever she can.

“My daughter learned Indian dance in school… all my three sons have been to India too," he writes in the 464-page book.