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Keynote address by Gen. (Dr) V K Singh (Retd.), Minister of State for External Affairs at the 2nd International Conference on ASEAN-India Cultural and Civilizational Links, Jakarta (January 19, 2017)

January 19, 2017

Your Excellency Mr. A.M. Fachir, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia;
Your Excellency Nguyen Quoc Dzung, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Viet Nam;
Your Excellency, Mr. Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN;
Smt. Preeti Saran, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India;
Shri. Suresh K. Reddy, Ambassador of India to ASEAN;
Distinguished Speakers;
Excellencies;
Ladies and Gentlemen;


  • It is a pleasure to be with you here today for the 2nd International Conference on ASEAN–India Cultural and Civilisational Links. This is the first major event in 2017 to mark the 25th anniversary celebrations of the ASEAN-India Dialogue Partnership. We plan to mark this year with a series of commemorative events across ASEAN Member States and India.
  • Today's conference provides us a platform to continue to build synergies between India and ASEAN member states based on our civilizational links and commonalities between India and South East Asia. It celebrates our historical ties from ancient times dating back two millenia to the present, based on rich cultural affinities, spanning art, architecture, language, religion, etc.
  • Recognizing our Prime Minister’s desire for building a deeper engagement with South East Asia by expanding and comprehensively documenting India's civilizational links with ASEAN countries, our Act East Policy lays significant focus on this third pillar of the ASEAN-India relationship.
  • The conceptualization and organization of the first edition of the "ASEAN-India Conference on Cultural Links: Historical and Contemporary Dimensions” at New Delhi on 23 July 2015, was a signal effort in this direction.
  • Sustaining the focus, promotion of socio-cultural ties through people-to-people contacts such as exchange programmes for students, media persons, diplomats, parliamentarians and farmers and the ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks and Eminent persons lecture series have continued.
  • To celebrate our shared Buddhist heritage, we had designated ASEAN as the Guest of Honour at the 5th International Buddhist Conclave held in India from 2-6 October 2016. I take this opportunity to thank ASEAN member countries for their enthusiastic participation including of Tourism Ministers, Buddhist monks, scholars and media persons for this event.
  • The ASEAN India Centre in New Delhi is rendering yeoman's service to the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership through its studies in areas of mutual interest. We have, moreover, inaugurated the ASEAN Studies Centre at the North Eastern Hill University in Shillong on 8 August 2016, to work on developing cross-border connections between our Northeastern region and ASEAN countries.
  • Another major project underway is the re-establishment of the Nalanda University, once a world-renowned knowledge hub where scholars from around the world, including South East Asia and India, exchanged knowledge and ideas. India is working to recreate a similar world class university in the 21st century, with the support of its South East Asian partners, and has offered scholarships to students from CLMV countries to study there.
  • A Mekong-Ganga Coooperation Museum of Traditional Asian Textiles inaugurated in Siem Reap, Cambodia, has proudly showcased affinities in our weaving styles and textiles. As part of our effort to document our cultural and civilizational ties, we also propose to map Indian inscriptions along the Mekong River as well as record shared cultural symbols that are found in the river basin.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
  • I said before, 2017, marks 25 years of our Dialogue Partnership, 15 years of our Summit Level interaction and 5 years of our Strategic Partnership with ASEAN. Our celebrations will include hosting of a Commemorative Summit, a Commemorative Foreign Ministers' Meeting, a Youth Summit and a host of other events including ASEAN-India Cultural Festivals, business events, policy seminars, public competitions and a car rally & sailing expedition. The theme of our commemorative celebrations is ‘Shared Values, Common Destiny’, which aptly reflects the close cultural and civilizational links India and countries of South East Asia have enjoyed over the millennia.
  • Some of you must wonder why this focus on the historical and cultural connect between India and South East Asia? It is because a generation which ignores history has no future. As responsible citizens, it is incumbent upon us to trace and preserve our shared heritage and leave this legacy for the future generations.
  • India and Indonesia are close neighbors. We share a deep civilizational and cultural link. We had the privilege of hosting President Jokowi in India recently. His landmark visit reflected the special relationship that India and Indonesia share. It is, therefore, my distinct pleasure to be in Indonesia, which has long been our maritime bridge to South East Asia.
  • I would like to thank His Excellency A. M. Fachir and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Indonesia, for jointly hosting this event with us in Jakarta.
  • ASEAN has evolved into a role model for regional cooperation as it celebrates the 50th anniversary year of its foundation this year. Today, it is appreciated for the stability it has brought to the region and its immediate neighborhood. We look forward to working closely with ASEAN to weave a mutually beneficial legacy which would be cherished by future generations.

    Mr. Deputy Secretary General,
  • I would also like to felicitate ASEAN for completion of one year of the formation of the ASEAN Community. With the adoption of the ASEAN 2025 document along with its ASEAN Community Blueprints, ASEAN has paved its way to a prosperous future.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
  • Our ancient interactions demonstrate South East Asia’s widespread religious and political affinities with the Indian sub-continent. Scholars have observed that the Gupta dynasty provided an attractive coherent model of political, social and religious integration for rulers of South East Asia, and its success was emulated in South East Asia, where Indian constructs such as iconography, the Sanskrit language and Hinduism as a way of life were celebrated. Importantly, these constructs spread, not through conquest but essentially through non-political agents such as merchants and religious men.
  • The three pillars of the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership – political, economic and socio-cultural – have thrived for many centuries. Evidence of linkages between Ancient India and South East Asia abound in texts and folklore, architecture, literature, dance-forms, music, religion and culture. The Malay annals, Burmese chronicles and ancient inscriptions in Viet Nam, all celebrate links with India. The Sri Vijaya Kingdom of Indonesia maintained regular political and commercial ties with the Cholas, Pandyas and Chera dynasties of South India.
  • From the ancient period upto the 12th century, Hinduism as a way of life permeated South East Asia. Thailand incorporates significant elements from Hinduism in its architecture, arts, sculpture dance, drama and literature. The Cham temple complex of My Son

    Wat in Viet Nam is dedicated to Bhadreshvara, an incarnation of the Lord Shiva. The magnificent Angkor Vat in Cambodia was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the Lord Vishnu. The Vat Phou temple in Lao PDR, Ananda temple in Bagan, Myanmar and the Borobudur Buddhist temple in Indonesia are examples of the influence of Hindu architectural principles. Malaysia was a centre of Hinduism and Buddhism until the 14th century A.D. In Viet Nam, Shaivism was the predominant religion until the 15th century.
  • Buddhism spread to South East Asia from India through travelling monks who were sent by the rulers of Indian kingdoms. In the 3rd century B.C., nine Buddhist emissaries led by the monks Sona and Uttara were sent by King Ashoka to South East Asia. With the passage of time, Buddhism took an indigenous form in all parts of South East Asia and gradually underwent a process of localisation of its tenets.
  • With the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism also came the assimilation of Indian mythology and folklore into local mythology of the South East Asian region. The various forms of Ramayana prevalent in the region, be it Ramakien in Thailand, Pha Lak Pha Lam in Laos, Yama Zatddaw in Myanmar, Kakawin Ramayana in Indonesia or Hikayat Seri Rama in Malaysia, bear testimony to our historical connect.
  • Moreover, Islam travelled to South East Asia from India via traders. It thrives today as a tolerant religion in the region, with Indonesia of course being the largest Muslim country in the world, followed by India. Together, we set an example for the rest of the world, in peaceful co-existence, tolerance and compassion.
  • Contemporary popular culture in the form of music, Bollywood movies and TV soap operas, is forging a new understanding between us. The human element is vital in contemporary discourse. Our youth, our future generation, must engage and bond in a more systematic way and at a deeper level. To this end, in addition to organising the annual student exchange programs, India will host a Youth Summit this year to encourage closer contacts among our youth, who hold the future of our relationship.
  • Let me conclude by saying a few words about this evening's cultural programme on Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s travels to South East Asia. Tagore, as we know, was a master litterateur who weaved magic with words. He was so impressed by the manifest cultural diversity of South East Asian countries that he set out to develop close cultural cooperation between India and South East Asia and to discover the quintessential Asian identity. He introduced cultural elements from South East Asia in the curriculum of his Visva Bharati University to enrich its cultural kaleidoscope. Following his footsteps, we should continue to work together to strengthen our very rich cultural partnership.
  • I look forward to hearing the views of all the intellectuals and specialists gathered here today on how we can strengthen our civilizational links amid the new challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
Thank you.
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