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Speeches & Statements

Keynote Address by Secretary (East) on “India and ASEAN – An Overview” at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi (February 2, 2017)

February 07, 2017

  • Delighted to be present here today for the Panel Discussion on the 'Idea of ASEAN'. I thank Nehru Memorial Museum for organizing this seminar on this topic, which is both timely and opportune, especially as ASEAN celebrate 50 years of its existence this year. These are also uncertain times for the region, where ASEAN's autonomy, its unity have recently come under stress. Today's discussions provide an important opportunity to analyze these issues. India, as a close friend and partner, is equally affected by developments in its extended neighbourhood. We are prepared to contribute to strengthen ASEAN's importance and continued relevance.
  • Of course, ASEAN has come a long way from its original Idea, when it was conceived 50 years back, to promote regional integration for peace, prosperity and stability. Its membership has expanded from its original four to ten countries. Notwithstanding the divergences, in the political systems of the founding members and the newer ones, the different levels and pace of development among the 10 member countries, and in spite of several other challenges, ASEAN has consolidated itself into a common Economic Community. It has also tried to engage as a regional grouping with several dialogue partners, including at the Summit level. This reflects the grouping's confidence. Today, ASEAN is the most dynamic countries in the world. At a time when global growth has been sluggish, there are anxieties as a result of political changes in some countries and conflicts in other parts of the world, the ASEAN region holds promise. Although it is also affected by growing uncertainties, the ASEAN way of consensus and decision making, has shown a positive way forward, to resolve differences. ASEAN's unity and its centrality, therefore becomes important for itself and for the Asia-Pacific region.
  • In our own engagement with ASEAN, we too have supported this to help ASEAN manage its profile in the region in a peaceful, inclusive and constructive way. This is not a minor achievement. Our Strategic Partnership has been to our mutual benefit. Together we have contributed to regional growth and stability. We will continue to work with ASEAN towards a rule-based regional architecture, which is open, inclusive, balanced and equitable. We will also continue to work with ASEAN in regional and international fora, to shape the economic and security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • As ASEAN celebrates 50 years of its existence, we also celebrate 25 years of the ASEAN-India Dialogue Partnership. Our relationship, rooted firmly in our historical and civilizational links, has thrived, through multi-sectoral activities which have benefited us. 2017 also marks 15 years of our Summit Level interaction with ASEAN and 5 years of our Strategic Partnership. There is a lot that we can learn from ASEAN’s successes, and its economic integration. This is an important opportunity for us to assess what we can do further, for a deeper and comprehensive engagement with South East Asia, cutting across the three agreed pillars of politico-security, economic and socio-cultural cooperation with the region. Already there are 30 dialogue mechanisms between India and ASEAN, including a Summit and 7 Ministerial meetings on a wide range of sectors such as Foreign Affairs, Commerce, Tourism, Agriculture, Environment, Renewable Energy and Telecommunications. We have undertaken a number of initiatives, including establishing a separate Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta in April 2015, to supplement the efforts of our bilateral Missions in the region.
  • Our Prime Minister has placed South East Asia at the core of India's Act East Policy and at the centre of our dream of an Asian century.To celebrate this landmark year in our relationship, on 28 January, our Prime Minister exchanged messages of congratulations with the President of Philippines, the present Chair of ASEAN. In his message to President Duterte, the Prime Minister stated that India's "Act East Policy" is a reflection of the importance we attach to our strategic partnership with ASEAN. He reaffirmed India's desire to deepen this engagement , "so that it may scale new heights and constitute a defining partnership of our times." Our External Affairs Minister also exchanged a similar message with SG, ASEAN outlining our expectations from this partnership.
  • Earlier, on January 18, we kick-started our celebrations in Jakarta with the 2nd Conference of ASEAN-India cultural and civilizational links, which was attended by eminent experts from India and the region. They were unanimous in pointing out that India – ASEAN relations, rooted in historical ties, were unique. Unlike ASEAN's, other dialogue partners, with whom their association is contemporary, our relations with ASEAN goes back 2000 years.
  • A series of events have been planned through the year, on the theme "Shared Values, Common Destiny.” Our celebrations will span political, economic, cultural and people-to-people contacts, to culminate in a Commemorative Summit. In addition, Ministerial level Meetings, a Youth Summit, a Business Summit, CEOs Forum, Regional Indian Diaspora Meeting, a car rally, a sailing expedition, conferences, public competitions and cultural festivals are also planned both in India, as well as in ASEAN countries, to mark this year. A Senior Officials Meeting in New Delhi in April will finalise this calender of activities.
  • ASEAN believes in a stronger engagement with its immediate neighbourhood and beyond. Its engagement through the East Asia Summit, the ARF, etc., and related forums exemplies it, India too has pursued greater cooperation on political and defence matters with countries of the region, which lays a strong foundation for a strategic dimension in our Act East Policy. Our participation in ADMM+, the EAS, ARF, MGC, ACD, IORA are to be seen in this context. We are strategic partners of ASEAN as well as Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, China, US, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
  • The importance we attach to our relationship with ASEAN can be gauged by the fact that in the last 2 years we have had our President, Vice President and the Prime Minister visited to 9 out of 10 ASEAN countries. Our Prime Minister’s presence at the three ASEAN-India and East Asia Summits, in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and his visits to 5 ASEAN countries, viz., Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos, as well as to 11 East Asia Summit participating countries including China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, Russia and the US, is reflective of the new salience of the Asia-Pacific, and ASEAN, in our foreign and security policy paradigms.
  • India and ASEAN share deep economic ties. ASEAN is India's 4th largest trading partner, accounting for 10.2% of India’s total trade. India is ASEAN's 7th largest trading partner. Investment flows are also robust both ways, with Singapore being the principal hub for both inward and outward investment. The ASEAN-India Free Trade Area in Goods, Services and Investment has been in place since July 2015. Deeper economic integration with the dynamic ASEAN region is therefore an important aspect of our engagement with ASEAN. The ASEAN-India Trade Negotiating Committee has been also reconstituted. It met for the first time in April 2016, to take stock of a host of issues which have been identified for revival of India-ASEAN Trade. Together these will facilitate a qualitative shift in our trade and investment relationship.
  • We are also actively engaged in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations involving ASEAN and its six FTA partners. Once finalized, it will be the largest regional trading arrangement. In order to encourage investment by Indian companies in ASEAN member states, the Government has proposed a Project Development Fund to develop manufacturing hubs in CLMV countries and has announced a US$1 billion Line of Credit for undertaking projects to enhance physical and digital connectivity. It is our continuous attempts to promote dialogue among ASEAN and Indian business and trade associations in order to find ways to enhance bilateral trade.
  • Faced with growing traditional and non-traditional challenges, politico-security cooperation is a key and an emerging pillar of our relationship. Rising export of terror, growing radicalization through ideology of hatred, and spread of extreme violence define the landscape of common security threats to our societies. The threat is local, regional and transnational at the same time. Our partnership with ASEAN seeks to craft a response that relies on coordination, cooperation and sharing of experiences at multiple levels. We plan to organize a major event focused on countering radicalization. India and ASEAN countries can be positive examples for other parts of the world where the scourge of terrorism and extreme ideology has become a norm.
  • On the security front, ASEAN countries also look to working closely with India in securing the trade routes, freedom of navigation in international waters, over flights, threat or use of force to intimidate, reducing piracy along the Malacca Straits, cooperating in addressing traditional and non-traditional security challenges, including in areas of de-radicalization, prevention of violent extremism and cyber crime. They also look to India's support in dealing with natural disaster management. The Tsunami of 2005 made us all aware, how important and essential it was to work together when faced with natural disesters.
  • India supports ASEAN’s efforts in handling disasters and risk reduction as envisioned in ASEAN Community Vision 2025 on Disaster Management and also support ASEAN in the realization of ASEAN Declaration on One ASEAN, One Response: ASEAN Responding to Disaster as One in the region and outside the region. We hosted ASEAN Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, at New Delhi in November 2016 and an EAS Conference on Disaster Risk Management and Emergency Response in November 2016 at the sidelines of the Asian Ministerial Conference held in New Delhi.
  • Enhancing connectivity in all its dimensions- physical, digital, economic, institutional and cultural-is at the heart of India’s strategic partnership with ASEAN. And, readiness to link our economic success, and share development experiences with ASEAN nations, especially the CLMV countries, drives our engagement. India supports the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025. We are also working together for an early conclusion of the Agreement on Maritime Transport between ASEAN and India and for the convening of the first Meeting of the ASEAN-India Working Group on Regional Air Services Arrangement.
  • Science and Technology are crucial elements of the ASEAN-India partnership and in recognition of the same, India has increased the ASEAN-India Science and Technology Development Fund from US$1 million to US$5 million, to further encourage and sustain the implementation of collaborative R&D and technology development programmes between ASEAN and India. Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to establishing an ASEAN-India Innovation Platform and to build digital connectivity through the use of Gigabit-capable Passive Optical Network (GPON) technology has been welcomed by ASEAN Leaders.
  • India and ASEAN share the pluralistic nature of our societies, encompassing major religions of the world, and a wealth of diverse cultures. This affinity constitutes a special asset for the further development of our relations. Together, we are an example of tolerance, compassion, pluralism and diversity for the rest of the world.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. We expect that in the course of 2017, we will showcase all significant aspects of our syncretic culture .
  • I look forward to the deliberations of the panelists on the idea of ASEAN.
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