Dr. Mohan Kumar,
My ASEAN Ministerial Colleagues,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am really delighted to join you all at the 12th edition of the Delhi Dialogue. This evening is a culmination of a long day, which was a very productive day I think. My colleagues would agree with me. We had a Special ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Dr. Mohan Kumar in fact, flagged the outcome document for all of you. And my takeaway today was in fact it would seem, Retno, that we all had two shots of the vaccine of Strategic Trust and probably the booster shots as well. So, it went quite well and that’s the spirit in which I am talking to you today.
2. So, the Delhi Dialogue, I think there is no question that it is for India the foremost ASEAN-centered Track 1.5 Forum and over the years it has yielded very rich dividend in ideas proving that conversations are indeed the road to create changes and enhance cooperation. I would like to congratulate the organisers, RIS and ERIA who in partnership with the Ministry of External Affairs have put together this event.
3. Now, the theme of course, for the current edition of the Delhi Dialogue is ‘Building Bridges in the Indo-Pacific’ and is relevant both in its substance and in its timing. As we have all seen, the Indo-Pacific has been at the centre of the geo-strategic and geo-economic discourse currently. The undeniable logic of the connectedness of the two oceans along with ongoing global rebalancing call for an open-minded dialogue, which is what you have here. And this is also an opportune time to discuss this topic because as I noted we are celebrating 30 years of ASEAN-India ties. So, we are not just looking at bridges for their own sake, I think we are looking at bridges that could become a pathway for a truly Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between ASEAN and India.
4. Now the world is currently experiencing turbulence which, along with the consequences of the pandemic, has made the global outlook even more uncertain and complex. Developments in our own region too have had their implications, whether we speak of Afghanistan or of Myanmar. Further away, the conflict in Ukraine is exacerbating concerns over food, fertilizer and our fuel security. This global scenario highlights the need for countries of the Indo-Pacific to enhance cooperation and in fact, to stand together.
5. We may be celebrating the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-India Partnership. But the fact is, and we should recognize that, the fact is that our relationship is deeply rooted in history and civilization, with trade and travel intrinsic to our cultures. So there is an underlying comfort that is a great asset to building bridges.
6. Where the contemporary era is concerned, India’s Act East Policy has clearly been the bed rock of ASEAN-India Partnership. ASEAN, in fact, holds a unique value as a confluence of our Act East policy and our Neighbourhood First policies. Three decades ago, with economic liberalization, India began a process of forging closer ties with the ASEAN and since then the partnership has grown commensurate with the expansion of our capabilities, the growth of our economies and the evolution of the regional architecture. In addition, it has encapsulated other dimensions of connectivity, strategic and security cooperation and enhanced education and societal linkages. So what began three decades ago as a crisis response has indeed evolved into a profound strategic outlook.
7. You will all also recall that in 2012, India-ASEAN relations were upgraded to a Strategic Partnership. In 2015, we opened a separate Mission to the ASEAN in Jakarta and in 2018, in a milestone event, the leaders of all the ten ASEAN Member States visited India as chief guests of our Republic Day celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of ASEAN-India Relations.
8. This upward trajectory in ASEAN-India partnership has also been matched by India’s active engagement with the ASEAN–centered platforms including the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit and the ADMM+ meetings.
9. So, how do we now see each other in a changing world? From the Indian perspective, ASEAN lies at the centre of the Indo-Pacific, geographically, culturally and strategically. ASEAN centrality is therefore self-evident especially as its architecture has such wide coverage. It was for this very reason that Prime Minister Modi announced the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) at the 2019 East Asia Summit.
10. The IPOI shares strong convergence with ASEAN’s own outlook on the Indo-Pacific. I am glad that this Initiative has found support of countries of the Indo-Pacific including some of our ASEAN Partners, notably, Indonesia and Singapore. We would welcome the interest of others in this initiative.
11. How do we realize the full benefits of this relationship? For a start, we must make connectivity more expansive and effective. We align our initiatives in this regard with the Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivity. The Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, both passing through Myanmar, are the most significant of these undertaken by India. They are also the hardest ones, both because of topography and local conditions. Realizing their early implementation will require sustained focus, including through our bilateral engagement with Myanmar.
12. We can also explore synergies in connectivity plans with others like the BIMSTEC Master Plan for Connectivity. Indeed seamless connectivity from India all the way to Vietnam and Philippines will create an east-west lateral that will impact the entire Asian continent.
13. Connectivity, now encompasses data and energy flows not just unhindered movement of goods and people. Data, digitization and technology are redefining and reshaping almost every aspect of business and society. India and ASEAN contribute to the ongoing rebalancing of the global order. We are driven by a rising consumer class, a strong start-up ecosystem, a growing internet economy and a robust demographic dividend. We have also between us the necessary trust and transparency now so central to digital cooperation.
14. India and ASEAN have already initiated cooperation in Renewable Energy in Wind and Solar energy and Smart Grids through the ASEAN-India Green Fund. We look forward to further enhancing our energy and power connectivity and cooperating on a low carbon regional economy. In this regard, the International Solar Alliance is a particularly useful platform.
15. Like the rest of the world, India and ASEAN too are recovering from the Covid. A key take away is to be better prepared for future health emergencies. India and ASEAN have stood by each other during this pandemic. Now we are poised to move beyond those exchanges based on immediate need and build longer term health partnerships.
16. As the world moves towards greater rebalancing, multi-polarity and globalization, India and ASEAN will have to consider what this means for their relationship. To de-risk the global economy, they can be partners in building reliable and resilient supply chains. To ensure a secure digital existence, they can collaborate in promoting trust and transparency. Between themselves and with others, they can also contribute to the well-being of the global commons, especially through the observance of international law. These are the relevant bridges of our times.
17. It is natural while surveying the larger landscape that our ASEAN partners would have an interest in relations between India and China. So let me be clear that development of our ties has to be based on three mutuals: mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutuality of interests. The state of the border will be reflected on the state of the relationship.
18. Let me conclude by emphasizing that India-ASEAN ties are built on the foundation of history, geography and culture. But they reflect the promise of growth, prosperity, stability and development. Our ability together to expand our collaboration, adding more facets and making it more intense, has a resonance far beyond. We can make a real contribution to the evolution of the Indo-Pacific and I daresay even to the emergence of a new world order.
I wish the dialogue all success and I thank you for your attention.