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Reports on Conference/Seminars

Name of Event:

  Delhi Dialogue III
  March 3-4, 2011
  Le Meridien, New Delhi

The Delhi Dialogue III, 3-4 March 2011 was hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs in partnership with the Indian Couancil of World Affairs (ICWA) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), together with the support of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), SAEA Group Research and Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA). The theme of the Delhi Dialogue III was Beyond twenty years of India-ASEAN Engagement.

Inaugural Session

Welcoming the participants and delegates from India and ASEAN countries, Shri S T Devare, Director General, ICWA, identified Delhi Dialogue as an important forum for the exchange of perspectives on India-ASEAN relations and an important step in achieving the mutual shared ideas of friendship, peace and prosperity. Shri Amit Mitra, Secretary General, FICCI, observed that the third edition of Delhi Dialogue was a significant event in the India-ASEAN relations, marked by ministerial-level participation. The Dialogue symbolised greater synergy in the relationship that started nearly two decades ago.

Characterising India-ASEAN engagement as a 'formidable force in a new centre of growth that is recognised now as East Asia,' the ASEAN Secretary General, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan called upon the middle class of India and ASEAN (approximately 300 million out of total 1.8 billion population) to "become the main transmission belt of economic prosperity, political transformation, cooperation of new emerging architectures," in the region in order to manage our status as "a new locomotive of growth of the global economy."

India's Minister of External Affairs, Shri S. M. Krishna characterised twenty years of India-ASEAN engagement as "a gratifying engagement, which has drawn strength from India's rapidly developing bilateral ties with individual ASEAN countries, and from our millennia-old bonds with the countries and civilizations of the region." While charting out a roadmap for India-ASEAN engagement in the future, Shri Krishna made three suggestions - a vision for the region which is inclusive, pursuit of the principles of state sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs, and respecting diversity and developing tolerance.

Highlighting growing interdependence between India and ASEAN, Brunei's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II, Dato Lim Jock Seng, outlined his vision of an integrated India and ASEAN in term of 'trade, people-to-people contacts, connectivity and security, underpinned by the work that they are doing today.' The hon'ble minister called for an enhanced dialogue on global issues such as food security and climate change as "it is time for both to find global solutions to global problems." Dato Lim Jock Seng called upon the two sides to change their 'mindset to capture our past-history, to emphasise that once we were traders, we were neighbours and we were friends.' The hon'ble minister also welcomed 'the Indian government's commitment to realise a 21st century university over the remnants of the ancient University of Nalanda.'

Thailand's Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya highlighted the importance of land and sea-based connectivity between India and ASEAN to make the entire region as an 'Arc of Advantage' and proposed a ministerial level survey trip to Myanmar and Assam for a new partnership between the region and India. The hon'ble minister declared, "the twentieth year of India-ASEAN relations in 2012 is an opportune time to take this relationship to a new direction where ASEAN centred regional architecture would be the cornerstone of this relationship." The hon'ble minister also invited India to take a leading role in the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Defence Ministerial Meeting (ADMM) Plus mechanisms and emphasised on greater participation of the private sector from the two sides in the FTA process. He identified the India-ASEAN FTA as a 'partnership,' which would make both the sides less dependent on the traditional markets.

Indonesia's Minister for Trade, Mari Elka Pangestu, stressed upon the demographic dividend India and ASEAN enjoy since half of the population is below the age of 29, which promises a more creative and young workforce in the coming future. She stressed upon the need for India and ASEAN to design a comprehensive economic integration system for the future and enhance cooperation and capacity-building. Indonesia's Trade Minister also outlined her country's priorities as the next ASEAN Chair - realization of a ASEAN Community, equitable development by narrowing the development gaps and building a regional architecture without losing ASEAN's centrality.

In their seminal addresses, the ministers from ASEAN and India emphasised on (a) building connectivity between people, businesses, governments and media, besides developing physical connectivity, and (b) speedy conclusion of Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), including in services and investment.

Session I: Looking Towards 2012 and Beyond

Delivering the leading speech during the second day of the conference, India's Minister of Industry and Commerce, Shri Anand Sharma identified the India-ASEAN dialogue as a continuous process towards re-establishing the old roots that will have an impact on the prosperity of the people across the region and create a new architecture for the world. Shri Sharma identified the revival of Nalanda University as an important example of this process, undertaken jointly by India and East Asia including ASEAN. The hon'ble minister called upon India and ASEAN to work together to combat "food crisis and energy crisis, which have come back with a vengeance in 2010-11," and declared that India-ASEAN partnership "will have a defining influence in the world." Shri Sharma also highlighted the Indian government's efforts towards bringing out a roadmap for engagement at the 10th India-ASEAN summit, scheduled to be held in 2012 in New Delhi.

The panelists reiterated Shri Sharma's observations and made the following recommendations.

Six important recommendations were made during the discussion.

a) Expedite the India-ASEAN CECA;
b) Work together to deal with the challenge of rapid short-term capital movement;
c) Work together to facilitate inclusive growth in the member countries and create opportunities for the youth of their respective population;
d) Step up military and defence exchanges including India's greater military presence in South China Sea;
e) India should play an active role in the ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit.
f) India should exploit the huge reservoir of soft power that it enjoys in Southeast Asia.

A few panelists also voiced their concern about India's lax approach towards its soft power engagement with ASEAN and argued that China had effectively used its soft power to undermine India's position in the region.

Session II: India-ASEAN Connectivity

Shri C P Joshi, India's Minister of Road Transport and Highways stressed on the "need to deal with the challenges arising in three major areas of cooperation namely physical, institutional and people to people connectivity to enhance connectivity options between India and ASEAN." The hon'ble minister appreciated the efforts by the Economic Research Institute of Asia and East Asia (ERIA) for its technical advice for the Mekong-India corridor that will connect Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar to the eastern parts of India. The minister also highlighted the Visa-on-Arrival scheme, introduced recently by India to facilitate easy movement of nationals from all ASEAN countries. Mr. Kasit Piromya applauded the Indian effort of constructing approximately 20 kilometres of road per day to complete the 7000 km long stretch, connecting the whole of the Indian subcontinent with ASEAN.

The panelists made an appraisal of the existing level of connectivity and challenges facing it. The main discussion revolved around three issues of (a) an upgradation of existing and construction of new infrastructure, (b) generation of resources to expedite the new projects, and (c) timely completion of projects. The panelists also identified the need and potential of joint ventures in developing connectivity between the two sides with Myanmar acting as the land bridge. The proposal of a new India Myanmar-Vietnam-Cambodia highway is under consideration.

An important recommendation was made during the session towards India's active role in setting up ports and airports in various parts of Southeast Asia. There are many countries in ASEAN like the Philippines, Vietnam or Indonesia, which are interested to develop such infrastructural projects to not only connect within the country but also the whole region. The private sector of India should play an important role in developing these infrastructure projects in ASEAN.

It was brought out that ERIA was already undertaking a new study to investigate the progress, challenges and expected impacts of ongoing initiative to enhance ASEAN-India connectivity focusing on the Mekong India Economic Corridor and the highway between India, Myanmar and Thailand along the Asian highway. The ERIA is also discussing another proposal to connect whole of India with ASEAN region.

Session III: Nalanda as a Symbol of Asian Renaissance

The panelists noted with appreciation the contribution of ASEAN and East Asia Summit in the revival of Nalanda University in giving the shape, form and structure to this great institution of higher learning. It was noted that "The new Nalanda is envisaged as an open, secular, inclusive institution that will combine developing an orientation to modern knowledge with the tradition of the original in mind. Therefore, the revived institution, along with the original concerns of history, philosophy and comparative religion and literatures, also has modern intellectual concerns like ecology and environment, peace studies, information sciences and technology and development studies." The participants called for speedy implementation of the Nalanda University project and building of networks among scholars working in different academic institutions of ASEAN and East Asia.

Giving a normative orientation to the debate over Nalanda, the panelists expressed their hope that such initiatives can help to make the world adopt a more moralistic view of mankind. India, apart from leading in economic and banking sectors should also lead the world towards global peace. Such an approach is also reflected in the next summit of the World Economic Forum, scheduled to be held in Thailand in 2011, which will be discussing moral values and their congruence with economic activities.

Session IV - Cooperation in Non-traditional Security Areas/Global Commons

The discussion during the fourth session revolved around (a) types and enormity of Non-Traditional Security (NTS) threats, (b) methods and strategies of responding to these threats, and (c) challenges in the implementation of strategies, especially those requiring trans-national and trans-boundary coordination. While several themes figured during the discussion, three issues - climate change, natural disasters and maritime security - drew greater attention. The Asia-Pacific region is one of the most disaster-prone areas and the effects of climate change are already being felt with food, water and energy security being linked problems.

On the issue of cooperation between India and ASEAN over the NTS issues, the panelists called for capacity building of India and ASEAN countries to respond to these emerging challenges and develop a coordinated regional approach inter-linking national strategies and action plans of the two sides. They also agreed that the issues of "the NTS and Global commons generate a new need for networking among India and ASEAN countries, a need to articulate these issues as foreign-domestic policy problems, centred around vulnerability, equity and access." On the issue of maritime security, the panelists also highlighted the ongoing as well as proposed initiatives for cooperation in the form of sharing of information and experiences, establishment of coordination mechanisms, sharing of technologies, and assistance in building capacities of individual states to enforce measures within areas of national jurisdiction.

Two suggestions were put forth in the form of (a) engaging the non-state actors in managing non-traditional security challenges and (b) greater coordination among both the civilian agencies as well as navies to ensure security of shipping in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. The freedom of safety of shipping in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea was identified as "critical for open international economics and greater India-ASEAN trade."

Session V - India in the ADMM Plus and the EAS Process: the Next Decade

The panelists noted that 'security cooperation is becoming extremely crucial in this era of shifting balances of power, where several powers are rising in terms of internal and external balancing' and stressed that 'the Asian security order should be open, flexible, plural and inclusive of all relevant powers.' Acknowledging the diverse directions in which the ASEAN processes are moving, the panelists stressed that they are complimentary to each other and working together towards the common goals of peace, stability and cooperation in the region. Shri Shivshankar Menon, India's National Security Advisor, gave a lead speech on the theme of the session, "India in the ADMM Plus and the EAS Process: the Next Decade." In his words, "Asian Security Architecture should be open, flexible and inclusive given the diversity in Asia both in terms of power and interests. It must include all the relevant powers, which have presence in the region. It should also be plural as no one size fits all. Therefore, the region must strongly encourage the ADMM process and the EAS as it meets all the criteria of the Asian security order. ASEAN thus is central to the region's conception of the future of Asian security." It was agreed that the EAS and ADMM Plus processes have the potential of creating coherent and concerted responses to a variety of threats. They have formed integral parts of emerging regional architecture in this region with their specific and respective roles to play within the context of the regional architecture that ASEAN is developing. Both India and ASEAN can work together under these two overarching frameworks and contribute meaningfully towards enhancing stability, security and ultimately mutual prosperity within the region.

Two issues figured prominently in this session. First, ASEAN is intrinsic and central to India's future security architecture as well. India and ASEAN lie in the fastest changing part of the world, where security cooperation is becoming increasingly crucial and critical to their respective futures. Second, India and ASEAN should focus on cooperation in the critical sectors of maritime security, peacekeeping, counter terrorism, military matters and disaster and humanitarian assistance within the EAS process. Other participants from ASEAN also called for India's active participation in these forums in the coming years and decade.

Concluding Remarks

Delivering the Valedictory remarks, Shri Devare, characterised the Delhi dialogue as a meeting of minds and called for a concerted and combined effort to make the dialogue a continuous and comprehensive process. The Delhi Dialogue III offered a preparatory forum and a wide-ranging agenda with several new ideas for deliberation when India and ASEAN celebrate the tenth anniversary of India-ASEAN summit, scheduled to be held in 2012. Shri Devare further noted that the presence of ministers from both the sides had made the entire exercise a very fruitful effort. The two sides now need to build on this process in the coming years.

Report compiled by Dr. Vibhanshu Shekhar, Research Fellow, ICWA, New Delhi.

Rapporteurs were

a) Dr. Amit Kumar, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi,
b) Ms. Anushree Bhattacharya, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi,
c) Mr. Sandeep Anand, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi,
d) Ms Tuli Sinha, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi