Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very Good Morning!
It is a pleasure to address the Inaugural Session of this International Conference "Geopolitical Shifts and Opportunities: New Horizons in India-Southeast Asia Relations". I commend Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and ASEAN-India Centre at RIS for organizing this two days event to continue our commemoration of 30th Anniversary of ASEAN-India relations. The agenda of the conference covers all aspects of our engagement with ASEAN and South East Asia. The array of distinguished speakers will no doubt result in some practical and high-quality policy recommendations that we in the Government would benefit from.
2. The year 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of dialogue relations between ASEAN and India which is being celebrated as ASEAN-India Friendship Year. To commemorate this landmark, the two sides have agreed to organize a host of events. Earlier this year we launched a joint logo to commemorate the Friendship Year. Just last month India hosted a Special ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in New Delhi. It was accompanied by the 12th edition of Delhi Dialogue which benefited from the attendance by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers who shared their views on ‘Bridging the gaps in the Indo-Pacific’. We have a host of other activities planned for later this year. Our active engagements vividly showcase the special bonds between our countries.
3. India and South-east Asian region have witnessed continuous flow of the people, ideas and material goods between them dating back to several millennia. It has left its imprints on all aspects of our culture and civilization ranging from religion to art & architecture, language & literature to cuisine, crafts & textiles to music, dance & drama.
4. In the contemporary era, ASEAN-India partnership that started in early 1990s, in the wake of new global realities, has now turned into a robust and strategic partnership. The civilisational linkages, land and maritime connectivity and cross-cultural exchange between Southeast Asia and India over several millennia act as strong foundation for the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership.
5. The ASEAN-India relationship is one of the key pillars of India’s foreign policy. It is associated with the era of reforms in our country and recognised for its larger impact on our contemporary thinking. What commenced as ‘Look East’ evolved into our Act East policy, and thereafter, helped drive our vision of a wider Indo-Pacific. The region and indeed the world have come a long way since then. The South-East Asia is today one of the fastest growing regions of the world, showing unparalleled dynamism in political, security, economic and demographic terms. It has truly emerged as the economic and geo-political centre of gravity of the world in the 21st century.
6. South East Asia is part of India’s extended neighbourhood. Our foreign policy outreach towards the region has been multifaceted and extensive. The ties between India and Southeast Asia have grown commensurate with the expansion of our capabilities, the growth of our economies and the evolution of the regional architecture. It has encapsulated all the important dimensions of connectivity, strategic and security cooperation and enhanced education and societal linkages, in addition to the foundational dimension of greater economic engagements.
7. The global order, which was already in a flux, was jolted by the economic fallout of the COVID pandemic. This made the global outlook even more uncertain and complex. It has been further exacerbated by the recent developments in our own region and in other parts of the world which have far reaching implications over global food and energy security. These geopolitical shifts and developments have underscored the importance of strengthening regional cooperation for ensuring security and growth of the region. While underscoring the strength of dialogue and diplomacy, these global shifts and challenges has also highlighted the avenues to expand our cooperation to new horizon.
8. We are committed for long-lasting and abiding support to our ASEAN partners to uphold peace, stability and prosperity in the region. ASEAN unity and centrality is an important pillar of the evolving architecture in the region. Our converging visions for, and our common interest in, peace, stability and prosperity of our shared region also provides a strong basis for our close and growing engagement. Our shared commitment to international law, our common desire for reformed multilateralism and our vision for an inclusive regional architecture make India-ASEAN cooperation a factor for stability in the region. Convergence of AOIP and IPOI speak in itself of our shared views for the region.
9. The multifaceted and multi-dimensional ASEAN-India engagements encompassing areas from connectivity to climate change, security to space, education to ecology, technology to trade showcase our desire to cooperate for a brighter future. As we navigate the current global scenario, India and ASEAN needs to expand our cooperation to new horizon which includes the current agenda of global discourse with focused practical cooperation.
10. Enhancing our economic and trade cooperation remains an area of focus as we enter fourth decade of ASEAN-India Partnership. In 1992, India’s total trade with ASEAN was less than US$ 5 billion. Now in 30 years, ASEAN has become India's 4th largest trading partner. ASEAN-India trade crossed the USD 100 billion mark this year. Still there is huge untapped potential for India and ASEAN Economic Partnership. We are committed for the early review of ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITGA) to make it trade-facilitative, user friendly with contemporary and streamlined customs and regulatory procedures.
11. India has an intrinsic interest in connectivity initiative of ASEAN. India's Act East Policy recognizes connectivity, in its broadest sense, as the key for growth and prosperity of the region. Our Connectivity initiative includes physical, economic, and people-to-people connectivity.
12. In addition to infrastructure connectivity, India and ASEAN are also working together in the field of digital connectivity through India-ASEAN Digital Work Plan 2022 and other initiatives such as, ASEAN-India Hackathon, held in February 2021, cooperation with ASEAN Singapore Cyber Security Centre of Excellence, and Track 1.5 ASEAN-India Cyber Security Dialogue. These digital channels and engagements also help us in enhancing cooperation and collaborate in region’s ancient treasures which includes Traditional Medicine and Yoga.
13. India’s start-ups success story is driven by use of innovative technology to facilitate ease of living. Our joint collaboration in this field has potential to bring transformative change in the regions. ASEAN-India Science and Technology Fund provide an enabling environment for exploring cooperation in technology-led growth. Similarly, through the ASEAN-India Green Fund, we have been working together to support various activities and projects related to climate change, energy efficiency, clean technologies, renewable energy, biodiversity conservation and environmental education as both India and ASEAN look towards clean energy and sustainable growth.
14. Development Cooperation has been the mainstay of ASEAN India relations. Our sub-regional cooperation in the form of Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) is also dedicated to furthering this aspect by contributing to Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) through initiatives such as the community oriented, short gestation Quick Impact Projects. We are also cooperating on programmes and projects to enhance people-to-people connectivity with a focus on our youth. These include scholarships to students from ASEAN through Nalanda University, ICCR and ITEC. India also launched 1000 Doctoral Fellowships for ASEAN students at the IITs in 2019.
15. As the Covid pandemic recede, we look forward to continue our work for a comprehensive post-COVID recovery. We need to redouble our efforts to boost safe, responsible and sustainable tourism, increasing people to people partnership, cooperation in digital transformation, new and renewable energy and smart agriculture.
16. As the world moves towards greater rebalancing, and multi-polarity, India and ASEAN will have to consider these changed dynamics while drawing our future path of partnership. To de-risk the global economy, we can be partners in building reliable and resilient supply chains. To ensure a secure digital existence, we can collaborate in promoting trust and transparency. We can work together to contribute to the well-being of the global commons, especially through the observance of international law. These are the new horizons where we must concentrate and consolidate our efforts to achieve the desired milestone. Our task today is to build further on the foundation of our existing partnership to address contemporary challenges while exploring new opportunities.
17. Let me conclude by emphasizing that India-ASEAN ties reflect the promise of growth, prosperity, stability and development for the region and the world. Our ability together to expand our collaboration, adding more facets and making it more intense, has a resonance far beyond.
18. I hope that the discussions today will generate new ideas for taking forward the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership in the post-pandemic world. I wish the dialogue all success and I thank you for your attention.