India-ASEAN Ties Strengthened

India’s engagement with the ASEAN and wider Indo-Pacific region has acquired further momentum following the enunciation of the ‘Act East Policy’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 12th ASEAN-India Summit and 9th East Asia Summit in Myanmar in November 2014. This was Prime Minister Modi’s fourth such engagement at this important forum.

At the 15th ASEAN-India Summit in Manila, Mr. Modi and ASEAN leaders reviewed the commemorative activities undertaken in 2017 to mark the 25 years of India’s dialogue partnership with ASEAN and the broad spectrum of ASEAN-India cooperation in all aspects.

India and ASEAN have 30 dialogue mechanisms which meet regularly, including a Summit and 7 Ministerial meetings in Foreign Affairs, Commerce, Tourism, Agriculture, Environment, Renewable Energy and Telecommunications. Minister of State for External Affairs, General (Dr.) V.K. Singh (Retd.) attended the ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and EAS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in August 2017 in Manila, Philippines. Minister for Commerce and Industry, Suresh Prabhu attended the ASEAN Economic Ministers plus India Consultations held in Manila in September, where the Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen economic cooperation.

 Ms. Nirmala Seetharaman on her first foreign visit in the capacity of Defence Minister attended the 4th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus held in Manila last month.  She reiterated India’s zero tolerance stance on terrorism and recognized the role of international and regional platforms in fighting this menace.

Trade between India and ASEAN stood at US$ 71 billion in 2016-17 and comprises 10.85% of India’s total trade with the world. Early conclusion of a balanced Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement will further boost our trade and investment ties with the region.

 With this visit to Philippines, India would have undertaken visits at the highest level of President, Vice President and Prime Minister to all the ten ASEAN countries in last three years. This shows the importance India attaches to its relations with the ASEAN region. It symbolizes India’s commitment to deepening relationship with ASEAN member states in particular. This is definitely a proactive change to our approach to the region after years of relative neglect which had hampered India’s interest in the region by giving a walk-over to China.                    

Prime Minister’s visit took place in a landmark year because we are celebrating 25 years of India-ASEAN dialogue partnership, 15 years of summit level participation and 5 years of our strategic partnership with ASEAN. On the sidelines of teh ASEAN Summit, Prime Minister Modi also held bilateral meetings with President Duterte of Philippines who is also the current Chair of ASEAN. Mr. Modi also met with US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

 The ASEAN region along with India comprises a combined population of 1.85 billion, which is one fourth of the global population and a combined GDP of over $ 3.8 trillion; creating one of the largest economic spaces in the world. Investments from ASEAN in the last 17 years has been over $ 70 billion accounting for more than 17% of our total FDI and Indian investments in ASEAN during the same period has been more than $ 40 billion.

 Indo-ASEAN bilateral trade and investment remains robust and there is scope to further increase, given the dynamism of the Indian economy and the economies of all the ASEAN countries. Of course, there are huge complementarities and there is immense potential in further enhancing economic cooperation with the ASEAN countries.

 India and Philippines are focused on good governance, inclusive growth, development of infrastructure and cooperative federalism. There is a lot of convergence in world views of both countries. There are similarities as India sees immense potential in furthering relations with the Philippines.

 India supports ASEAN’s unity and centrality in the regional security architecture. India has taken a number of initiatives in capacity building by doing projects as part of the Initiatives for ASEAN Integration, particularly focused on Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. India has three funds that help finance projects viz., the India-ASEAN Cooperation Fund which has a corpus of $100 million, the ASEAN-India Green Fund and ASEAN-India Science and Technology Fund.

 Enhancing physical, digital and economic connectivity as also people to people contacts is the focus of India’s cooperation with the ASEAN. India enjoys immense amount of goodwill in the region. This will further strengthen the politico-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars of India’s engagement with ASEAN.

Script:Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, Diplomatic Correspondent