India to enhance ties with East Asia

By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS,

Hua Hin (Thailand) : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday pledged to deepen India’s wide-ranging relations with East and Southeast Asia as he prepared to take part in the seventh India-Asean Summit and the fourth East Asia Summit in this Thai resort.

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In a statement ahead of his departure from New Delhi and also released here, Manmohan Singh, who will arrive here later Friday, said he also planned bilateral meetings with leaders with seven countries including China.

The prime minister said he would discuss greater economic integration, people-to-people contracts, agriculture, science and technology and information and communications technology with leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Manmohan Singh said: “India’s enhanced engagement with the ASEAN is at the heart of our ‘Look East’ policy. The conclusion of the India-ASEAN trade-in-goods agreement in August is a major first step in our objective of creating an India-ASEAN regional trade and investment area.”

India-ASEAN trade has grown at a healthy rate and stood of about $48 billion in 2008, Manmohan Singh said, adding that he would inform leaders about the initiatives India has taken to qualitatively enhance its partnership in diverse areas of cooperation.

The India-Asean Summit is due to take place Saturday. In August, India and ASEAN signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and both are looking to ink a similar pact in the field of services and investment.

On Sunday, Manmohan Singh said he will attend the East Asia Summit which “will review cooperation in five key areas – energy, education, finance, avian influenza and national disaster management”.

The prime minister said the summit will review cooperation in five key areas – energy, education, finance, avian influenza and national disaster mitigation.

The East Asia Summit brings together the Asean countries as well as Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Japan and South Korea.

Asia’s response to the global economic slowdown, food security, energy security and climate change will be important issues of discussion, he added.

The prime minister expressed the hope that Asean and other countries of East Asia would endorse the proposal to establish the Nalanda University in Bihar as an international institution of excellence in education.

The Indian leader returns home Sunday night.