India hoping to take ‘Look East’ policy to new level : PM


New Delhi : India was hoping to take its ‘Look East’ policy to another level in terms of cooperation and economic growth, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Friday before leaving for Thailand to attend the 7th India-ASEAN Summit and the 4th East Asia Summit.

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Stressing that participation in both the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia summits was important for an Asian economic community based on an open and inclusive regional architecture, 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.

“I will discuss with ASEAN leaders new initiatives to accelerate the process of our engagement in areas such as greater economic integration, people-to-people contacts, agriculture, human resource development, education, science and technology and information and communications technology.”

Manmohan Singh will take part in the 7th India-ASEAN summit and the 4th East Asia summit at the seaside resort of Hua Hin, which is about 200 km from Bangkok. N. Ravi, secretary (east) in the external affairs ministry, and other senior officials are accompanying him on the visit.

The prime minister will be away for three days and returns Sunday.

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.

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

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

“I am hopeful that the ASEAN and other countries of the East Asia Summit process will endorse the proposal for the establishment of the Nalanda University in Bihar as an international institution of excellence in education with a continental focus.”

A significant aspect of the visit will be Manmohan Singh’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the two summits.

Both leaders will meet against the backdrop of tensions over the long-running border dispute. China recently criticised Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which China claims, while New Delhi voiced its concern over Chinese involvement in projects in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

India is a dialogue partner at ASEAN, whose members include Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Brunei.

The East Asia summit includes heavyweights like China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. It is the fourth time that this informal grouping will be meeting in Thailand.