India, Asean want to ‘connect’ in the physical, virtual world


New Delhi : India and the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) Monday began their year-long engagement with a Delhi Dialogue, where leaders emphasised on increased connectivity, not just through physical movement of goods and people, but in the virtual world too through e-connectivity for better communication.

Support TwoCircles

The Delhi Dialogue, fourth in the series since 2009 and an instrument for India’s two-decade-old Look East policy, comes at a time when India and the 10-nation grouping are commemorating 20 years of dialogue and 10th anniversary of their summit-level partnership.

“India and Asean need to enhance connectivity through the realisation of routes such as the Mekong-India Economic Corridor, which would have a beneficial effect especially for the eastern part of our country,” India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said inaugurating the event here focusing on ‘India and Asean: Partners for Peace, Progress and Stability’.

“India has contributed to Asean integration and supports the efforts towards the creation of an Asean Community. In this digital age, the way forward points to virtual networks and e-connectivity in addition to land, rail and air connectivity. Asean and India have the potential and the capacities to partner each other in such endeavours,” he said, setting the tone for the two-day deliberations.

His sentiments were shared by Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and Thailand Foreign Affairs Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, apart from deputy foreign ministers from Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam, in the presence of Asean deputy secretary-general Bagas Hapsoro.

The event is hosted by Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) from the Indian ministry of external affairs, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and the SAEA Research Group from Singapore, as well as the Economic Research Institute of Asean and East Asian in Jakarta.

In the current global economic situation, Krishna said, it is in the common interest of India and Asean to work together to enhance the prospects for prosperity in the region. “We need to secure our region as an area of growth, a region which is home to more than 1.7 billion people, around one-fourth of the global population.”

Calling this the ‘Asian Century’, Krishna said it had been marked by a shift of the economic centre of gravity to this part of the world.

“We must also take cognizance of the global economic and politico-security environment,” he said, calling for India and Asean to perform the role of “a stable anchor for the processes of integration and transformation” in the Asia-Pacific region.

Namhong, in his remarks, said he only sees “more positive trend” in the coming years as the region pushed forward to unleash the “enormous economic potentials” resulting in greater physical land, sea and air connectivity between the two partners.

“In this connection, Asean welcomes India’s assistance to support Asean’s effort in implementing the Master Plan on Asean connectivity (MPAC), in particular, the pledge of India for building a new India-Myanmar-Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia highway and the extension of the existing India-Myanmar-Thailand highway to Laos and Cambodia,” he said.

The long-standing partnership between Asean and India, Namhong said, reflected in the increase in the trade between the two by 41.4 per cent in 2010, amounting to $55.3 billion and an increase in foreign direct investment flow from India by more than 200 per cent from just $0.8 billion in 2009 to $2.5 billion in 2010.

Tovichakchaikul, in his key note address, said the world had learned new lexicons such as ‘Arab Spring’, ‘Euro zone crisis’ and Occupy Wall Street’ and felt their impacts in recent months. “They are among the new and common challenges that require innovative and collective responses,” he said.

Complimenting India’s ‘Look East’ policy, he said the South Asian nation has “become a key partner” in the Asean-centred regional architecture such as Asean-India dialogue and East Asia Summit.

“It is therefore essential that we must build on our political and security partnerships by mobilising our resources and enhance cooperation in advancing our economic integration,” he added.

The two sides already have a free trade agreement and are closer to clinching a services and investment agreement, which is likely to grow into a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement in the future.