Ancient Route, New Journey: Building diaspora bridge between India & ASEAN


SINGAPORE: The two-day grand celebration of the ASEAN-India Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conference in Singapore saw an intermingling of culture and cuisine of India and Southeast Asia, whose ties go back centuries. Addressing a gathering of around 3000 delegates at the Regional PBD entitled, ‘Ancient Route, New Journey: Diaspora in the Dynamic ASEAN-India Partnership,” India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj cheered the role of the Indian diaspora in Singapore in bringing the two regions closer to each other.
“I see the symbols of our ties: on the streets, in life at homes…in the rituals of diverse states, in the symbols and sounds of languages, in the poetry of the dances, in the melody of the music and in the flavours of the food,” she said.
“We have immense resources in the form of our diaspora in South-east Asia, to be the bridge for a new journey on an ancient route,” she said.
ASEAN countries are home to around 6 million overseas Indians, a fifth the 31 million-strong Indian diaspora, comprising both Indian citizens abroad and Persons of Indian origin.
With India’s dialogue partnership with ASEAN now upgraded to a strategic partnership, the diaspora becomes a crucial link.
“Our diaspora provides a platform for a stronger relationship between India and ASEAN countries… India’s engagement with the ASEAN region lies in the clarity of the principles that we share. We believe that when all nations adhere to international rules and norms and when we conduct on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect, our nations feel secure and our economies prosper,” Ms Swaraj said.
Alluding to the presence of Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal at PBD, Mrs Swaraj emphasised the importance of the development of India’s Northeast in facilitating better connectivity with the ASEAN region. “Our Northeast region will prosper when it is better connected to Southeast Asia and when the Northeast becomes our bridge to Southeast Asia, we will be closer to realising our hopes for India and ASEAN ties,” she said.
singpore-pbd1The minister also outlined the need to create skills for the digital age, fighting unemployment, sustainable urbanization programmes, conserving bio-diversity and developing and promoting clean energy.
India’s expanding presence in the dynamic island-nation was also highlighted by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. “As a civil aviation, trading and financial hub, we are a good base for Indian companies to work from in order to expand to South-east Asia and beyond,” he said. There are 8000 Indian companies which are operating in Singapore, almost double the number in 2009.
“Today 16 Indian cities are connected to Singapore, a trilateral highway project from India to Thailand is making progress and we plan to extend this further to connect India with other ASEAN countries,” Ms Swaraj said. Representing a quarter of the world’s population of 1.8 billion people and a combined GDP of more than USD 4.5 trillion India and ASEAN form a significant power bloc and India’s “Act East” policy is geared towards increasing its presence in the region and maximizing the gains from this burgeoning partnership.


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