India presses for enhanced connectivity, security cooperation with ASEAN

1356_1_666India’s Look East Policy is set to acquire greater force in days to come, with New Delhi pushing for greater connectivity and economic integration within the region.

In her interaction with foreign ministers from ASEAN countries in Myanmar August 9, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj voiced optimism about taking India’s relations with the ASEAN region to greater heights.

Putting the focus on growing investment and trade relations, Sushma Swaraj underlined that that improved connectivity will enhance economic cooperation. “To my mind, connectivity and trade and investment can bring about a seamless integration of our economic space and enable us to optimize our human and resource potential.”

“Our civil aviation experts should find ways to complete the unutilised 18 sectors connecting Tier II and Tier III cities in India to tourist and business destinations in ASEAN. This will be practical and will assist our search for innovative financial solutions. We need to encourage a symbiotic relationship between the infrastructure of roads/railways/shipping lines, which the ASEAN want India to help create, and regular economic activity with India to sustain such ‘connectivity’.”

India and ASEAN signed a Free trade Agreement in 2009 which led to a marked upswing in their economic ties.  India-ASEAN trade surpassed the $80 billion mark in 2013-14 and is poised to cross $ 100 billion in 2015.

On August 10, Swaraj will take part in the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). The EAS meeting is expected to focus on cooperation in energy, education, disaster management, food security and improving connectivity.

After her multilateral engagements, on August 11, Swaraj is scheduled to meet Myanmar’s President U Thein Sein.

India’s Look East Policy has entered in a new high-speed phase, which is often referred to in strategic circles, as “Look East Policy 3.0” or “Enhanced Look East Policy”. Along with economic cooperation, security has become an issue of priority for the region.

India has continually argued that polarisation in the region is in no one’s favour, and steps must be taken to resist the use of force or the threat of use of force.

“We hope to see progress with respect to implementation of Guidelines to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the adoption of a Code of Conduct on the basis of consensus. We have been consistent in our opposition to the use or threat of use of force. We support freedom of navigation and access to resources in accordance with principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Responding to ASEAN’s repeated request of wanting to see India play an active role in the security calculations of the region, especially in support of the ASEAN Political Security Blueprint for 2015, Swaraj stressed that India is ready to discuss and explore possible principles for inter-state relations in East Asia.

The minister also emphasised the need to improve cooperation in education and people-to-people contacts. She added that India would be announcing new programmes and scholarships for students from the region.

Home to over 1.8 billion people, India and ASEAN see their closer cooperation as crucial to unlocking the promise of an Asian century.

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