ASEAN backs bigger role for India in Indo-Pacific


BANGKOK: Amid geopolitical machinations and flux in the region, ASEAN countries have lauded India’s growing role in the Indo-Pacific as the two sides, with a combined GDP of around $6 trillion, underlined a convergence of their visions for this emerging zone of opportunity.

In his remarks at the 16th India-ASEAN summit in Bangkok on November 3,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined the convergence between India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP). “I welcome the mutual coordination of the Indo-Pacific Outlook between India and ASEAN. India’s Act East Policy is an important part of our Indo-Pacific vision. ASEAN is and always will be the heart of our Act East Policy,” he said.

PM Modi underderlined “the centrality of ASEAN in India’s Act East policy and the Indo-Pacific,” Mrs Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East) in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, told journalists in the Thai capital. “All members of ASEAN appreciated India’s growing role in the Indo-Pacific. ASEAN regards India’s role (in the Indo-Pacific) as a factor of peace and stability in the region,” she said.

In response to a question from India Writes Network, Mrs Singh elaborated on the commonalities between India’s vision of Indo-Pacific, as famously enunciated by PM Modi in his address at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore on June 1, 2018 and AOIP. “There are many commonalities between India & ASEAN, including maritime cooperation, safety and sustainable use of marine resources. These would be some areas where the two sides can work together,” said Mrs Singh, the seniormost Indian diplomat dealing with the region.

Upholding Freedom of Navigation 

The two sides discussed enhanced cooperation in combating terrorism, extremism and in upholding freedom of navigation.

Maintaining peace and security in the South China Sea and preserving freedom of navigation figured prominently in the India-ASEAN talks amid the exacerbating Vietnam-China stand-off. India and the leaders of ASEAN reiterated their commitment to the importance of upholding a rules-based order and the adhering to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), said Vijay Thakur Singh.

In his opening address at the India-ASEAN summit, Mr Modi said enhancing surface, air and maritime connectivity between India and 10 nations of ASEAN will provide a big boost to regional trade and economic growth. The Indian leader spoke about enhancing cooperation in the maritime security sphere and blue economy as well as in areas of agriculture, engineering, digital technology and scientific research.

“Integrated, organized and economically developing ASEAN is in India’s basic interest. We are committed to further strengthen our partnership through stronger surface, maritime and air-connectivity and digital-link,” he said.  “$ 1 billion line of credit will be useful for physical and digital connectivity. Our intention is to greatly increase the traffic of people for study, research, trade and tourism.”

Mrs Vijay Thakur Singh said Laos has approched India for a road link under the $1 billion LoC pledged by India four years ago.

“We are ready to further increase capacity building and partnerships in areas such as agriculture, science, research, ICT and engineering. I welcome the recent decision to review the ASEAN-India FTA. This will not only make our economic relations more stronger, but our trade will also be balanced,” said Mr Modi.

Negotiations for the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world’s largest free trading area, are going down the wire. Well-placed sources said that India will go along, despite some concerns about  lack of reciprocal concessions by ASEAN countries in the area of services trade and an influx of cheap Chinese goods, at the RCEP summit on November 4.

 

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Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.