The ASEAN-India partnership has grown into one of ASEAN’s most comprehensive, dynamic and fast-growing partnerships, Le Luong Minh, ASEAN Secretary General, has said at the inaugural session of the fifth Delhi Dialogue in New Delhi, India on February 19.

The following is the full text of the ASEAN Secretary General’s remarks delivered to the session:
“First of all, allow me to express my sincere appreciation to the Ministry of External Affairs of India, the Indian Council of World Affairs and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry for hosting and inviting me and the ASEAN Secretariat to participate in this important Delhi Dialogue on the ASEAN-India vision for partnership and prosperity.

The “Look East” policy that India has been implementing since 1991, which includes efforts to strengthen its relations with ASEAN has been well reciprocated by ASEAN as an outward-looking organisation.

Over the past two decades, ASEAN has engaged India in a relationship which had grown rapidly to a full dialogue partnership in 1995, further strengthened with the convening of annual summits since 2002 and most recently, last year, elevated to strategic partnership. From a relationship which mainly emphasised economic cooperation, the ASEAN-India partnership has developed into one of ASEAN’s most comprehensive, dynamic and fast-growing partnerships spanning across a whole spectrum of political-security, economic, social-cultural and development collaboration. The consistent sequence of elevating the ASEAN-India partnership not only reflects the two sides’ interest and desire and mutual interest to intensify their engagement, it also constitutes a solid foundation for further effective joint actions for peace, progress and shared prosperity.

As ASEAN is in the process of building the ASEAN Community, we appreciate India’s support for ASEAN Community building, its implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, the Initiative for ASEAN Integration and ASEAN Centrality.

The Leaders of ASEAN and India at their Commemorative Summit last December adopted a Vision Statement, which will serve as guidance to the pursuit of our strategic partnership for the years to come.

In this Vision Statement, our Leaders called for greater effective implementation of the Plan of Action to implement the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity (2010-2015). The Plan of Action encompasses activities under the various existing ASEAN sectoral work plans, Declarations concluded between ASEAN and India, as well as priority activities under the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community 2009-2015 that could be implemented with India.

In this regard, we would like to suggest that both ASEAN and Indian officials undertake a mid-term review of the implementation of this Plan of Action and map out the course of actions and possible joint activities from now until 2015, which would better correspond to the Vision set out by our Leaders, and study the important recommendations in the Report of the ASEAN-India Eminent Persons Group presented to our Leaders at the 10th ASEAN-India Summit in November 2012.

In the economic field, ASEAN and India have set the aim of achieving a free trade area. With a combined market of over 1.8 billion people and a GDP of USD 3.8 trillion and relative geographical proximity, there is huge potential awaiting to be tapped. The signing and entry into force of the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (TIG) and the conclusion of the negotiation on the Agreement on trade in services and investment paved the way for the creation of one of the world’s largest free trade areas. In this endeavour, we need to promote, devise measures to ensure that this FTA benefits the business community on both sides.

Also at the 10th ASEAN-India Summit in November 2012, our Leaders set the target of 100 billion USD by 2015 for ASEAN-India trade. In achieving this target as well as in the long-run, inter-connectivity would play a key role. ASEAN is embarking on an ambitious and long-term strategy to improve the region’s physical, institutional and people-to-people connectivity. Enhanced ASEAN connectivity would promote ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture, facilitate the building of an ASEAN Community and serve as a foundation for a more enhanced connectivity beyond the region. ASEAN and India are located within an economically vibrant Asian region. Effective implementation of the Master Plan of ASEAN Connectivity would be of great significance.

Expanding and improving road, rail, maritime and air linkages will be critical to further increase ASEAN-India trade and investment. The development of the Mekong-India Economic Corridor, the early construction of the new India-Myanmar-Lao PDR-Vietnam-Cambodia Highway and the extension of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway to Lao PDR and Cambodia would promote transport infrastructure linkages between ASEAN and India .

At the same time, we can strengthen ASEAN-India air connectivity by working towards greater liberalisation of air services, both cargo and passengers. Early conclusion of the ASEAN-India Air Services Agreement not only promotes trade, investment and tourism but also people-to-people connectivity, which are all mutually reinforcing.

Another key area of connectivity is information and communications technologies (ICT), which can be enhanced through sharing of best practices in policy, regulations, technological development and capacity building programmes.

To explore concrete ways and means to support the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity in areas where India has strong expertise and interest, regular exchanges between the ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee (ACCC) and India’s Inter-Ministerial Group on Connectivity would be essential.

Over the years, ASEAN-India socio-cultural cooperation has been expanded to include human resource development, science and technology (S&T), people-to-people contacts, health and pharmaceuticals, transport and infrastructure, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), tourism, information and communication technology (ICT), agriculture, and energy.

India has also been actively contributing to narrowing the gaps of development through a number of projects and programmes. India’s support for the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI), particularly the programmes for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam in training and capacity building in entrepreneurship development, English language training and ICT has been well-recognised and appreciated by ASEAN.

The present regional and global dynamics are rendering to discussions on a regional architecture in East Asia even more urgent than ever. The dynamics bring along uncertainties, challenges and opportunities that the region has to manage.

As the new realities dawn on the region’s horizon, ASEAN as the fulcrum of relations in the East Asia region is very well aware that it faces more challenges in preserving its relevance and centrality.

In expanding ASEAN’s external relations with a view to constructively engaging its friends and partners to shape the evolving regional architecture, and at the same time to ensure that ASEAN will have a united voice and will be at the centre or form the core of the evolving regional architecture, ASEAN will strive to continue to exercise leadership and remain proactive in managing the cob-web of processes and cooperation in the region.

ASEAN welcomes and appreciates India’s participation, continued commitment and support for the development of ASEAN-led regional processes which are open, transparent and inclusive, and based on principles of international law such as the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Twenty years of cooperation has yielded great mutual benefits for both ASEAN and India. Looking ahead, the work we have to accomplish to ensure peace, promote progress and shared prosperity for our 1.8 billion people is much more comprehensive than what I only briefly mentioned and as reflected in the Agenda for this Fifth Dialogue. I wish success to the deliberation.”.-VNA