AGAINST THE backdrop of aggressive moves by China in the region, including the Ladakh standoff, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday placed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the centre of India’s Act East policy and said that a “cohesive and responsive ASEAN” is essential for “security and growth for all in the region”.
“The Strategic Partnership between India and ASEAN is based on our shared historical, geographical and cultural heritage. Since the beginning, the ASEAN Group has been at the centre of our Act East policy,” Modi said in his opening remarks at the virtual summit between India and the 10-nation ASEAN as its co-chair.
“There are many similarities between India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and ASEAN’s Outlook on Indo-Pacific. We believe that a cohesive and responsive ASEAN is essential for security and growth for all in the region…. Cementing the connect between India and ASEAN on all fronts, including economic, social, digital, financial, maritime, is an important priority area for us,” he said.
“We have moved closer in all these areas in the last few years. I believe that our conversation today, even if it is happening through virtual medium, will be beneficial to further reduce the gap,” Modi said.
Officials said the Prime Minister underscored the importance of strengthening convergence between India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific to ensure a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region. He invited ASEAN countries to take the lead on various pillars of our Oceans Initiative.
On Covid-19, Modi stressed on leveraging strong ASEAN-India ties in the fight against the pandemic. He welcomed ASEAN’s initiatives to fight the pandemic and announced a contribution of $1 million to Covid-19 ASEAN Response Fund. He underlined the importance of cooperation and regular exchanges in the field of traditional medicines as a source of healthy and holistic living, officials said.
On trade and investment, the review of ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA) is pending for long. Modi called for an early review of the agreement. He underlined the importance of diversification and resilience of supply chains for post-Covid economic recovery.
The ASEAN leaders spoke of India as a long-term friend and dynamic partner, and acknowledged India’s contribution in the region towards promoting peace and stability. India’s capacity-building initiatives, including the PhD Fellowship Programme at IITs and setting up of Centres for Excellence in Software Development and Training in CLMV countries, were also appreciated.
The ASEAN leaders also underlined the convergence between ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific and India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative. They welcomed adoption of the new ASEAN-India Plan of Action for 2021-2025.
The Ministry of External Affairs’ Secretary (East) Riva Ganguly Das said: “The discussions also covered regional and international issues of common interest and concern, including South China Sea and terrorism. Both sides noted the importance of promoting a rules-based order in the region, including through upholding adherence to international law, especially UNCLOS.
“The leaders affirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, safety and security in South China Sea, in particular freedom of navigation and overflight.”
Overall, Ganguly Das said, “it was a fruitful exchange with ASEAN leaders, and the Summit was successful in bringing out the convergence between the two sides. ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership stands on a strong foundation of shared geographical, historical and civilisational ties. The Summit will further strengthen this relationship.”
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