India on Tuesday said that its “powerful convergences” with the ASEAN can boost cooperation and hoped that when the grouping will look West, it will see a “more confident” nation with strong economic prospects. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, while delivering the S T Lee Distinguished Lecture organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the Indian mission here, said a grouping of 600 million people with an impressive growth record is in itself a priority for India.
Asserting that ASEAN countries have a strong stake in the issues that matter for India, Jaishankar said the ability of India and the ASEAN to harmonise global contradictions and create credible meeting points will become even more important. “India and ASEAN have powerful convergences that can become the basis for a higher level of cooperation,” Jaishankar said in his lecture titled ‘India, ASEAN and Changing Geopolitics’, marking 25 years of India-ASEAN relations.
“We would hope that what ASEAN sees looking West is a more confident nation with strong economic prospects, positive demographics, substantial unmet demands, leapfrogging capabilities, one that is active on global issues, shouldering more responsibilities and is a net security provider in the Indo-Pacific,” he said. The foreign secretary noted that India has an engagement with South-East Asia in history going back millennia, adding that commerce, connectivity and culture have been its hallmark.
He stressed that India’s contemporary presence is as natural in this region as it has been in the past. “And perhaps, there can be no better testimony than in Singapore — connected as it is to 15 Indian cities, hosting six thousand Indian companies and engaging India in every conceivable sector,” Jaishankar said in his lecture.
He said that India’s expectation is that the silver jubilee year of India-ASAEN ties will really drive home the message that India and ASEAN are closely aligned in their quest for prosperity, stability and security. Jaishankar also credited the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for India’s understanding of the people of Indian-origin in the region.
“I would credit ASEAN with contributing significantly to our understanding of the role that people of Indian-origin abroad can play in India’s relationship with the world. Indeed, there are few better examples of networking and bridging than the diaspora of this region,” said Jaishankar. “Not least is the catalytic role that South East Asia has played in the revival of India’s historical linkages and interests,” he said.
Jaishankar highlighted that “the Nalanda concept” literally started here and since then, it has emerged as an encouragement to a broader Indian embrace of its Buddhist history and heritage and a more central place for that in their bilateral people to people contacts. He asserted that India’s bilateral relationships with ASEAN member states have grown in tandem with its broader regional engagement.
“Leadership level exchanges and contacts with all ASEAN states have visibly deepened in the last three years and we should see that culminate on the occasion of the silver jubilee,” he said. Jaishankar also stated that ASEAN has a natural interest in the growing ties between India and Japan.
“ASEAN also has a natural interest in the growing ties between India and Japan,” he said. “Gradually and steadily, Japan has emerged as a special strategic partner with whom India increasingly shares a global agenda,” Jaishankar said.
The planned Shinkansen high speed rail project is the symbol of these changes, he noted. “ASEAN nations are, of course, very familiar with these developments though perhaps the scale in India is of a different order,” he said. “We also see the enhanced synergy between India and Japan on connectivity and maritime security as a positive for ASEAN nations,” said Jaishankar.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a regional intergovernmental organisation comprising ten Southeast Asian states. Since its formation in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, the organisation’s membership has expanded to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.