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Remarks by Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh at Flag Down of the ASEAN-India Car Rally

December 21, 2012

Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Your Excellency Samdech Hun Sen,
Sultan of Brunei Darussalam, Your Majesty Haji Hassanal Bolkiah,
Heads of State & Government of ASEAN Member States,
Secretary General of ASEAN, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan,
President of CII, Mr. Adi Godrej,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

l would like to begin by conveying, on behalf of more than a billion people, a very warm welcome to the ASEAN-India Car Rally participants. I congratulate them on successfully completing a remarkable journey of 8000 km through eight countries in 22 days. They deserve our cheers for this feat of endurance.

I would also like to welcome the 250 students from ASEAN countries who have joined us this morning. Their presence has added special warmth to this cold December morning in Delhi.

We are also joined by many other special guests today – the 50 ASEAN diplomats training at our Foreign Service Institute in Delhi; the 30 ASEAN farmers who have travelled here and who will host reciprocal visits from Indian farmers; and the 20 Senior Editors from the media in ASEAN countries. I welcome them all. Let me also add a special word of welcome for the performing artistes from the ASEAN countries, whose sparkling show last night enriched our celebrations and served to underscore our cultural links.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This event is imbued with symbolism and content that go beyond the mere adventure of the sport. It highlights that India and ASEAN, joined together on land and by water, with shared borders and shared cultures, are neighbours. It is a tribute to earlier generations of merchants, monks and adventurers, who traversed this route in a quest for fortune, knowledge and spirituality. In the last three weeks, the Car Rally has rekindled these ancient bonds of friendship between India and ASEAN. It has also served to highlight the natural strategic imperative for our relationship in contemporary times.

Through the rally participants, we have seen the magnificent achievements reflected in Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Borobudur in Indonesia, Wat Phu in Lao, Sukhothai in Thailand and many other sites. The rally has helped millions of people in our countries to get a better sense of our heritage and progress, our cities and natural sites, our convergences and possible synergies, and our potential and challenges. The rally has, in the most vivid manner possible, reinforced the importance of strengthening connectivity in all its dimensions between India and ASEAN.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this rally symbolizes the vision of an ASEAN-India community where people, goods, services and ideas can travel freely between us. Whether it is by road from India to Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, or by air or sea to Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore, our future will be driven by the bonds of connectivity we build in the coming years. These physical bonds will be strengthened by digital links, which will help our younger generations to network better. Together, this web of linkages will help unleash the vast economic potential of our region, accelerate development and deepen our strategic partnership.

For India, nowhere will this benefit be more pronounced than in our North-eastern states and I would encourage the establishment of institutions linked to the India-ASEAN relationship in the North-eastern states.

Even as we celebrate the Car Rally, there is another voyage of friendship taking place on the seas. The Indian Navy sail training ship INS Sudarshini, which is at present in Manila, is on a six month long expedition to nine ASEAN countries. It is yet another symbol, not only of our proximity, but also of our shared maritime interests.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

India-ASEAN relations are at an exciting stage. The past two decades have seen enormous progress in our relations in many areas. Yesterday, we framed a new paradigm for our relationship by elevating it to a strategic partnership and announcing the conclusion of negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement in Services and Investment. I am confident that this agreement could be as transformational as our agreement on Goods has been.

I wish to thank you all for joining us today for this ceremonial flag down of the India-ASEAN Car Rally. I would like to commend my colleagues in Government and the Confederation of Indian Industry for undertaking this remarkable initiative. I am deeply grateful to the Leaders of ASEAN for their active support and the facilitation provided by their Governments for making this Rally a success. While we flag down this Rally, we are also flagging off a new journey of closer cooperation and a deeper strategic partnership, not only for the benefit of our people, but also for peace, progress and prosperity in our region and the world. I have no doubt that a new era awaits us all.

I thank you.


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