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Keynote Address by External Affairs Minister at the Ministerial Session of Delhi Dialogue VIII (February 18, 2016)

February 18, 2016

H.E. Mr. Sofian Djalil, Minister for National Development Planning and Head of National Development Planning Agency of Indonesia,
H.E. U Tin Oo Lwin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar,
H.E. Mr. Vikasakdi Futrakul, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand,
H.E. Mr. Le Hoai Trung, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam,
H.E. Mr. Somchith Inthamith, Vice Minister of Industry & Commerce of Lao PDR,
Dr. AKP Mochtan, Deputy Secretary General for Community & Corporate Affairs, ASEAN Secretariat,
H.E. Mr. Vikram Nair, Member of Parliament of Singapore and Chairman of the Singapore-India Parliamentary Friendship Group,
H.E. Kan Pharidh, Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign Ministry of Cambodia,
Heads of Delegations from Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei,
Mr. T.R. Zeliang, Hon'ble Chief Minister of Nagaland,
Mr. Lal Thanhawla, Hon'ble Chief Minister of Mizoram,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is my immense pleasure to welcome you to the 8th edition of the Delhi Dialogue.

A year has passed since the last Delhi Dialogue in March 2015, at which I had the privilege of delivering keynote address. This last one year has witnessed several important developments in the ASEAN-India relationship. During this year, the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area was completed, coinciding with the creation of the ASEAN Community. I formally inaugurated our independent Mission to ASEAN during my visit to Jakarta in April 2015. An ambitious new ASEAN-India Plan of Action for the period 2016-2020 was adopted in August 2015. All these positive developments paved the way for an exceptionally productive ASEAN-India Summit in Kuala Lumpur in November 2015.

Simultaneously, in the last one year a lot has changed in the global environment. The most significant is the escalation of terrorism, extremism and sectarianism. The rise of ISIS in particular and the displacement of millions of people from their homes, has caused enormous tensions and threatens the social fabric of many countries. The slowdown of the global economy has created its own set of issues for all our economies and development agendas.

Held against this backdrop, Delhi Dialogue VIII provides policy makers, business leaders and academics from both India and ASEAN with a multi-dimensional platform to discuss, debate and arrive at recommendations on how best to deal with these challenges. It gives an opportunity to intensify and broaden our constructive engagement to mutual benefit.

Excellencies,

In the context of the rapidly changing international scenario, the theme of this edition of Delhi Dialogue, ‘ASEAN-India Relations: A New Paradigm’, is especially pertinent. This is also because India is looking to chart a more ambitious and aspirational trajectory for its engagement with ASEAN.

ASEAN's achievements over the last five decades have been truly impressive, especially considering the diversity of challenges that it has been confronted with, both internally and externally. The centrality of ASEAN has become the fulcrum, around which the Asia-Pacific region has evolved and its importance has increased further in recent times. The establishment of the ASEAN Community last December is a commendable leap forward.

India, through its 'Act East Policy,' has been giving a renewed focus to its engagement with ASEAN and other friends in the East. It is not a coincidence that since Prime Minister Modi's government came to power in May 2014; we have had visits by the President, Vice President and Prime Minister of India to 9 out of 10 ASEAN countries! Hon'ble President visited Vietnam; Hon'ble Vice President visited Cambodia, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei; and Hon'ble Prime Minister visited Myanmar, Singapore and Malaysia. The Philippines, as the next Chair of ASEAN, will soon be on the list.

We are also looking forward to the year 2017, which will be a special year for ASEAN and the ASEAN-India partnership. As ASEAN celebrates its golden jubilee, India and ASEAN would also be commemorating the silver anniversary of their partnership.

Excellencies,

India and ASEAN are two bright spots of optimism amidst ongoing global economic uncertainties. The ASEAN Community has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for shared socio-economic growth. India would like to be part of this growth and in this sense, the development of an ASEAN-India Economic Community would be a logical evolution. We also encourage the ASEAN member states which are yet to ratify the ASEAN-India Agreements on Trade in Services and Investments to do so at the earliest. The ASEAN-India Trade Negotiating Committee has also been commissioned to undertake a review of the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement. Together these will facilitate a qualitative shift in our trade and investment relationship.

A balanced and ambitious Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which we hope will be concluded this year, will further boost our economic and commercial engagement with ASEAN and the wider Asia-Pacific. We hope that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership will not become competing regimes, but help in laying the foundation of an integrated economic community. I believe that yesterday’s discussion in the business session on the impact of RCEP and TPP on ASEAN-India offered some interesting insights.

I am also pleased to note that the Business session saw participation from Presidents of all three national business chambers of India and several regional chambers, alongside business leaders from ASEAN. The discussion on ways to create regional value chains and enhance cross-border trade was important as it holds the key to the future prosperity of our peoples.

Excellencies,

Peace and stability are essential pre-requisites for progress and development. In this context, we are all aware of the importance of ensuring maritime security, which has emerged as an important area of concern in recent times. The oceans and seas, including the South China Sea, are pathways to our prosperity and security. The security of sea routes in the Asia-Pacific is essential for India’s economy as a majority of our global trade flows across the straits of Malacca and beyond. Moreover, the development of a Blue Economy and optimum utilization of marine resources can only take place within the ambit of internationally recognized rules and norms.

The need for resolving disputes peacefully, without threat or actual use of force, cannot, therefore, be underestimated. In this regard I would also like to stress that we support the evolution of an inclusive, balanced, transparent and open regional architecture for security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. We continue to deepen ASEAN-India consultations and cooperation through various ASEAN-led fora including the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, and Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum.

On the 10th anniversary of the East Asia Summit last November, we resolved to work closely with ASEAN member states to strengthen the EAS as the premier leaders-led forum for dialogue and cooperation on strategic, political and economic issues, with the aim of promoting peace, stability and economic prosperity in the region. We have also stepped up our consultations with ASEAN mechanisms dealing with countering terrorism, piracy, drug trafficking and other transnational crimes, including by involving law enforcement agencies. We look forward to tomorrow's academic discussion on 'ASEAN and the Security of the Asia Pacific.' We also propose to host the first Government-to-Government ASEAN-India Cyber Dialogue in New Delhi in early 2016.

Excellencies,

Enhancing connectivity is a strategic priority for both India and ASEAN. It is also an enabler for economic growth and people-to-people exchanges. For India's North Eastern region, it can be a game changer. India has been working with ASEAN to enhance physical connectivity via our North East as well as our eastern seaboard. A number of initiatives are underway for improving rail, road, water-ways and air connectivity within the region.

In the last one year, we have closely monitored the progress of our major connectivity projects - the Kaladan Multi Modal Transport project, India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and Rih Tedim Project in Myanmar. I am happy to share that the original waterways component of the Kaladan project has achieved a physical progress of close to 90% and is scheduled to be completed in the next few months. The revised cost of the project was approved in October last year. The implementation of the road component and additional waterways items has been initiated. These are targeted to be completed by 2019.

As regards India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway the tendering process for award of work for construction of 69 bridges and approach roads has been initiated. The project approval for this component was obtained in December last year. The implementation will start soon with the Friendship Bridge connecting Moreh and Tamu on the India-Myanmar border. The process for Kalewa-Yargi road has also been speeded up.

The Rih-Tedim Road project will provide all weather connectivity between eastern Mizoram and western Myanmar. The alignment for the road has been finalized. A Detailed Project Report will be completed by the second half of this year, and actual implementation will start soon thereafter.

Besides these projects, at the 13th ASEAN India Summit in November 2015, Prime Minister Modi announced a Line of Credit of One billion dollars to promote projects that support physical and digital connectivity between India and ASEAN. We will look forward to receiving proposals from ASEAN member states for utilization of this Line of Credit.

We are also working for enhanced air connectivity for our North-East with our ASEAN friends. On the subject of connectivity, I also look forward to hearing the views of the Chief Ministers of our North Eastern states, who have so kindly graced today's event with their presence. I am pleased to inform you that we will be inaugurating very soon an ASEAN Studies Centre at the North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong, following Prime Minister Modi’s announcement to this effect at the 13th ASEAN-India Summit. The Centre will include representatives from Universities in all North Eastern states and shall work to enhance mutual understanding and develop cross-border academic exchanges between India and ASEAN countries. We also look forward to the ASEAN-India Centre in New Delhi receiving ASEAN scholars and research fellows at an early date.

The deep and abiding socio-cultural links between India and ASEAN date back two millennia. It is important that as we further develop our political and economic relations we do not lose sight of our civilizational connect. With this objective, the first International Conference on ASEAN-India Cultural Links was organized in New Delhi in July 2015. The Conference deliberated on how to document our ancient and contemporary socio-cultural linkages, spanning our art and architecture, languages and religion, and mythology and folklore. I am happy that this Conference was not a one-off event and the 2nd ASEAN-India Cultural Relations Conference will be held in Jakarta in 2016.

We hope that such exchanges will engender research tie-up between our universities and think tanks to produce a credible repository of knowledge for the benefit of posterity. To further enhance understanding at the popular level, exchange programme of students, journalists, farmers, scholars, diplomats, parliamentarians and others are progressing apace. It was my pleasure to confer the ICCR Distinguished Alumni Award 2015 on Secretary General of ASEAN Mr. Le Luong Minh in December 2015.

I am also pleased to acknowledge the presence of 20 ASEAN journalists who are here today as part of the ASEAN-India Media Exchange Programme. The extension of the e-visa facility to all ASEAN countries will bring our peoples even closer. I also take this opportunity to invite ASEAN countries to be our partners and guests for the International Buddhist Conclave that we will be hosting later this year. We will be giving support to several leading Buddhist monks and scholars to visit India for this Conclave.

The Delhi Dialogue is a flourishing platform for exchange of ideas. This year's session will see nearly 50 speakers from India and ASEAN come together. This bears testimony to our common will and shared efforts to engage ever more deeply on issues of common interest and concern and to contribute to the overall peace, progress and prosperity of our countries and peoples.

As we prepare to celebrate 25 years of ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations and 15 years of Summit level interaction in 2017, I would welcome ideas from all speakers on how we can commemorate these landmarks suitably. Let me end by thanking you all for joining us. I wish you a fruitful and productive dialogue.

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