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Keynote Address by Minister of State of External Affairs at the 4th Roundtable of ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks in Kuala Lumpur (7 August 2015)

August 07, 2015

Hon Dato Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia

Ambassador V. P. Hirubalan, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa, Chairman & Chief Executive, ISIS Malaysia;

Ambassador V.S. Sheshadri, Vice Chairman, RIS;

Distinguished representatives from Think Tanks from India and ASEAN Member States;

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  • At our recently concluded annual ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers Meeting here in Kuala Lumpur day before yesterday, hosted so ably by Malaysia, I and my ministerial colleagues from the 10 ASEAN countries conducted a comprehensive review of the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership. I also met with counterparts from the East Asia Summit participating countries and the ASEAN Regional Forum Member States yesterday at the respective Foreign Ministers Meetings, where we had a very candid exchange of views on the imminent and potential challenges that confront the East Asian region in particular and the world in general today.
  • The economic and geo-political centre of gravity of the world is slowly but surely shifting towards the Asia-Pacific in the 21st century, with the region showing unparalleled dynamism in economic, political, security and demographic terms. As politico-economic and security structures evolve, Asia is assuming new responsibilities, commensurate with its newly acquired capabilities.
  • In this scenario, ASEAN and India are, in a sense, natural partners, defining their individual national perspectives whilst simultaneously addressing their common requirements of economic growth and a peaceful and stable regional environment.
  • India is an active participant, in the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, ADMM+ and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum, which are important ASEAN centric initiatives for creating an open and inclusive regional architecture.
  • The changing global dynamics have reinforced the importance of ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture and provided an impetus to enhancement of ASEAN-India cooperation in areas such as maritime security, humanitarian and disaster relief, anti-piracy and counter-terrorism.
  • As the countries in the East Asian region strive for greater economic integration, the safety of sea lanes - critical for maritime trade and commerce, maritime security, and access to marine resources in accordance with accepted international norms, continue to assume greater significance. At the various meetings this week, Ministers expressed concern about the fragility of the maritime security environment. The evolving situation in the South China Sea, and in that context, the need for restraint from all parties, and urgency of collective efforts by ASEAN Member States and China to conclude the Code of Conduct, also featured prominently in our discussions.
  • Moreover, non-state threats such as piracy, smuggling, international terrorism, transnational crimes, drug-trafficking, maritime security and proliferation of sensitive items are on the rise and pose a challenge for countries in the region. We have, therefore, resolved to intensify our cooperation in the field of non-traditional security threats.
  • While addressing threats posed by non-state actors is important, States themselves must also abide by "rules of the road.” India firmly believes that to seek a climate of trust and transparency, respect for international maritime rules and norms by all countries, sensitivity to one another’s interests, peaceful resolution of maritime issues, and an increase in maritime cooperation, should all be the collective objective and responsibility of the region.
  • Another trans-national challenge that featured prominently in our discussions is the alarming rise in cyber-crime. Cyberspace is now acknowledged as the fifth domain of human activity, after land, sea, air and outer space. Although India is widely recognised as an IT power, cyber threats pose no less a challenge to us and our IT and security infrastructure. While ASEAN and India have taken steps to firm up their cyber security regimes, we are yet to establish a strong relationship in this domain, even though we have made huge strides in our collaborative agenda on other fronts as Strategic Partners.
  • The anonymity and inter-connectivity of cyberspace is not just exploited by criminals and terrorists to carry out identity theft, financial fraud, terrorist activities and stealing of corporate information, but also by some state actors to conduct espionage, disrupt critical infrastructure and plant malicious software which can be exploited in various ways.
  • Since cyber-crime usually has a transnational dimension, there is crucial need for cooperation to exchange experiences and share best practices for protection of information infrastructures. Efforts at integrating regional cyber security initiatives have been carried out under the aegis of the ARF, but we all agreed that much more needs to be done in combating cyber-crime and cyber-warfare, undertaken by both State and non-state actors.
  • In our meetings, we also deliberated upon the grave challenge from the rapid rise of violent extremism and radicalism that put our societies and values at risk. The success of ISIS in using cyber space for radical propaganda, raising funds, and recruiting young, educated, Foreign Terrorist Fighters from every continent to join their war in Iraq and Syria, poses a threat that we are all grappling with in varying measure.
  • Terrorist actors in theatres from Syria, Iraq to Af-Pak are interconnected through terror networks. The supply chains of different elements including spread of extremist ideology, recruitment, training, travel and financing are truly global in nature. As a result, it is difficult to guarantee country-specific insularity from this threat. Therefore, it is imperative for the international community to ensure deeper and wider international cooperation to be able to successfully deal with this menace.
  • While we need concerted action to deprive terrorist actors of access to finance and arms, we also need to address extremism and radicalization. In that context, Malaysia’s Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) Initiative, which essentially calls upon the voices of moderation to drown the voices of extremism, is laudable and has earned support from us all.
  • We also discussed at some length a number of useful and constructive ideas that have been presented by India, Russia, China, Indonesia and Japan in the context of the regional security architecture under the EAS rubric, following up on the 4th workshop in this regard co-hosted by Cambodia and India in Phnom Penh on 20-21 July, 2015.
  • India’s position has consistently been that any effort to give direction and form to the evolving political and security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region must allow for the plurality of political and security perspectives, systems and approaches and, at the same time, allow for the search for collaborative solutions to emerging and non-traditional challenges, the peaceful settlement of issues and disputes, to enable a stable environment oriented towards growth, prosperity, peace and stability.
  • We endorse efforts to strengthen the Bali Principles for Mutually Beneficial Relations and reinforce the commitments enshrined in Treaty of Amity & Cooperation, which contain the basic principles of political and security cooperation in the region. India also supports the understanding that any future framework must be centred on the EAS as a premier Leaders-led forum for dialogue on strategic issues and to reinforce ASEAN centrality on regional issues.
  • On the economic front, the most significant development has been the greater integration of the economic space between ASEAN countries and India with the signing of the Free Trade Agreement in Goods in 2009, followed by the signing of Free Trade Agreements in Investment and Services in 2014, which are expected to fully enter into force later this year. The Agreements have already come into force on 1st of July this year for India, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. In addition, the Trade-in-Services Agreement has entered into force for Viet Nam and will do so for Lao PDR from 15 September 2015. I have requested colleagues from the remaining ASEAN countries to expedite completion of their respective ratification processes.
  • In 2014-15, ASEAN-India trade stood at US$ 76.58 billion, up from US$ 44 billion in 2009-10 when we signed the FTA in Goods. Nevertheless, the bilateral trade volume remains relatively low as compared with the other dialogue partners of ASEAN, due to inadequate awareness about mutual investment opportunities and under-utilisation of the FTA on both sides, which we are working to rectify.
  • How to socialise the benefits of FTA among the user business communities is something both ASEAN Member States and India will have to collectively keep working at through convening more frequent joint business fora and business outreach activities. One positive development is that our Economic Ministers have agreed to revive the Trade Negotiating Committee to undertake a comprehensive review of the ASEAN-India Trade-in-Goods Agreement. We also look forward to the suggestions of this roundtable on the measures that can be adopted to enhance trade between our countries.
  • Meanwhile, we were pleased to note that negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement have been advancing satisfactorily, and we are optimistic about a substantive conclusion of negotiations by the end of the year, as agreed upon by the Trade Ministers of the 16 parties to the Agreement last month.
  • The RCEP also complements the interests of the EAS in supporting and contributing to economic integration, equitable economic development and strengthening economic cooperation among participating countries, through working towards a comprehensive, high quality and mutually beneficial Agreement.
  • Enhancing connectivity with ASEAN in all its aspects – physical, institutional and people-to-people – is one of our strategic priorities. At the 11th ASEAN-India Summit in Brunei Darussalam in 2013, India committed to support the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity. The signal effort under the ASEAN-India Connectivity initiative is the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and its potential extension to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Another flagship project is the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport project, which aims at providing connectivity between Indian ports on the eastern sea board and Sittwe Port in Myanmar, and thereafter by road to Mizoram. At the last ASEAN-India Summit, our Prime Minister also announced that we would work on creating a Special Facility for project financing and quick implementation of connectivity projects with ASEAN. The modalities of this are currently being worked out and we look forward to the active support of our ASEAN partners to make this initiative a success.
  • I have just recounted some of the salient points of our discussions at the recently concluded Ministerial meetings. I am happy to note that these correspond to many of the themes for that the 4th ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks Roundtable has chosen to discuss today and tomorrow.
  • I am particularly pleased that you have included a full session on India-ASEAN cultural linkages. India is, perhaps, the only Dialogue Partner of ASEAN which shares such deep and abiding historical and cultural linkages with the Southeast Asian countries. Our social mores, culture and value systems have been deeply influenced by a process of co-mingling and cross-pollination that occurred over two millennia. We held in New Delhi, in partnership with the ASEAN-India Centre, the first ever Conference on ASEAN-India Cultural Linkages on 23-24 July 2015. We look forward to hearing your scholarly insights today into this often overlooked but vital dimension of our relationship.
  • I would also like to invite your attention to the special significance that the year 2015 holds for both ASEAN and India. We are glad that ASEAN is guided by a strong and effective Chair in Malaysia during its critical milestone year as it sets out to realise the dream of over 600 million people of Southeast Asia coming together as a close-knit community by the end of 2015, while simultaneously charting out the roadmap for the grouping for the next decade.
  • During the 13th ASEAN-India Summit in Kuala Lumpur later this year, India and ASEAN would also be adopting the 3rd Plan of Action for the next five years, i.e. from 2016 to 2020, to carry forward the roadmap for long-term ASEAN India engagement as set out in the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity signed at the 4th ASEAN-India Summit in 2004.
  • The Vision Document that our Leaders adopted at the 2012 ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi, while upgrading our relationship to the strategic level, as well as the recommendations of the ASEAN-India Eminent Persons Group, also continue to provide guidance and inspiration to our relationship.
  • As we look ahead, the future appears promising. In two years from now, we will be celebrating the 25th Anniversary of our Dialogue Relationship with ASEAN. We would be keenly listening to the views of the distinguished panelists present here on the 'way forward' for our relations, leading up to the silver anniversary of the ASEAN-India partnership in 2017 and beyond.
  • To conclude, I would like to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to Hon Dato Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia for sparing his valuable time to be with us this morning and for sharing his insightful thoughts on the ASEAN-India Partnership. I would also like to express my appreciation to both the ASEAN-India Centre, New Delhi and the Institute for Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia for organising this very useful Roundtable on pertinent issues of import to us.
  • I wish your deliberations all success and I look forward to the conclusions and recommendations that emerge from this Roundtable.
Thank you.



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