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Inaugural Address by External Affairs Minister at the 3rd Roundtable of ASEAN India Network of Think Tanks

August 25, 2014

Your Excellency, Deputy Prime Minister & Foreign Minister of Vietnam Mr. Pham Binh Minh,

President of the Viet Nam Academy of Social Sciences, Prof. Dr. Nguyen Xuan Thang,

Vice Chairman of RIS and ASEAN-India Centre Amb. V.S. Seshadri,

Distinguished Speakers & Panelists,

Representatives of Think Tanks from ASEAN countries, RIS and the ASEAN India Centre,

Ladies & Gentlemen,

I have been looking forward to this 3rd Roundtable of the ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks. At my meeting with the ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Nay Pyi Taw on August 9, 2014 I found great synergy of thinking and expectation from the ASEAN-India strategic partnership. Members of the strategic community in our countries should be partners in the endeavour of ASEAN and Indian Governments to take this relationship to new heights, with increased speed and relevance to our region.

The ASEAN Indian strategic partnership also anchors our common ambition at multilateral and global levels, whether at the East Asia Summit, in RCEP or at other fora. I, therefore, look forward to your suggestions and ideas during the course of the Roundtable to add to this momentum of integration between ASEAN and India.

I would like to inform you that the new Government in India is a strong believer in such a participative approach to bring together the members of the strategic community, the Industry, the experts and professionals and the youth in our countries to further our common agenda of development, progress and prosperity.

This is particularly necessary when we assess the ambitious agenda of ASEAN and India connectivity. In my meeting with the ASEAN Foreign Ministers recently, I emphasized the importance of the 'C' of connectivity to the five Ts that the Government of India is pursuing – Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology.

Connectivity implies more than geographic linkages between us. It involves also institution-to-institution and people-to-people linkages. Even geographic connectivity becomes a stronger concept if we include a multimodal approach that integrates land, sea and air connectivity and if we can bring in the soft infrastructure to advance trade integration and facilitation through joint transit arrangements and allow easier movement of goods and people

. I am, therefore, particularly pleased to see the focus of the 3rd Roundtable on "ASEAN-India Integration and Development” in the context of connectivity, its soft infrastructure, economic trade and investment cooperation and integration of the economic space defined by ASEAN and India. These are matters of the highest priority in our relations with ASEAN. I hope that you will be able to give us some substantive recommendations on how we can further this very ambitious but vital agenda on the ground.

I am told that you have all been made aware of an extremely comprehensive report completed recently by RIS and Amb. Seshadri on "Transforming Connectivity Corridors between India and Myanmar into Development Corridors”. This Report has some very sound groundwork. It places special focus on the land bridge provided by Myanmar for India’s connectivity to ASEAN. Myanmar is also the country where we are currently involved in efforts to bring about geographic connectivity.

We have completed 160 kms of the Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo (TKK) Friendship Road as part of the Trilateral Highway from Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand. We are committed to another 120 kms in the Kalewa-Yargyi sector and the refurbishment of 71 bridges on the TKK road. Myanmar and Thailand are to complete their respective segments. We have resolved to also begin negotiations on a Transit Transport Agreement between India-Myanmar-Thailand for the Trilateral Highway. We are taking the Kaladan Multimodal Project in Myanmar, including the port at Sittwe towards completion. There are possibilities for collaboration in terms of SEZs at Kyaukpyu and Dawei.

Looking at the synergies in our regional and global approaches to further economic growth, prosperity, peace and stability, it is important that we accelerate the ongoing integration of the economic space between ASEAN countries and India. If we look at our economic space as one, there is tremendous scope to enhance trade and investment, create jobs and improve standards of living across our region.

The linking together of this economic space, which will determine the quality of life of 1.8 billion people between our countries, can be accelerated if we establish production and manufacturing networks and create financial mechanisms to support this integration. Investment cooperation can be given a boost by building up the backend linkages to connectivity, whether in India's North East and Eastern seacoast or in the hinterland in ASEAN countries along the corridors for physical connectivity. There are opportunities here for creation of infrastructure and capacity in manufacturing and industrial development, for skills training and vocational education, for establishing logistics chains, energy grids and food processing capacities, which in turn, can help us address complex issues pertaining to energy and food security in our region.

Some of the ASEAN economies need to build their capacities in production and we can be your partners in bringing both capacity and stability into your markets. Development economics needs to be interpreted in new ways to make this happen.

Indian companies already have a strong presence in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia and are now becoming part of the development story in Myanmar. In fact, there is more outflow of Indian FDI to ASEAN countries than vice versa. This will help bring in the necessary momentum to our trade and investment linkages and achieve the target of USD 100 billion by 2015 and USD 200 billion by 2020. We can build on synergies in our approach to regional trading mechanisms such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

As Governments, we also need to look at a more functional visa regime between us, with long-term visas for businessmen and professionals and their families.

There is also tremendous potential for tourism between us, which is still at a fraction of what the numbers can be. We need to integrate our business and tourism sectors with better air connectivity. We should find ways of seamlessly encouraging our people-to-people interfaces, which have been our collective strength through centuries.

I hope that your discussions will take note of these aspects and suggest some specific recommendations for consideration by ASEAN and Indian Governments.

I would also like to see your recommendations feed in into the Delhi Dialogue VII on March 11-12, 2015, especially since the ASEAN-India Centre is now a partner of Delhi Dialogue.

Before we inaugurate Delhi Dialogue VII, ASEAN Foreign Ministers and I would take cognizance of the recommendations and outcome documents from the multiple track 2 and track 1.5 events which would be held in the run up to DDVII by its nine Partners and five Associates. We have added some key Industry Chambers and Think Tanks from India as Associates to this process from this year onwards so as to strengthen participation from Indian Industry in the connectivity agenda before ASEAN and India.

With 26 dialogue mechanisms, 7 Ministerial level meetings, a structured interface for engagement between the strategic community in our region, exchange programmes for media, students, farmers, diplomats and the anticipated opening of our new Mission to the ASEAN in the near future, we are building a strong foundation for our future ambition.

My ASEAN colleagues and I have asked our Senior Officials to begin work on the drafting of the next Plan of Action for 2016-2021. We would like to see greater attention to meeting requirements on the connectivity agenda, in all its dimensions, and add in new areas such as education and vocational training, healthcare and medical training, building energy security and food security into the capacity building agenda of the ASEAN-India strategic partnership.

I hope also that when you deliberate all of this tomorrow, you will keep in mind the fundamental strength of the ASEAN-India strategic partnership – the people who share a civilizational heritage of ideas, knowledge, practices, culture and a capacity to partner each other. This capacity has been built over centuries. It has a natural comfort level, which can only come about through centuries of interface on the principles of openness, receptivity to one another and trust.

We are privileged that we are deliberating and defining the future contours of a partnership with longstanding positive heritage, immense current capacity and increasing relevance for the future of East Asia.

Ladies & Gentlemen I wish you an interesting and useful set of discussions and I look forward to your conclusion and recommendations.

Thank you.

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