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Opening Statement by Prime Minister at Plenary Session of India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit

December 20, 2012

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

It is a great honour and privilege for me to welcome you and your delegations to India. This is the first time that leaders from all ten ASEAN countries are with us here in Delhi. It is a historic moment for us and our region. We are commemorating not only twenty years of Dialogue Partnership and ten years of annual summits between India and ASEAN; we are also celebrating something more enduring and precious.

India and South-east Asia have centuries-old links. People, ideas, trade, art and religions have long criss-crossed this region. A timeless thread of civilization runs through all our countries. While each one of us has a unique and rich heritage, there are abiding linkages of culture and custom, of art and religion and of civilization, all of which create a sense of unity in the diversity and pluralism in our region. In addition, given that together we constitute a community of 1.8 billion people, representing one-fourth of humanity, with a combined GDP of 3.8 trillion U.S. dollars, it is only natural that India should attach the highest priority to its relationship with ASEAN.

We see our partnership with ASEAN not merely as a reaffirmation of ties with neighbouring countries or as an instrument of economic development, but also as an integral part of our vision of a stable, secure and prosperous Asia and its surrounding Indian Ocean and Pacific regions.

The breadth and intensity of India’s engagement with Southeast Asia is unmatched by any of our other regional relationships. We have institutionalized annual summits; many of our sectoral dialogues have been elevated into ministerial consultations; and nearly 25 mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation between us cover virtually every field of human endeavour.

This engagement has flourished particularly in the area of trade. India-ASEAN trade has grown over ten times in the ten years since we launched the annual summits. Following the implementation of our FTA in Goods, trade grew by 41% in Indian fiscal year of 2011-12. Two-way flows in investments have also grown rapidly to reach 43 billion U.S. dollars over the past decade. As ASEAN investments into India have multiplied, ASEAN countries too have emerged as major destinations for Indian companies. From energy resources to farm products, from materials to machinery, and from electronics to information technology, Indian and ASEAN companies are forging new partnerships of trade and investment.

It gives me great pleasure, therefore, to see that our Commemorative Summit today coincides with the conclusion of negotiations for the FTA in Services and Investments. This represents a valuable milestone in our relationship. I am confident it will boost our economic ties in much the same way the FTA in Goods has done.

Excellencies, the India-ASEAN engagement began with a strong economic emphasis, but it has also become increasingly strategic in its content. Our political dialogue has grown, our consultations in regional forums have intensified, and our defence and counter-terrorism cooperation have expanded. Naturally, this partnership is important because our histories are intertwined. Equally, I feel, our future is inter-linked and a stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region is crucial for our own progress and prosperity. There is, therefore, mutual benefit in these aspects of our engagement.

The path to regional peace and stability is greater coordination, cooperation and integration among our economies. ASEAN has shown the way for the entire region, building a regional mechanism of cooperation and consensus that has become a great force for peace and prosperity. It has also emerged as the principal architect and driver of economic and security structures and institutions that are emerging in the region. ASEAN centrality and leadership are essential elements for the success of these forums and India fully supports ASEAN as the lynchpin of these efforts. We also support the objective of an ASEAN Community by 2015 and will continue to be an active participant in the Initiative for ASEAN Integration and the ASEAN Master Plan on Connectivity.

Excellencies, in so far as the broad lines of cooperation in coming years are concerned, I feel we should intensify our political and security consultations, including in regional forums such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus. We should work together more purposefully for the evolution of an open, balanced, inclusive and transparent regional architecture. The growing role and responsibilities of ASEAN and India in global affairs also call for increased consultation on a broader range of international developments.

As maritime nations, India and ASEAN nations should intensify their engagement for maritime security and safety, for freedom of navigation and for peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in accordance with international law. We should also foster regional cooperation to counter piracy and respond to natural disasters.

Naturally, our ability to work together in regional and global contexts will be stronger if we are able to deepen our own engagement and cooperation. In this context, connectivity – physical, institutional, people-to-people, digital and by sea and air – holds the key to closer partnership between India and ASEAN. Tomorrow’s flagging down of the India-ASEAN Car Rally will not only celebrate a remarkable journey by brave men and women, but also symbolize how connectivity can link people, stimulate trade and generate prosperity across the region. We should, therefore, attach high priority to a quick implementation of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and its extension to Lao PDR and Cambodia. We should also launch the second track that would run from India through Myanmar, Lao PDR and Cambodia to Vietnam.

Similarly, the Indian Naval Ship INS Sudarshini, which is on a six-month expedition to nine ASEAN countries, not only draws attention to our maritime links, but to the economic potential of sea-based connectivity.

These infrastructure projects demand enormous finances. We should think of innovative ways of financing and executing these projects, which also draw upon the expertise and resources of the private sector.

Improved connectivity will lead to expanded commerce. I am optimistic that our trade will exceed 100 billion U.S. dollars by 2015 and we should aim for the milestone of 200 billion U.S. dollars ten years from now. We should also build on commendable initiatives like the annual India-ASEAN Business Fair and Conclave and energize our Business Council. Linkages between small and medium enterprises, which are central to our economies, should be promoted.

Many of us around this table share common challenges of energy and food security, rapid urbanization, climate change, the empowerment of people through education and skill development. We should use the opportunities available to work together in addressing these. I would like to state that, drawing on the experience of the India-ASEAN Plan of Action and the recommendations of the India-ASEAN Eminent Persons’ Group, we will expand our support for innovative mechanisms like the ASEAN-India Fund, the ASEAN-India Green Fund and the ASEAN-India S&T Fund to take our cooperation forward in diverse fields.

Excellencies, this is a time of great flux and transition, with several unsettled questions and unresolved issues in our region. Our responsibility to work for peace has increased and become more urgent. Our shared values, convergent world views and similarities in approaches to the region should help us make the India-ASEAN relationship more comprehensive and elevate it to a Strategic Partnership for the next decade and beyond.

With these words, I once again wish to thank you, Excellencies, for joining me here in New Delhi. Your participation has already made this Summit memorable. I very much look forward to hearing your valuable views on the future of our relationship.

I would now like to invite my co-Chair, H.E. Mr. Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, to share his views on the future of India-ASEAN partnership.

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