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Remarks by External Affairs Minister at Delhi Dialogue X (July 19, 2018)

July 19, 2018

Namaskar and a very Good Evening
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you all today, to the tenth edition of the Delhi Dialogue. The presence of so many Ministers and senior officials from ASEAN countries as also the Chief Ministers from our North-Eastern states and other dignitaries, is a tribute to ASEAN-India relations.

The timing of our meeting today is auspicious. We are on the threshold to welcome the Indian month of Shraavan, when the monsoon sets in. It is the same Monsoon that for centuries set the maritime rhythm in the Indian Ocean from the east coast of Africa to the Straits of Malacca.

It created an intricate web of trade routes, where courageous seafarers sailed, transporting our kings, our merchants, priests, scholars, royal emissaries and adventurers. Riding on the waves of these seas, also travelled cultural, religious and political influences, creating a rich tapestry of our shared heritage.

These voyages continue to be celebrated today, as ‘Baliyatra’ in Orissa, which means a ‘Voyage to Bali’; or the ‘Loykrathong’ or ‘Loy brahPrahdip’ in Thailand, where ritualistic boats are floated in the month of December.

India and ASEAN share bonds of family and kinship. There are several stories to recount, from the tales of the Indian Brahmin Kaundinya who sailed to Funan to marry a Naga Princess; or the young Pallamvalla who was brought from Vietnam to restore the royal lineage of Pallavas in South India.

The Ahoms in Assam are descendents of Tai. Khamtis of Thailand and Myanmar also live in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, whereas the Khasis in Meghalaya have ancestral links to Thailand.

In modern times, our leaders have continued to maintain these links. Indeed, they shared close relations and drew inspiration from each others’ experiences, while fighting for independence from foreign rule. Gandhiji visited Yangon thrice, while Bal Gangadhar Tilak was deported to Yangon by the British for several years. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose visited Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore.

Notably, the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, spent his life in exile in Myanmar and lies buried there. Our poet laureate Gurudev RabindraNath Tagore travelled to South East Asia in 1927.

"ASEAN is one of the focal points of India’s foreign policy, strategic concerns and economic interests”. These are the words of our former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he attended the first ASEAN India Summit in 2002 in Phnom Penh. Our government is committed to bringing India ASEAN relations to its full potential through our Act East Policy, with ASEAN at the core.


This has been reaffirmed by our Prime Minister Narendra Modi on several occasions, and I now quote him, "so that it may scale new heights and constitute a defining partnership of our times."

The Delhi Dialogue, has emerged as India’s foremost ASEAN-centred Track 1.5 Forum for realisation of these objectives. Policy makers, eminent academicians, think tanks and the business community of India and ASEAN member states have used this platform to share their views to deepen and develop our unique relationship. Over the years, this forum has yielded rich dividend of ideas for us.


This year’s Delhi Dialogue is particularly special, as we celebrate its 10th chapter. It follows the Commemorative Summit of 25th January 2018 in New Delhi, which marked the 25th anniversary of ASEAN-India Partnership. The Summit recognized that India and ASEAN, as maritime partners and neighbors, must work together to ensure security and sustainability of oceans, seas and waterways.

It is therefore appropriate that the theme of today’s Delhi Dialogue is focused on 'Strengthening ASEAN-India Maritime Cooperation’.

In fact, our maritime policy was articulated by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi at the Shangri-La Dialogue last month. India’s interests in the Indo-Pacific are vast and our engagement is deep. Our vision, in one word, is SAGAR which stands for – Security and Growth for All in the Region. We have a comprehensive agenda of regional cooperation with both IORA and ASEAN.

Our expanding partnerships with all countries in the region is an integral part of this. The Indo-Pacific must be a free, open and an inclusive region. We must follow a common, rules-based order, that takes into account the equality of all, irrespective of size and strength. It should allow use of common spaces on sea and in the air.

Our vision of the Indo-Pacific, not only involves physical inter connectivity, but also entails building bridges of trust, based on mutual respect, giving due regard for sovereignty and territorial integrity, consultation, transparency, viability and sustainability. Finally, there is an imperative need to eschew protectionism, nationalism and avoid a return to great power rivalries.


India has been working with ASEAN towards evolving a regional security architecture which is focused on ASEAN’s centrality. Peaceful settlement of disputes in keeping with international law, and finding collaborative solutions to emerging and non-traditional challenges is important.

We are ready to strengthen cooperation in areas of HADR, Search and Rescue operations, anti piracy, counter terrorism, counter proliferation and collaborate on maritime domain awareness. We will also work towards ecologically sustainable development of ocean resources in a collaborative framework.

We believe that ASEAN is central to it and indeed lies at the heart of it. We therefore feel that our discussions at the Delhi Dialogue can play a constructive and a vital role in the region and beyond. Yesterday, together with Vietnam, our ASEAN country coordinator, we organized the Second ASEAN India Workshop on Blue Economy. Other dimensions of cooperation, such as maritime security and maritime connectivity, will also be discussed in our forum. The ASEAN-India region together represents a combined population of 1.85 billion, which is a quarter of the global population and a GDP of over US$ 3.8 trillion, creating one of the largest economic spaces in the world. Our bilateral trade has crossed US$ 80 billion and expected to reach US$ 100 billion by 2020. ASEAN-India Free Trade Area in goods, services and investment has no doubt played an important role.

We are also engaged in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations involving ASEAN and its six FTA partners. We believe that the RCEP presents a decisive opportunity to further engage our eastern neighbours economically. We hope that we can finalise the negotiations soonest possible.

An important ingredient for boosting economic engagement is making Indian companies a part of regional value chains and production networks. The Project Development Fund with a corpus of US$ 77 million can be used to initiate economic projects in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Our duty free preferential scheme for the Least Developed Countries in ASEAN is also intended to encourage greater trade, including movement of natural persons, technical assistance and capacity building.

Today, India is one of the fastest growing major economies in the world. In the last three years, Government of India has undertaken a number of initiatives and introduced a series of reforms to improve the business environment in India. Our Government launched the Goods and Services Tax on June 30, 2017 the biggest tax reform since our independence.

These steps have opened new opportunities for trade and investments into India. I invite companies from ASEAN countries to take advantage of these opportunities for investments in India, in numerous sectors such as smart cities, roads, highways, ports, railways, power and urban infrastructure.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We recognize that the single most important ingredient that can make a qualitative shift in our economic engagement with ASEAN is a major boost towards infrastructure and connectivity. We are making substantial progress on all fronts, both bilaterally and regionally.

We hope to transform these corridors of connectivity into corridors of economic cooperation. In connectivity, India has made considerable progress in implementing the India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project. Our recent agreement with Indonesia to develop port infrastructure in Sabang is yet another step in this direction.

We are working on specific proposals to set up a regional high-capacity fiber-optic network, supplemented by national rural broadband networks and digital villages in remote areas. We have offered US$ 1 billion Line of Credit, to help finance these and other connectivity projects with ASEAN.

To take forward our cultural relations, we held a very successful Youth Summit in Bhopal in August 2017 to bring our young leaders together. The next chapter of this Youth Summit will be held in Guwahati later this year. We will also hold additional sessions of the India-ASEAN Band Festival and Artists’ Retreat, to build cultural connections among the younger generation.

The 3rd ASEAN-India Conference on Cultural and Civilisational Links will be held in Cambodia in August 2018. The year 2019 will be celebrated as the ASEAN-India Tourism Year as decided during the Commemorative Summit. These will enhance people to people contacts.

India-ASEAN engagement is, deep-rooted. We place ASEAN at the centre of our dream of an Asian century. As Asia regains its global position for the twenty first century to be called "Asia’s Century”, it goes without saying that India and ASEAN will play a vital role in ensuring this. We look forward to working with the ASEAN Member States in order to turn this vision into a reality.

I wish the Tenth edition of Delhi Dialogue all success, and look forward to hearing your views on the future of our strategic partnership.

Long Live India-ASEAN Friendship!
Thank You.

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