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Remarks by Gen (Dr.) VK Singh (Retd.), Minister of State at the ASEAN-India Ministerial Meeting in Singapore

August 04, 2018

Opening Remarks

Mr. Co-Chair, Your Excellency, Mr. Pham Bin Minh, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam;
Excellencies, Foreign Ministers of the ASEAN Member States;

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  • I am delighted to see you all today at the ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. I thank the Government of Singapore for the excellent arrangements and warm hospitality extended to me and my delegation. We meet after the landmark ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit held in New Delhi in January 2018, which has given a new energy to ASEAN-India relations.
  • Your Excellencies, I would like to convey sincere gratitude and appreciation to all the Leaders of ASEAN for participating in India’s 69th Republic Day Celebrations as our distinguished Chief Guests. The unprecedented gesture of the 10 ASEAN leaders standing united with India was a historic occasion which has created a special place for ASEAN-India relations in the region and beyond. We believe that regular engagements at the Leaders’ level, provide a clear direction to deepen our strategic partnership.
  • Our discussions, both at the Retreat and Plenary Sessions of the Commemorative Summit, focused on ASEAN-India Partnership in the maritime domain, setting the direction for the future course of action. This was reinforced with bilateral visits by our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to Southeast Asia. Our Prime Minister Shri Modi, during his Keynote Address at Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore on 1st June, outlined his vision of the Indo-Pacific policy with ASEAN at its centre. I reiterate that we see ASEAN as the fulcrum of peace, prosperity and stability in the region. We remain committed to promoting ASEAN’s unity and its primacy in the regional architecture. Excellencies, I invite you all to watch a short film showcased at the 10th edition of the Delhi Dialogue on the theme, "Strengthening India-ASEAN Maritime Advantage”.

    (Film ends)

    Thank you for your kind attention.

  • Excellencies, ‘Resilience and Innovation’ is an important theme for ASEAN in 2018. It reflects the necessity of resilience in a rapidly changing world order, both strategically and economically. It mirrors the challenges we face. India stands ready to work with ASEAN, to support its vision of becoming an innovative and resilient community. India’s own Smart City Programme and experience in evolving unique applications and modules such as Aadhaar, a biometrics-based unique identity for 1.2 billion Indians; DigiDhan; E-KYC; Digital Locker; BHIM UPI, RuPay are some examples of Fintech and Digital Connectivity. We would be happy to share our successes with our ASEAN partners.
  • As a responsible international player and one of the fastest growing larger economies in the world today, India remains committed to enhance regional trade and integrate itself to the region. We wish to constructively engage in the early and satisfactory conclusion of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP) in 2018. It is important to recognize and accommodate differing sensitivities, ambitions and comparative advantages of all, to ensure that RCEP achieves a balanced and an equitable outcome.
  • In 2017, ASEAN celebrated its 50th anniversary and 25 years of our partnership. We organized over 60 activities, across India and the ASEAN countries, to strengthen our multifaceted interactions. These included the ASEAN-India Regional Diaspora event in Singapore, a Youth Summit, a Music Festival, an Artists’ Retreat, Port calls by Indian Naval Ships, a Workshop on Blue Economy, a Connectivity Summit, a meeting to reinforce our Network of Think Tanks, a Dharma Dhamma Conference, a Hackathon and Startup Festival, Global SME Summit, a Business and Investment Meet and Expo, a Textiles Event, an ICT Expo, a Business Council Meeting, a Ramayana Festival, a Film Festival and the inauguration of an India-ASEAN Friendship Park in the heart of our national capital, New Delhi. The astonishing variety and breadth of these activities has laid a firm foundation for an enduring partnership for the future.
  • Mr. Co-Chair, before I conclude, I would like to place on record our deepest gratitude to Viet Nam for the outstanding work done as the country coordinator for the last three years, with the Commemorative Summit as the high point in our relations. I would also like to extend my heartfelt thanks to members of the Committee of Permanent Representatives in Jakarta who processed our commemorative proposals, with diligence.
  • I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to Thailand as our next Country Coordinator. I am assured that our cooperation will witness substantial progress across the three pillars of political and security cooperation, economic integration and socio-cultural exchanges. I am certain that Thailand will further build on the momentum generated in our relations during Viet Nam’s stewardship. ASEAN-India relations will reach new heights, as jointly directed by our Leaders.
Thank you.

Main Intervention

(Vietnamese Minister for Foreign Affairs invites MoS (VKS) to deliver his Main Intervention)

  • Thank you, Excellency. I am grateful for the views expressed across this table, which shows the deep commitment from the ASEAN side, to ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership.
  • Excellencies, the Indo-Pacific region is in a state of flux. There are multiple forces working against our continued efforts to build a cohesive and mutually beneficial world order. These uncertainties, together with protectionist tendencies and disabling forces of disruption are rising to uncomfortable levels. The extent to which these changes are taking place, necessitates more than ever before the need for frequent, regular and uninterrupted interactions between ASEAN and India, especially at our Leaders’ level, to work together for peace, prosperity and development of our region.
  • Excellencies, this year’s discussion in ASEAN has brought a special focus on Resilience, Innovation and Smart Cities. Resilience is required to face the rapidly changing global order, protectionist tendencies, rising uncertainties and to combat the global scourge of terrorism. The need to be innovative is equally important. I congratulate Singapore for spearheading the ASEAN Smart City Network initiative. India too has progressed rapidly along the course of building 100 Smart Cities in India. Some ASEAN countries have also invested in development of Smart Cities in India. We look forward to a vigorous ASEAN-India cooperation in this area.
  • The development of Blue Economy is yet another important area of cooperation, since we are maritime neighbours. After the first ASEAN-India Workshop on Blue Economy held in Viet Nam last year, we organized its second edition in New Delhi. These Workshops have come up with a number of useful recommendations, which include developing an Action Plan for ASEAN-India Cooperation in Blue Economy and the need to sign the ASEAN-India Maritime Transport Agreement.
  • The 10th edition of the Delhi Dialogue which followed the Workshop on Blue Economy under the theme, "Strengthening India-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation” reiterated the importance of enhanced cooperation between ASEAN and India in the Maritime Domain. There was a strong consensus among the Ministers, Senior Officials, Academics and intellectuals who attended the Dialogue, that there is immense potential for ASEAN and India to work together on maritime issues, to steer the future in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Excellencies, I am happy to share that our partnership is steadily progressing in Civil Aviation Cooperation. The first ASEAN-India Working Group Meeting on Civil Aviation will be held in Malaysia in October 2018. It reconfirms India’s commitment to enhance physical connectivity.
  • The ASEAN-India SOM has also discussed the need to entrust ERIA to conduct a study on ASEAN-India Connectivity 2.0, and explore opportunities to convert the Trilateral Highway into an economic corridor and the Highway’s extension to Lao PDR, Cambodia and Viet Nam. I propose that ERIA may be tasked to undertake and submit Phase-I of the study on Trilateral Highway at the next ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Thailand in 2019.
  • You would recall that our Prime Minister announced a Pilot Project on Digital connectivity and Smart ICT Solutions for Villages in CLMV countries at the Commemorative Summit. India has shared the Concept Note on the Digital Villages. ASEAN Secretariat has since shared its comments. Presently, a project team is visiting the CLMV countries to meet relevant authorities to develop the project proposal. We are committed to implementing this flagship project on ICT. The project on pilot implementation of GPON technology in CLMV countries has progressed well and the reports of the study teams appointed for this purpose have been submitted to the ASEAN side along with their recommendations. I would request that your comments on these reports are kindly expedited.
  • On cooperation under Science & Technology, through India’s efforts, a dedicated website for ASEAN-India Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation has been developed. It is now operational under the domain name Through this website, we have launched an electronic system for online submission of collaborative R&D projects and Fellowship applications. I would request all ASEAN member states to derive maximum benefit from this project.
  • The ASEAN-India Innovation Platform has also been launched by India. It includes three components of Social Innovation, Research Innovation and Product Innovation. India will soon launch the ASEAN-India Grassroots Innovation Forum for Indian and ASEAN Innovation Professionals on the sidelines of the PUSPIPTEK Innovation Fair scheduled to take place in Indonesia in September 2018.
  • In the economic sphere, the ASEAN-India Agreements on Services and Investment were signed in 2014, but yet to be ratified by all ASEAN Member States. I would urge that the ASEAN Member States who have not yet ratified these agreements to do so at an early date, so that benefits that accrue from the ASEAN-India Trade-in-Goods Agreement (AITIG) can also be extended to Services and Investment. The ASEAN-India Trade Review Talks have been put on hold, presumably due to ongoing RCEP negotiations. While India hopes that the RCEP negotiations would result in a balanced and an inclusive Agreement, with equal emphasis on Services, Goods and Investment, I would also urge that the ASEAN-India FTA Review Meeting is delinked from RCEP negotiations and allowed to proceed independently, given the fact that it involves just India and ASEAN.
  • I am happy to note that the Fourth ASEAN-India Meeting of Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry, held on 12th January 2018 reviewed the ASEAN-India Medium Term Action Plan 2016-2020 and agreed on a number of cooperative activities. One of the key projects on food security i.e. development of genetically improvised Rice Hybrids is progressing well.
  • Capacity building is a joint endeavor between India and ASEAN. India remains committed to it. Following announcements made by Prime Minister Modi at the Commemorative Summit, comments of ASEAN Secretariat on submitted project proposals involving training programmes in various fields of Telecom Sector, ICT, digital financial inclusion, Highway Engineering, Inter-University exchanges, among others, have been shared with the concerned project proponents. We are working on receiving the revised proposals soon.
  • Excellencies, one of the core connections that bind us together is our two millenia old Cultural and Civilizational links. We are working with the ASEAN Secretariat towards completing other important activities for the year ahead, including the 3rd ASEAN-India Conference on Cultural and Civilizational Links, India-ASEAN Youth Summit and Youth Awards, the India-ASEAN Sculptors’ Camp and another edition of the India-ASEAN Music Festival. We hope to organize these events in the course of this year.
  • As announced by our Prime Minister at the Commemorative Summit, we will celebrate 2019 as the ASEAN-India Year of Tourism. We look forward to a joint collaboration of activities. To encourage tourism within the Buddhist circuit in India, we have invited Tourism Ministers of all ASEAN Countries to the 6th International Buddhist Conclave in New Delhi to be held in the third week of August 2018, as well as eminent Buddhist scholars, media persons and tourism operators.
  • I am delighted that Scholarships for students from CLMV countries pursuing Master's/Post Graduate Diploma at Nalanda University has been approved for the period 2018 – 2020. We look forward to an increase in the number of such scholarships offered.
  • Excellencies, the sea lanes of communication passing through the South China Sea are critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development. India firmly believes in freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded commerce in the region in accordance with the international law, notably the 1982 UNCLOS. We expect all parties to settle disputes peacefully, in keeping with international laws, without threat to use of force. We must bear in mind the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in conducting activities by all.
  • India welcomes the historic US-DPRK Summit and Inter-Korean Summits held earlier this year. I visited Pyongyang prior to the Singapore Summit and conveyed our firm belief that a step-by-step process and responsible state behavior can lead to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and lasting peace between the two Koreas. We also hope that our concerns about proliferation linkages that extend to India’s immediate neighbourhood would also be addressed.
Thank you.


Closing Remarks

(Vietnamese Minister for Foreign Affairs invites MoS (VKS) to deliver Closing Remarks)

  • Excellencies, let me conclude by reaffirming that India's relationship with ASEAN is one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy and the foundation of our 'Act East Policy'. The importance of sustained dialogue to yield tangible results could not be repeated enough. Looking back this past year, we can say with satisfaction we have done well. But, we can certainly do better.
  • I again thank you, Mr. Co-Chair for Viet Nam’s very able stewardship as Country Coordinator and look forward to forging a similar relationship with Thailand to bring us closer together.
Thank you.

August 03, 2018
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