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Speech by MoS at the Valedictory Session of ASEAN-India Youth Dialogue (June 10, 2020)

June 11, 2020

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good evening and Namaskaram!


Let me begin by commending the efforts of India Foundation and congratulating them for successfully organizing the ASEAN-India Youth Dialogue. The previous two ASEAN-India Youth summits held in 2017 and 2019, provided a platform for the youth from ASEAN and India to come together and hold constructive and meaningful discussions. The current ASEAN-India Dialogue serves to take forward this legacy.

2. The Dialogue also complements our other on-going youth-centric initiatives. We have engaged more than 2500 ASEAN youth over the past decade under the Student Exchange Programmes. Special Courses for Young ASEAN Diplomats, Exchange Programmes for Young Farmers', Media Exchange Programmes, Programmes for Young Parliamentarians are our other youth-oriented initiatives.

3. India's engagement with ASEAN is built upon a solid base of shared civilisational heritage. It is also driven by our common strategic priorities of securing our societies and bringing peace, stability and prosperity to the region. ASEAN is central to India's 'Act East' Policy. And, our ties are a source of balance and harmony in the region. This relationship today has gone well beyond its economic and even cultural dimensions. We meet at a time of multiple global challenges: pandemic, economic uncertainties, security threats. In this difficult moment, India and ASEAN are two bright spots of optimism. India and ASEAN share the pluralistic nature of our societies, encompassing major religions of the world, and a wealth of diverse cultures. This affinity constitutes a special asset for the further development of our relations.

4. India and ASEAN have some of the largest youth populations in the world. With about 65% of its population below the age of 35 years, India has the largest number of young people in the world – more than 450 million people are in the age group of 15-35 years. ASEAN region is also witnessing the largest ever population of the young with about 213 million people currently in the age bracket of 15-34 years. This number is poised to grow further and peak at 220 million.

5. Recognising the important role of education in effectively and constructively channelizing the youthful energy, education and skill development have been identified as the central elements of ASEAN-India strategic partnership. The revival and re-establishment of Nalanda University as a seat of learning is a big step in this direction. The University offers several scholarship programmes for the ASEAN students for various courses. One of the major achievements on the education front, was the launching of 1000 PhD Fellowships for ASEAN students at our prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), last year. It was an announcement made by the Prime Minister of India at the 25th Anniversary ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit. With a massive budget outlay of US$ 45 million, the programme underlines the importance, we accord to education as a means us together. Besides, we also provide more than 1000 scholarships to students from the ASEAN countries under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) and Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) frameworks. An ASEAN-India University Network is also on the anvil to forge collaborations between the universities and educational institutes from the two sides.

6. COVID-19 has emerged as the biggest challenge to humanity in the 21st century. The invisible enemy has infected the people in millions and killed in hundreds of thousand. No part of the world has remained untouched. Both ASEAN and India have also been impacted - ASEAN with more than 100,000 total cases (more than 50,000 active cases) and more than 3000 deaths; and India with more than 270,000 total cases (more than 130,000 active cases) and more than 7,500 deaths so far. No country can fight the pandemic single-handedly, and a coordinated and cooperative response is the way to go. I consider that this Dialogue as part of an an exercise to come up with a coordinated response with the active participation of the young.

7. The socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 will last much longer than the pandemic itself. The closures, lock-downs, travel restrictions, social distancing have resulted in slowing down of our economic machinery and loss of jobs and livelihoods. The youth are especially vulnerable to these disruptions.

8. Our youth are also playing a lead role in the fight against the pandemic. In their roles as doctors, nurses, health-workers, researchers, communicators etc, they are playing a crucial role. As the most numerous users of social media, young people are instrumental in spreading the right information in a timely manner. As innovators, they are coming up with useful solutions ranging from contact tracing apps to medical equipment, PPE kits, masks and so on. For example, the students at one of the institutes in Kerala (NIT Calicut) developed re-usable aerosol boxes and emergency ventilators. Such examples are numerous. As entrepreneurs, the youth are generating job opportunities and technical know-how. As the key drivers of digital age, the role of our youth has become more crucial. Novel challenges thrown up by the pandemic necessiate major changes in our outlook, institutions, procedures and frameworks. The youth, as the vehicles of change, are in an ideal position to lead from the front in this fight.

9. Friends, I am sure that the sessions in the last two days have stimulated meaningful and constructive discussions with the active engagement of all of you. As I mentioned at the beginning, the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership needs the dynamism and energy of our Youth. I am confident that the ASEAN-India Youth Dialogue, while encouraging meaningful discussion on the current COVID-19 situation, was also successful in its larger aim of fostering a stronger sense of ASEAN-India community in our Youth. The current disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic comes with not only burdens and responsibilities but also opportunities that should be seized by both the youth of India and ASEAN. There is a Sanskrit saying धर्मो रक्षति रक्षित: Dharma protects those who protect Dharma.With these words, let me conclude.

10. My sincere and heart-felt thanks to organizers, India Foundation, and all the participants in making the Dialogue a grand success.

Thank you.
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