Public Diplomacy

Khurshid to attend crucial ASEAN-India, ARF and East Asia Summit meetings in Brunei

June 27, 2013

Archis Mohan

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is scheduled to attend the India- ASEAN ministerial conference, 20th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the 3rd East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Minister's Meeting in Brunei Darussalam on July 1 and 2. Khurshid later travels to Singapore for bilateral meetings on July 4 and 5.

The meetings come at a time of ferment in the Southeast Asian region. One doesn't associate edge of seat excitement with the world of diplomacy. But such has been the frenetic pace of developments in the region in recent months that every turn of phrase in speeches that the over two dozen foreign ministers, who would collect in the Bruneian capital Bandar Seri Begawan, are slated to deliver at the ARF and EAS would be followed as keenly as a closely fought sporting encounter.

At stake are the contours of the evolving security architecture in Asia. The push to evolve stable security architecture for Asia has been an ASEAN driven process. This process has included mechanisms like the East Asia Summit, where the grouping among others also deals with extra-regional powers like the US and Russia, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus Process, and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Khurshid's presence at the meeting and what he as India's External Affairs Minister has to stay on the process will be followed closely. For, India is part of all these processes and ASEAN member countries consider New Delhi a key player in the evolving security architecture of the region. India has been and is committed to ASEAN continuing to be the driving force for these forums. If anything, India believes there is scope for greater synergy and complementarity between the different forums.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the 2011 East Asia Summit said "the resurgence of Asia is dependent on the evolution of a cooperative architecture in which all countries are equal participants. We will work with all other countries towards this end." External Affairs Minister Khurshid will reassure and reiterate India's commitment to continue to participate in and contribute to the success of ARF and EAS activities.

On July 1, Khurshid is slated to meet his counterparts from ASEAN countries for the India- ASEAN ministerial meeting. It will be a preparatory meeting to the summit meeting in October later this year. The India-ASEAN Strategic Partnership is the foundation of India's Look East Policy. Last year, India and ASEAN member countries marked 20-years of this relationship with New Delhi organising a commemorative summit that witnessed unprecedented participation from all 10 ASEAN member states.

The anchor points of India- ASEAN relationship are economic growth and prosperity, capacity building and development and strategic issues. Together, India- ASEAN GDP is $ 3.8 trillion. The two are currently engaged with each other for closer trade and people to people contacts and are in the midst of their second plan of action 2010-2015. It has reached its mid-way point and the mid-term review in Jakarta in May sent out a positive assessment. It recognised that the relationship had reached a high point but should work to achieve a closer strategic partnership.

The India- ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in goods has led to a marked increase in trade volumes in 2011-12. It witnessed a 37 per cent increase to reach $70 billion. However, the FTA in services, signed in December, is yet to be operationalised. Good news is both sides are giving the issue the urgency it requires and are busy ironing out rough spots.

Another area of immense cooperation has been connectivity. The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, that will connect India's northeast with ASEAN countries, is nearly complete with work being carried out on the last eight kilometres of the highway. The next meeting of the task force is in Thailand.

However, India has its concerns in reducing the imbalance in the tourism sector. Many more Indians travel to ASEAN countries than vice-versa. An issue that Khurshid and ASEAN foreign ministers can look into is improving air-connectivity between India and all other ASEAN countries, including improving air connectivity to Bodh Gaya and other places of religious pilgrimage in India venerated by Buddhists in ASEAN countries.

On the other hand, ASEAN countries would like to have more of their investments in India which continues to grow at a healthy rate of GDP despite the economic slowdown worldwide and whose infrastructure sector offers immense potential for cooperation. Currently, there is more Indian investment in ASEAN than that of the latter countries in India. The two continue to negotiate for better trade ties under the Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP).

On July 2, External Affairs Minister Khurshid is scheduled to attend the 20th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the 3rd East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Minister's Meeting. India is a founding member of the EAS, which was set up in 2005 and has emerged as a forum where member countries have been able to have frank discussions on strategic and economic issues. India, and Khurshid will endorse the ASEAN centrality to this process and its driving force in the further evolution of the East Asia Summit but at a pace comfortable to the member states. The EAS foreign minister's meeting would be a preparatory meeting for the summit meeting later this year.

The EAS foreign ministers would discuss cooperation in the five core areas of education, energy, finance, disaster management and pandemics as well as connectivity and further economic partnership between member states. Regional and international issues of concern and the preparation for the Summit later this year would also be discussed. The minister would also attend the 20th meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Set up in 1994, the ARF has 27 members. New Delhi attaches importance to the ARF as a forum for constructive dialogue on political and security cooperation in the region with the ASEAN countries playing a central role in the process.

Developments, both in recent months and expected in the near future, in Afghanistan, the Korean peninsula, the South China Sea and West Asia make for interesting times ahead in the region. Khurshid would be attending ARF shortly after the conclusion of the fourth annual US India strategic dialogue as would US secretary of state John Kerry. The US has welcomed India's growing engagement in the Asia Pacific and wants India to discharge a more pro-active role in this regard.

At the ARF, India will put forth its concerns on maritime security in the region, unimpeded commerce, freedom of navigation, need to combat the menace of terrorism, issues of cyber security and implore member states for a peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in consonance with international laws. The ARF remains one of the pre-eminent mechanisms in the region to discuss strategic issues. It is likely to take further disrupted discussions between Seoul and Pyongyang. India favours denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The meeting will also be an opportunity for all stakeholders to have a better understanding of what key players think of the road ahead in Afghanistan. India wants the international community to remain engaged in Afghanistan and extend support to the Afghan government towards an Afghan owned reconciliation process.

(The views expressed above are the personal views of the writer)

Read More:

Vision Statement-ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit (December 20, 2012)

ASEAN-India Eminent Persons Group Report(November 20, 2012)

Closing Remarks by Prime Minister at India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit 2012 (December, 2012)

Opening Statement by Prime Minister at Plenary Session of India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit(December 20, 2012)

Response by Prime Minister at the 10th ASEAN-India Summit (November 19, 2012)

Opening Remarks by Prime Minister at 10th India-ASEAN Summit (Novemebr 19, 2012)

Statement by External Affairs Minister at the 10th ASEAN-India Ministerial Meeting(July 11, 2012)

Opening remarks by External Affairs Minister at the open session of the 10th ASEAN-India Ministerial Meeting (July 11, 2012)

External Affairs Minister’s Intervention on "Exchange of views on Regional and International Issues" at the 19th ARF Ministerial Meeting (July 12, 2012)

Statement by the Prime Minister at Plenary Session of 7th East Asia Summit(November 20, 2012)

External Affairs Minister’s speech at the plenary session of the Second East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers Meeting (July 12, 2012)


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