Remarks by Ambassador Anil Wadhwa on 'From...
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Bharatanidesha Public Lecture by Ambassador Anil Wadhwa
From Looking East to Engaging East: India's Growing Engagement with Thailand and ASEAN
Room 106, Building 2, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University
Wednesday, 21 August 2013 at 1000 hrs

          1. I am pleased to be here today to deliver Bharatanidesha Public Lecture on ‘From Looking East to Engaging East: India's Growing Engagement with Thailand and ASEAN’ organized by the Indian Studies Centre, Chula Global Network and Department of International Relations of Faculty of Political Science of the  Chulalongkorn University. Today, I will speak on the topic given to me for about 25 minutes in two parts, first, I will talk about India’s engagement with the ASEAN and then India’s partnership with Thailand and subsequently, we can have a free flowing discussion.
2.       India’s relations with the ASEAN member countries have seen a constant flow of ideas, culture, knowledge and practices. It has been a two-way civilizational connect and a history of trade, commerce, and educational exchanges. While each one of South East Asian countries 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 the region. From Borobudur in Indonesia to Angkor Wat in Cambodia - our shared heritage finds an exuberant manifestation. In a true celebration of pluralist ethos - people in South-East Asia have not only adopted these traditions, but have contributed to them and built upon them - thus enriching these further.
3.       In modern times, we are not only able to rediscover our historical connect but also advance it to diverse areas for mutual benefit of peoples of India and ASEAN region. India has built solid partnerships in the region, bilaterally and with ASEAN as a whole. Given that together, India and South East Asia constitute a community of 1.8 billion people, representing one-fourth of humanity, with a combined GDP of 3.8 trillionUS $, it is only natural that India attaches the highest priority to its relationship with ASEAN.
4.       Two decades ago, India embarked upon a journey of openness and global economic integration. As we looked towards the East, ASEAN was the natural partner for our engagement in the Asia Pacific region. The partnership with ASEAN countries, in fact, constitutes the core of India’s Look East Policy, which was announced in year 1991, has driven this process and over the years, has expanded to cover not just ASEAN but Japan, Korea and even Pacific. We celebrated 20 years of this enhanced partnership last year with a special commemorative summit in New Delhi in which ASEAN, heads of States and Government participated.  A blueprint for a strategic partnership between India and ASEAN has now been laid down.
5.       Improving connectivity, promoting cooperation among our institutions and deepening linkages between our people has been the unique defining feature of our partnership. The elevation of the partnership to a strategic level last December came in the wake of significant progress during the last two years in India-ASEAN Plan of Action for 2010-2015 under all the three pillars of political and security cooperation, economic integration and socio-cultural exchanges.India’s relationship with ASEAN members and with ASEAN institutionally continues to grow in all dimensions.
6.       Economic and commercial engagement between India and ASEAN has seen very impressive trade growth, 10 times in the 10 years, since we launched our Summit level partnership in 2002. The FTA on Trade in Goods signed in 2009 helped us to meet our trade target of 70 billion US$ ahead of time when the trade turnover in 2012 reached 80 billion US $. Conclusion of the legal scrubbing of the ASEAN-India Trade in Services and Investment Agreements and an early signature of these agreements planned in October 2013 will help in for achieving our trade target of 100 billion US $ by 2015. Two-way flows in investments have also grown rapidly to reach 43 billion US$ 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.
7.       The breadth and intensity of India’s engagement with South East 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 India and ASEAN cover virtually every field of human endeavor.Last year, we saw an intensive engagement across Governments and meetings or programmes between experts, think tanks, private sectors, academia, diplomats, farmers, students, media and, in fact, across professions and ages at the people-to-people levels. We intensified the dialogue in agriculture, trade, tourism, new & renewable energy and environment. We began a dialogue on cooperation in the vital Small and Medium Enterprises sector,which is considered as engine of employment and innovation in our countries. We need to build on commendable initiatives like the annual Business Fair and Conclave and energize our Business Council and parliamentary exchanges. Delhi Dialogue has emerged as a successful Track 1.5 venue for discussions between representatives of government, Track II experts and business representatives on political, economic and security issues of interest to both India and ASEAN.
8.       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, 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. India remains convinced of the continuing relevance of the ASEAN-India strategic partnership as an anchor for peace, stability and prosperity in the region as also globally. There is a mutually beneficial synergy in our partnership. We continue to see the relevance of ASEAN centrality to our regional fora such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum.
9.       Connectivity with ASEAN in all its dimensions – physical, institutional and people-to-people – continues to be a strategic priority for India. Last year, the India-ASEAN Car Rally – which travelled 8000 kms in 9 countries in 22 days - celebrated a remarkable journey by brave men and women, but also symbolized how connectivity can link people, stimulate trade and generate prosperity across the region. Similarly, the Indian Naval Ship INS Sudarshini, which was on a six-month expedition with13 ports of call in nine ASEAN countries, not only drew attention to our maritime links, but to the economic potential of sea-based connectivity.
10.     India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway project is progressing well. Route alignments for extending this Highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam need to be pursued further. The Mekong-India Economic Corridor, which will connect the industrial and freight corridors in India with the production networks in the Mekong region through the Chennai-Dawei sea link and the land connectivity to India’s Northeast, will have a beneficial effect on all our economies. 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.
11.     We have initiated the annual ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee (ACCC)-India Meeting, to facilitate coordination and policy decisions on connectivity issues. This meeting discussed, inter alia, the idea of a possible maritime transport route linking India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam and has suggested the setting up of a Joint Working Group on Maritime Connectivity to explore linkages to complement the ASEAN Roll-On/Roll-Off Shipping Network. The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia has done commendable work in suggesting the utility of a Mekong India Economic Corridor and we need to look at providing incentives, including setting up of SEZs to attract private sectors to invest in these connectivity corridors.
12.     In this digital age, we also need think of virtual networks as a way forward for connecting the region. We have welcomed the ASEAN Information and Communications Technology Master Plan 2015 and also the efforts to strengthen ASEAN-India Connectivity in ICT. As a beginning, we are exploring capacity building programmes and sharing best practices in technological development and policy regulations related to e-connectivity.
13.     We need to address issues relating to enhancement of tourism cooperation between ASEAN and India. I find the Indian tourists see the value for money in tourist destinations in ASEAN and I would like to see a similar perception increase tourist inflows into India from the ASEAN countries. Government of India is internally discussing the feasibility of providing a link from ASEAN to the Buddhist sites in India to facilitate tourist arrivals from ASEAN. Continuing liberalization of our visa regime for ASEAN countries is also inspired by the same desire to connect our people and expand mutually beneficial economic opportunities. The ASEAN-India Centre, which has been established in New Delhi recently, will serve as a resource in implementing connectivity projects. These are welcome steps in implementing the vision of India-ASEAN connectivity.
14.     Capacity building, development, economic growth and peace and stability have been the characteristics of the ASEAN-India partnership. The numerous projects under finalization as per the Plan of Action for 2010-2015 are set to bring a qualitative enhancement in our partnership. From agriculture to space cooperation, from English language and entrepreneurship development training to capacity building in renewable energy and environment protection, from encouraging SMEs to strengthening our trade and investment linkages, we have now a comprehensive engagement between ASEAN and India.
15.     And yet, there is still tremendous untapped potential in the ASEAN-India partnership. There are also areas such as the new non-traditional threats to our socio-economic and political systems that need effective redressal. We are looking for ways to combat the fast evolving threat from terrorism and to counter drug trafficking, both of which incrementally threaten the future of our younger generations. We need to add form and substance on the ground to our existing geographic and civilizational connectivity, and to extend it simultaneously towards an integrated and sustainable economic prosperity.
16.     A future of peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific requires increased cooperation and integration in the region. ASEAN has shown the way in this regard. We support the objectives of an ASEAN Community by 2015, the Initiative for ASEAN Integration and the ASEAN Master Plan on Connectivity. ASEAN’s leadership in fostering cooperation and building better understanding in the larger Asia Pacific community is admirable.
17.     India is happy to note the progress amongst the ASEAN countries in integrative processes towards the ASEAN Community by 2015. We would like to emphasize that as ASEAN countries integrate amongst themselves, the process of integration with India should also move apace, whether on facilitating our people-to-people linkages, our institutional and trade complementarity or our geographical connectivity. We would like to engage with ASEAN as to how India can contribute further to the processes towards the ASEAN Community. As the deadline for ASEAN Community by 2015 approaches, India has renewed its commitment to support ASEAN's community building efforts, including the Initiative for ASEAN Integration Work Plan II, Narrowing Development Gaps and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity.
18.     In our support for the ASEAN Community by 2015, we are continuing with the process of building capacity through the Entrepreneurship Development Centres and Centers for English Language and Training in CLMV countries, apart from offering more than 1100 scholarships to ASEAN countries under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme.
19.     In terms of priorities ahead, in the run up to the 11th India-ASEAN Summit in October 2013 in Brunei, we look forward to

  • Setting up of four IT Centres in CMLV and an IT Resource Centre in India by Centre for Development of Advanced Computing;
  • Establishment of Tracking and Data Reception Station & Data Processing Facility for ASEAN in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam;
  • Upgradation of the Biak II Telemetry Tracking & Command Station in Indonesia
  • Training of ASEAN Personnel in Space Science and Technology,
  • Take further the process of finalization on the project for cooperation on Bio-diversity between the ASEAN Centre for Bio-diversity and National Bio-diversity Authority of India.

20.     Over the last few years, our region has seen a multiplicity of stakeholders and a fraternity of purpose for tackling common challenges. We need to build an architecture that contributes to the geo-strategic importance of the region to global processes and, most importantly, secures economic growth and prosperity for the people in our countries. This is the strength of the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership as an anchor of stability from the western confines of the Indian Ocean to the shores of the Pacific, from the Straits of Hormuz to the Straits of Malacca.
21.     As the global power dynamics see further shift towards Asia, it is important to understand the dynamics within the Indian Ocean and the Pacific and work towards a security construct that leverages the civilizational linkages to expand cooperation and build partnership across the Indo-Pacific.Political, economic and security structures are evolving globally, and, in a more pronounced manner, in East Asia. ASEAN and India are and will remain natural partners in defining their perspectives and addressing their common requirements of economic growth and prosperity.India and ASEAN member countries share a vision of a peaceful, prosperous and resurgent Asia, which contributes to global peace and security. As we look to the future, we must empower our youth across the spectrum of higher education, practical skills and vocational training, oriented to trade and technological advancement.
22.     International terrorism, transnational organized crime, money laundering, drug-trafficking, information and cyber security issues are today demanding greater collaboration of effort by the international community. With repercussions for global and regional security, these issues require new, innovative solutions that can remain ahead of the growing complexity in these issues.Brainstorming and finding synergy of interest and effort in these areas is all the more important when we consider the global economic situation. ASEAN member countries and India continue to be growth centers in Asia, widely expected to lead the global economy out of the ongoing economic crisis. We can bring about progress and shared prosperity only when the people of ASEAN and India are able to co-author Asia’s economic growth and resurgence.
23.     We 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. We are expanding our support for innovative mechanisms like the ASEAN-India Fund, the ASEAN-India Green Fund and the ASEAN-India Science &Technology Fund to take our cooperation forward in diverse fields. Development of effective energy systems, ensuring energy access utilizing all forms of energy to all the sections of population, promotion of energy efficiency technologies and use of renewable energy should see urgent prioritization on our cooperative calendar.
24.     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.
25.     India’s excellent relations with Thailand are an important and integral component of our overall relations with ASEAN. Prime Minister YingluckShinawatra’s visit to India as Chief Guest for our Republic Day in 2012 and very successful visit of our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Thailand in May 2013 has given a new dynamism to our ties. Our cooperation has grown in multiple dimensions, and each are holds enormous potential.
26.     India’s bilateral relations with Thailand are rooted in history, age-old social and cultural interactions and extensive people to people contacts. The shared link of Buddhism is reflected in regular pilgrimages to places of Buddhist interest in India by a large number of Thai people. Hindu elements can be found among those reflected in Thai architecture, arts, sculpture, dance, drama and literature. The Thai language incorporates Pali and Sanskrit influences.
27.     India and Thailand celebrated 65 years of their diplomatic relations in 2012. In the past two decades, with regular political exchanges, growing trade and investment, India’s ties with Thailand have now evolved into a comprehensive partnership. India’s ‘Look East’ policy has been complemented by Thailand’s ‘Look West’ policy in bringing the two countries closer. Both countries are important regional partners linking South and Southeast Asia and cooperate closely in the ASEAN, East Asia Summit (EAS) and BIMSTEC groupings as also Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD).
28.     India and Thailand, located in each other’s extended neighborhood, share a maritime boundary in the Andaman Sea. Our close ties with Thailand have grown stronger in the recent period. The successful visit of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Thailand in May 2013 saw widespread discussions on bilateral, regional and global issues of common interest. Prime Minister of India presented a sapling of the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya as a special gift to the His Majesty King of Thailand as a symbol of the shared cultural heritage between the two countries. During the visit, six agreements/MoUs were signed and the broad-based joint statement which was issued has provided guidance for further strengthening of bilateral relations.
29.     Over the past few years, sustained high level interaction has provided significant fillip to bilateral relations. During 2013 alone, from India, Minister of Defence, Minister of State for Development of North Eastern Region and Parliamentary Affairs, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Minister of Water Resources and Minister of State for Commerce & Industry visited Thailand. From Thailand, Deputy Prime Minister & Finance Minister, Minister of Industry and Minister of Science & Technology visited India during the same period.
30.     India and Thailand have strong economic synergies, our trade and investment levels are yet to reach their full potential. Bilateral trade has increased manifold over the past decade to reach nearly US$ 9 billion in the past year. The diversifying profile of our bilateral trade reflects the growth and maturity of our two economies. A comprehensive Free Trade Agreement on goods, services and investments, currently under negotiation and to be concluded soon, is envisaged to bring about greater benefits to both countries. Both Prime Ministers have advised their respective negotiators to show the required flexibility in concluding the long pending negotiations to give a further fillip to the bilateral trade which has shown healthy growth even during the current economic slowdown.
31.     India would like to see enhanced presence of Indian and Thai companies in each other’s markets, especially as both countries are planning massive investments in infrastructure over the next five years. We welcome participation of the Thai private sector in India’s plans to modernize and upgrade manufacturing and infrastructure sectors, especially in Delhi-Mumbai and Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridors, the Buddhist circuit and the North-East States of India. During the recent visit of our PM to Thailand, the leadership of the two countries announced the establishment of Thai-India Business Forum with the involvement of the private sector to stimulate expansion of bilateral trade and investments and facilitate business partnerships. 
32.     Thailand has invited the Indian business sector to invest in the Dawei Special Economic Zone, especially in the areas where Indian companies have expertise, such as steel, manufacturing, power, petrochemicals, services and others. Thailand welcomed India's invitation to organize a road show in India in this respect later this year.
33.     The air connectivity between India and Thailand is growing with over 150 flights per week, reflecting rapidly growing passenger traffic between the two countries. Bangkok is connected by air to 9 Indian destinations. With over one million Indian tourists visiting Thailand, India has emerged as one of the fastest growing tourist markets for Thailand. India and Thailand are cooperating closely on improving regional connectivity through initiatives such as India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral Highway, Asian Highway Network andBIMSTEC Transport Infrastructure Logistics Study (BTILS).
34.     Cultural exchanges take place under the framework of a Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) between the two governments. An Indian Cultural centre was opened in Bangkok in September 2009. The Indian Cultural Centre in Bangkok has taken significant steps in promoting our shared heritage of art, dance and music. Cultural Agreement Programme for 2012-14 has been signed during the visit of Thai PM in Jan 2012.
35.     An MoU on Cooperation in the field of Education was signed in 2005. Government of India offers 130 scholarships to Thai students under its ITEC and ICCR sponsored schemes annually. A large number of Thai students are also studying on self-financing basis. Ministry of Human Resource Development provides for secondment of 8 professors every semester for the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Bangkok. Government of India contributed Thai Baht 10 million in 2008 towards construction of a new building for the Sanskrit Studies Centre at Silpakorn University and has deputed a Sanskrit professor. An India Studies Centre is functioning at the Thammasat University of Bangkok since April 1993. In 2008, the Mahidol University of Bangkok started a Masters of Arts course on Indian studies. A Chair in Chulalongkorn University’s India Study Centre was inaugurated by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhron in March 2012. MOU between Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Thammasat University on the establishment of the ICCR Hindi Chair of Indian Studies at the Thammasat University was signed in during Prime Minister’s visit in May 2013. This Chair is offering a Bachelor of Arts programme in Indian Studies for the first time in Thailand.
36.     We see Thailand as a springboard for India’s engagement with South East and East Asia and it remains a vital link in our strategic partnership with ASEAN. We see our partnership with ASEAN not merely as a reaffirmation of ties with neighboring 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. 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 further strengthen the India-ASEAN Strategic Partnership for the next decade and beyond. The Vision Statement announced during the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit in New Delhi imposes on us the responsibility to work diligently and innovatively to fulfill the heightened expectations from this engagement.

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