Asean-India relationship deepens

Asean-India relationship deepens

Next year marks the 30th anniversary of bilateral relations between Asean and India, and has been declared "Asean-India Friendship Year".

Scholars from Southeast Asia and India have been gaining a deeper understanding of Asean-India strategic relations this year by taking part in the Asean-India Development Partnership Programme, organised in August by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore and the New Delhi-based Research and Information System for Developing Countries.

Southeast Asia and India have been collaborating well over the last 30 years, while embracing multilateralism, peace and prosperity, said Choi Shing Kwok, chief executive officer of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, both sides have been collaborating in health, economic and technological areas.

At the Asean post-ministerial conference in August this year, Cambodia's deputy prime minister urged greater collaboration between India and Southeast Asia on the development and access to vaccines. Southeast Asia can take advantage of India's comparative advantage in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, he said.

This appeal was echoed by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha during the 18th Asean-India Summit in October. He believes that prompt access to vaccines will help Southeast Asia significantly in overcoming the pandemic.

Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar notes that his country has made great advancements in the production of vaccines and has become a critical vaccine manufacturing hub globally.

So far, India has donated US$1 million to the Asean Covid-19 Response Fund and $200,000 worth of medical aid to the Asean humanitarian assistance programme in Myanmar.

Mr Jaishankar also reiterated that Southeast Asia is one of the most significant economic hubs for India, expressing the hope that the two sides can foster stronger supply chain and trade links.

The Asean-India Free Trade Agreement (AIFTA), in effect since 2010, has immense potential that it has yet to reach in some aspects. It waives many trade tariffs in a market of approximately 1.8 billion people in Southeast Asia and India, and with an economy worth $5.8 trillion combined. It also encourages all nations to enact transparent trade measures and streamline customs processes.

On the bilateral front, the Philippines is seeking to sign a preferential trade agreement with India to further enhance economic and trade cooperation.

During the inaugural Indo-Asean Business Summit in October, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan acknowledged that trade has increased substantially between Southeast Asia and India. Bilateral trade value reached $86 billion last year, up from $77 billion in 2019.

India is forecast to export $46 billion worth of goods to Southeast Asia in 2022, according to Anupriya Patel, Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry.

Other than trade ties, both parties invest hugely in one another. For instance, Singapore is India's biggest source of foreign direct investment funds, with an average of $16 billion per year.

Mr Balakrishnan added during the business summit that both parties had strong historical links, such as cultural, economic and people-to-people ties.

At the Asean-India Summit, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri bin Yaakob said both parties can further enhance economic collaboration with one another. For example, he recommended more cooperation on digitisation, while promoting a speedy economic recovery from the pandemic.

At the same event, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged India's technological and entrepreneurial capabilities, and emphasised that Asean and India can cooperate in developing digital financial infrastructure, as well as smart and sustainable cities.

Southeast Asia and India can improve their cyber security partnership, participants in the Asean-India Track 1.5 Dialogue on Cyber Issues were told in October.

Cybercrime is inevitable in a highly technologically advanced and digitised world. Nevertheless, digital technologies are of paramount importance and international collaboration is needed to ensure a safe cyberspace, the secretary of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs told the gathering.

There is still huge potential in the Asean-India partnership to be fulfilled. For example, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledges Asean's strategic importance under India's Act East Policy and the Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative.

Coupled with the Asean Outlook for the Indo Pacific, both Asean and India have common interests and policy objectives in ensuring peace and stability in the region. This is based on the fundamental principles of Asean centrality, transparency and mutual respect.

Asean and India are key strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific, and will continue to enjoy a fruitful relationship in the next few decades.

Ong Bo Yang, currently a Master of Science student at the University of Warwick, majoring in Programme and Project Management, has written for Asean newspapers including The Phnom Penh Post, The Myanmar Times, The Business Times and VnExpress.

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