Asean-India: Shared values and a common destiny

Asean-India: Shared values and a common destiny

Elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to a meeting Thursday in New Delhi on the sidelines of the Asean-India Commemorative Summit. (EPA photo)
Elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to a meeting Thursday in New Delhi on the sidelines of the Asean-India Commemorative Summit. (EPA photo)

Today, 1.25 billion Indians will have the honour to host 10 esteemed guests -- leaders of Asean nations -- at India's Republic Day celebrations in our capital, New Delhi.

On Thursday, I had the privilege to host the Asean leaders for the Commemorative Summit to mark 25 years of Asean-India Partnership. Their presence with us is an unprecedented gesture of goodwill from Asean nations. Responding to this, on a winter morning, India has come out to greet them in a warm embrace of friendship.

This is no ordinary event. It is a historic milestone in a remarkable journey that has brought India and Asean in a deepening partnership of great promise for their 1.9 billion people, about one-fourth of human kind.

The India-Asean partnership may be just 25 years old. But, India's ties with Southeast Asia stretch back more than two millennia. Forged in peace and friendship, religion and culture, art and commerce, language and literature, these enduring links are now present in every facet of the magnificent diversity of India and Southeast Asia, providing a unique envelope of comfort and familiarity between our people.

More than two decades ago, India opened itself to the world with tectonic changes. And, with instincts honed over centuries, it turned naturally to the East. Thus began a new journey of India's reintegration with the East. For India, most of our major partners and markets -- from Asean and East Asia to North America -- lie to the East. And, Southeast Asia and Asean, our neighbours by land and sea, have been the springboard of our Look East and, for the last three years, the Act East Policy.

Along the way, from dialogue partners, Asean and India have become strategic partners. We advance our broad-based partnership through 30 mechanisms. With each Asean member, we have growing diplomatic, economic and security partnership. We work together to keep our seas safe and secure. Our trade and investment flows have multiplied several times. Asean is India's fourth largest trading partner; India is Asean's seventh. Over 20% of India's outbound investments go to Asean. Led by Singapore, Asean is India's leading source of investments. India's free trade agreements in the region are its oldest and among the most ambitious anywhere.

Air links have expanded rapidly and we are extending highways deep into continental Southeast Asia with new urgency and priority. Growing connectivity has reinforced proximity. It has also put India among the fastest growing sources of tourism in Southeast Asia. Over a 6 million strong Indian diaspora in the region -- rooted in diversity and steeped in dynamism -- constitutes an extraordinary human bond between us.

Thailand has emerged as an important trading partner of India in Asean and is also one of the important investors in India from Asean. Bilateral trade between India and Thailand has more than doubled over the last decade. Relations between India and Thailand are extensively spread across many areas. We are important regional partners linking South and Southeast Asia. We cooperate closely in the Asean, East Asia Summit and Bimstec (the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), as also in the frameworks of Mekong Ganga Cooperation, Asia Cooperation Dialogue and Indian Ocean Rim Association. Thailand's prime minister's state visit to India in 2016 has made a long-lasting impact on bilateral relations.

The whole of India mourned with their Thai brothers and sisters the demise of the great and popular King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The people of India also join the friendly people of Thailand in praying for the long, prosperous and peaceful reign of the new king, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.

And, India and Asean are doing much more. Our partnership in Asean-led institutions like East Asia Summit, ADMM+ (the Asean Defence Ministerial Meeting Plus) and ARF (the Asean Regional Forum) are advancing peace and stability in our region. India is also an eager participant in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, seeking a comprehensive, balanced and fair agreement for all 16 participants.

The strength and resilience of partnerships come not just from arithmetic of numbers, but also from the underpinnings of the relationship. India and Asean nations have relations free from contests and claims. We have a common vision for the future, built on commitment to inclusion and integration, belief in sovereign equality of all nations irrespective of size, and support for free and open pathways of commerce and engagement.

The Asean-India partnership will continue to grow. With the gift of demography, dynamism and demand -- and with rapidly maturing economies -- India and Asean will build a strong economic partnership. Connectivity will increase and trade will expand. In an era of cooperative and competitive federalism in India, our states are also building productive cooperation with Southeast Asian nations. India's Northeast is on a resurgent path. Links with Southeast Asia will accelerate its progress. In turn, a connected Northeast will be a bridge to Asean-India ties of our dreams.

As Prime Minister, I have attended four annual Asean-India Summits and East Asia Summit. These have reinforced my conviction in Asean unity, centrality and leadership in shaping the region in this vision.

This is a year of milestones. India turned 70 last year. Asean reached the golden milestone of 50 years. We can each look to our future with optimism and to our partnership with confidence.

At 70, India exudes the spirit, enterprise and energy of its young population. As the fastest growing major economy in the world, India has become the new frontier of global opportunities and an anchor of stability of the global economy. With every passing day, it is easier and smoother to do business in India. I hope that Asean nations, as our neighbours and friends, will be an integral part of New India's transformation.

We admire Asean's own progress. Born when Southeast Asia was a theatre of a brutal war and a region of uncertain nations, Asean has united 10 countries behind a common purpose and a shared future. We have the potential to pursue higher ambitions and address the challenges of our times: from infrastructure and urbanisation to resilient agriculture and a healthy planet. We can also use the power of digital technology, innovation and connectivity to transform lives at unprecedented speed and scale.

A future of hope needs a solid bedrock of peace. This is an age of change, disruptions and shifts that comes only rarely in history. Asean and India have immense opportunities -- indeed, enormous responsibility -- to chart a steady course through the uncertainty and turbulence of our times to a stable and peaceful future for our region and the world.

Indians have always looked East to see the nurturing sunrise and the light of opportunities. Now, as before, the East, or the Indo-Pacific Region, will be indispensable to India's future and our common destiny. The Asean-India partnership will play a defining role in both. And, in Delhi, Asean and India renewed their pledge for the journey ahead.

Narendra Modi is Prime Minister of India.

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