ASEAN- India relations

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.



Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

On 8 August 1967, five leaders – the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – sat down together in the main hall of the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok, Thailand and signed a document. By virtue of that document, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was born. The five Foreign Ministers who signed it – Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso R. Ramos of the Philippines, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand – would subsequently be hailed as the Founding Fathers of probably the most successful inter-governmental organization in the developing world today. And the document that they signed would be known as the ASEAN Declaration.

It was a short, simply-worded document containing just five articles. It declared the establishment of an Association for Regional Cooperation among the Countries of Southeast Asia to be known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and spelled out the aims and purposes of that Association. These aims and purposes were about cooperation in the economic, social, cultural, technical, educational and other fields, and in the promotion of regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. It stipulated that the Association would be open for participation by all States in the Southeast Asian region subscribing to its aims, principles and purposes. It proclaimed ASEAN as representing “the collective will of the nations of Southeast Asia to bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity.”

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

The original ASEAN logo presented five brown sheaves of rice stalks, one for each founding member. Beneath the sheaves is the legend “ASEAN” in blue. These are set on a field of yellow encircled by a blue border. Brown stands for strength and stability, yellow for prosperity and blue for the spirit of cordiality in which ASEAN affairs are conducted. When ASEAN celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 1997, the sheaves on the logo had increased to ten – representing all ten countries of Southeast Asia and reflecting the colors of the flags of all of them. In a very real sense, ASEAN and Southeast Asia would then be one and the same, just as the Founding Fathers had envisioned.


The agenda of the ASEAN- India summit

January 25, 2018: The Times of India

What the Indian government planned to discuss with its ASEAN counterparts at the ASEAN- India summit, 2018
From: January 25, 2018: The Times of India

See graphic:

What the Indian government planned to discuss with its ASEAN counterparts at the ASEAN- India summit, 2018

India, Vietnam talk with eye on China

Amid uncertainty over the security situation in the South China Sea, where there has been no let-up in Chinese construction in disputed waters, India and Vietnam discussed maritime cooperation on Wednesday and vowed to further expand their defence ties.

India’s involvement in building Vietnam’s defence capabilities figured prominently in PM Narendra Modi’s bilateral meeting with his counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, ahead of the India-Asean summit.

On summit-eve, India, Vietnam sign 2 MoUs

Hanoi has been urging India to increase its profile in the Southeast Asia region and the countries are looking to further upgrade their defence partnership in the near future. Vietnam sees defencesecurity cooperation as the most “intensive and effective” pillar of Vietnam’s relations with India.

Apart from Phuc, Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also had bilateral meetings with Modi. According to MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, Modi and Suu Kyi had a productive discussion on intensifying bilateral cooperation, including follow-up on “key decisions” taken during Modi’s visit to Myanmar in September last year.

In that context, they discussed India’s development programme for Rakhine state which saw an exodus of Rohingya Muslims after a military crackdown. Myanmar began accepting the return of refugees on Tuesday under an agreement it has reached with Bangladesh. Both leaders reiterated their shared view that the situation in Rakhine had a developmental as well as a security dimension. India is helping Myanmar bring about overall socio-economic development in the state by undertaking both infrastructure and socio-economic projects.

India and Vietnam also signed two MoUs on the sidelines of the summit. There was one to enhance cooperation in the field of information and broadcasting and another between Isro and the National Remote Sensing Department of Vietnam for establishment of a tracking and data reception station and data processing facility in Vietnam. India and the Philippines, too, signed an MoU which aims to facilitate direct investment between the two countries by providing practical investment information to enterprises.

Singapore help India’s closer integration with Asean

Lee Hsien Loong, January 25, 2018: The Times of India

Revive A Millennial Partnership

Singapore has played a major role in India’s closer integration with Asean

While we commemorate 25 years of Asean-India relations, India’s ties with southeast Asia date back more than 2,000 years. Ancient trade between India and countries such as Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand is welldocumented. Southeast Asian cultures, traditions and languages have been profoundly influenced by these early linkages. We see Indic Hindu-Buddhist influences in historical sites such as the Angkor Temple Complex near Siem Reap in Cambodia, the Borobudor and Prambanan temples near Yogyakarta in Indonesia, and the ancient candis in Kedah in Malaysia. The Ramayana is embedded in many southeast Asian cultures, including in Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. Singapore’s Malay name is Singapura, derived from Sanskrit and meaning ‘lion city’.

Singapore has always advocated India’s inclusion in the Asean community. India became an Asean Sectoral Dialogue Partner in 1992, a full Asean Dialogue Partner in 1995, and participated in the East Asia Summits (EAS) from 2005. The EAS is a key component of an open, inclusive and robust regional architecture, and the region’s main strategic leaders-led forum.

Asean-India relations were further elevated to a strategic partnership in 2012, the 20th anniversary of Asean-India relations. Today, Asean and India enjoy multi-faceted cooperation across Asean’s political-security, economic and sociocultural pillars. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Act East’ policy and 3-C (Commerce, Connectivity, Culture) formula for strengthening engagement with Asean speaks to our broad-based cooperation. We have around 30 platforms for cooperation, including an annual Leaders’ Summit and seven Ministerial Dialogues. India has participated actively in Asean-led platforms including the Asean Regional Forum, the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, and the East Asia Summit.

With the Asean-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA), Asean-India trade has risen steadily from $2.9 billion in 1993 to $58.4 billion in 2016. On the socio-cultural front, programmes like the Asean-India Students Exchange Programmes and the annual Delhi Dialogue foster closer people-to-people relations. Through these platforms, our youth, academics and businessmen get to meet, learn and deepen ties.

To mark this Silver Jubilee of Asean-India relations, both sides have held many commemorative activities. The recent Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Singapore recognised the contributions of the Indian diaspora. Today’s Asean-India Commemorative Summit marks the culmination of these celebrations. It is an honour for all the Asean leaders to be in New Delhi for this occasion. Asean leaders are also deeply honoured to be invited as chief guests at tomorrow’s 69th Republic Day Parade.

Major global trends are reshaping the strategic outlook, presenting both challenges and opportunities. The strategic balance is shifting. Demographic, cultural and political changes are underway in many parts of the world. The consensus on globalisation and free trade is fraying, but the Asian story continues to be a positive one. We need to push on with economic integration. We must also be resolute in dealing with emerging transboundary challenges, including terrorism, cybercrime and climate change.

This geopolitical uncertainty gives new impetus to Asean’s cooperation with key partners like India. Asean and India share common interests in peace and security in the region, and an open, balanced and inclusive regional architecture. India is located strategically along major sealanes from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. These sea lanes are also vital trade routes for many Asean member states. Both sides share an interest in preserving these vital maritime conduits of trade. Asean and India’s combined population of 1.8 billion represents one quarter of the world’s population. Our combined GDP exceeds $4.5 trillion. By 2025, India’s consumer market is expected to become the fifth largest in the world, while in southeast Asia middle-class households will double to 163 million. Both regions are also experiencing a demographic dividend – 60% of Asean’s population is below 35 years old, while India is projected to be the world’s youngest country with an average age of 29 by 2020. Asean and India also have fast-growing internet user bases, which will help us grow the digital economy. Against this backdrop, we still have much scope to grow our ties – India accounted for only 2.6% of Asean’s external trade in 2016.

May I suggest three promising areas of mutually beneficial collaboration.

First, Asean and India should redouble efforts to promote trade and investment. We need to keep existing pathways up to date and relevant, including the AIFTA. We should work together to conclude a high quality Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), surpassing the existing AIFTA. This would create an integrated Asian market comprising nearly half the world’s population and a third of the world’s GDP. Streamlining rules and regulations will stimulate investments in both directions, complement India’s ‘Act East’ policy and facilitate ‘Made in India’ exports to the region.

Second, our peoples will benefit greatly from greater land, air and maritime connectivity. We appreciate India’s efforts to improve land connectivity, including the extension of the trilateral India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway, and India’s $1billion line of credit to promote infrastructure connectivity with Asean. We look forward to working closely with India to boost our physical connectivity, including by expeditiously concluding the Asean-India Air Transport Agreement. This will enhance people-to-people flows across the region and help both Indian and Asean carriers tap new and emerging markets, especially for business, investment and tourism.

Digital connectivity is another important area of cooperation, and can shape people-to-people connections for the future. India’s Aadhaar system creates many new opportunities, for instance, to harmonise our Fintech platforms or connect e-payment systems.

Finally, we continue to look for new synergies. One objective of Singapore’s chairmanship is to develop an Asean Smart Cities Network, and here Singapore and India are natural partners. India is rapidly urbanising and has set itself a goal of establishing 100 smart cities. Singapore, an urbanised city-state, is ready to partner India on this journey and help develop urban solutions based on our own experience. Andhra Pradesh’s new capital city of Amaravati is one example.

As Asean chair, Singapore is committed to deepening Asean-India ties. If both sides use our historical and cultural links to tackle today’s challenges and build bridges for the future, our youth and next generation stand to gain the most.

(The writer is Prime Minister of Singapore)

Delhi Declaration of the Asean-India Commemorative Summit

Sachin Parashar, China on mind, maritime ties on table at Indo-Asean meet, January 26, 2018: The Times of India

Delhi Shares Bloc’s Vision For Peace: PM

Maritime cooperation, with an eye on the security situation in South China Sea (SCS), and terrorism dominated India’s unprecedented Asean outreach, including its decision to invite leaders of all 10 Asean nations for the R-Day parade to celebrate 25 years of India-Asean partnership.

While PM Narendra Modi underlined freedom of navigation as a key “focus area” of India’s maritime cooperation with Asean countries, the southeast Asian grouping responded by jointly calling for a comprehensive approach for “countering cross-border movement of terrorists and foreign terrorist fighters” in the Delhi Declaration of the Asean-India Commemorative Summit.

This was a rare mention of “cross-border” terrorism, which India uses to pin Pakistan down for its support to Indiaspecific terror groups like LeT and JeM, in an India-Asean document. Indian officials said there was complete unanimity between India and Asean on the issue of terrorism. “India shares Asean’s vision for peace and prosperity through a rules based order for the oceans and sea,” Modi said at the plenary session of the summit.

At least four nations — Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines — are party to territorial disputes with China in the SCS. Countries like Vietnam and Singapore have repeatedly urged India to increase its security profile in southeast Asia.

“Respect for international law, notably UNCLOS, is critical for this. We remain committed to work with Asean to enhance our practical cooperation in our shared maritime domain. During the retreat (at Rashtrapati Bhavan), we had an opportunity to discuss maritime cooperation as a key focus area for growth and development for the Indo-Pacific region. Indeed, maritime cooperation is an integral part of our discourse throughout our commemorative activities,” Modi said. India and Asean are looking to set up a mechanism for greater cooperation in the maritime sector.

On the issue of terrorism, both sides agreed to promote a comprehensive approach to combat terrorism through close cooperation by “disrupting and countering terrorists, terrorist groups and networks, including by countering cross-border movement of terrorists and foreign terrorist fighters and misuse of internet, including social media, by terror entities’’.

They also agreed to strengthen cooperation to stop terror financing efforts, and prevent recruitment of members of terrorist groups, support efforts in targeting terrorist groups and sanctuaries, and take “further urgent measures to counter and prevent the spread of terrorism”, while stressing that there could be “no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever’’.

India and Asean reaffirmed the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight in the region, and other “lawful uses of the seas and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce and to promote peaceful resolutions of disputes, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)’’.

The declaration also said the two sides supported the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and looked forward to an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

Outstanding issues

As in 2020

Sidhartha, August 1, 2020: The Times of India

India reviews continuation of trade pact with Asean Govt Unhappy With Bloc’s Reluctance To Address Concerns

New Delhi:

The government is reviewing the continuation of the free trade agreement (FTA) with Asean in the wake of the trading bloc’s reluctance to address India’s concerns over what it believes are asymmetries in the decade-old treaty.

The government’s main grouse is the rising trade deficit with the 10-country grouping, many of which is seen to be Chinese goods that are routed via some of the Asean members.

The Narendra Modi government has blamed the trade arrangements worked out by the UPA for a large part of the problem of trade deficit, arguing that the agreements with Asean, South Korea and Japan were signed in haste and India’s interests were not adequately protected. As a result, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal has been demanding renegotiation of certain provisions under a review mechanism, something that Asean has so far refused to accept.

It has told India that the review can only take place after it concludes the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea, showing its reluctance to engage. At least three highranking officials in the administration told TOI that the government was looking at the option of exiting some of the FTAs, especially the one with Asean, if the terms of engagement were not in India’s favour.

The lower-duty or dutyfree mechanism is being blamed for import surge in several products — from agarbattis to air-conditioners and TV sets. Government sources accused trade partners of using tools, which were not fair to push their goods into the country, while erecting barriers for entry of Indian goods and professionals, cited as the biggest gain from the treaties.

In recent years, starting with the threat to block a WTO agreement on trade facilitation in 2015 to walking out of RCEP discussions, India has hardened its stance in global engagements.


2017: 10% rise, but well short of potential

Surojit Gupta, Indo-Asean trade rises 10% to $72bn in FY17, but is way short of potential, January 26, 2018: The Times of India

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2016-18: India’s exports to and imports from 5 ASEAN countries

Trade and economic ties between India and the 10-nation Asean (Association of Southeast Asian nations) have enormous potential but needs more work to realise the gains.

Two-way trade between India and Asean moved up to $71.6 billion in 2016-17 from $65.1 billion in 2015-16 (over 10% increase). In contrast, two-way trade between China and Asean stood at $452.31billion in 2016 while its exports to Asean totalled $256 billion, according to industry data.

“Full trade potential and product integration to be realised, facilitation of business to business connections, information flow, harmonisation and mutual recognition of standards as well as removal of non-tariff barriers are crucial,” said a paper prepared by industry lobby group CII. Experts said they expected major gains to follow as part of India’s engagement with Asean.

“With 644 million population and combined GDP of $2.7 trillion, Asean is a large economy. It also enjoys annual per capita income of $4,200. If you combine India and Asean, you have a $5 trillion economy, third largest in the world after the US and China. Seen this way, India and Asean are extremely important for each other,” said Arvind Panagariya, professor at Columbia University and former Niti Aayog vicechairman. Panagariya said he hoped India would move towards completing the negotiations for RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). “If this is done, we can count on Asean countries turning even more important for us,” he said.

But some experts said a more focussed approach was needed to realise the full potential. “India-Asean trade and economic ties have great prospects. However, in spite of having an implemented Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the ties have not progressed to offer the intended fruits yet. There have been negligible effects of the India-Asean FTA on trade flows between India and the Asean countries as a group. Trade and economic relations have fostered with countries in Asean with which we have bilateral FTAs,” said Deeparghya Mukherjee, assistant professor of economics at IIM, Nagpur.


India’s Trade with ASEAN, 2018-20.
From: Sidhartha, August 1, 2020: The Times of India

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India’s Trade with ASEAN, 2018-20.

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