ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit to celebrate 25th anniversary of establishment of sectoral dialogue between two sides was held when Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders sat together with Indian Prime Minister on Thursday evening of 25 January, 2018. The commemoration was held on the eve of 69th Republic Day, where heads of 10 ASEAN States were the Chief Guests at the parade of military contingents and cultural tableaux. It was a grand gestures providing for a spectacle that indicated a rise in India’s strategic profile and its willingness to engage with the South East, a region with which it enjoys historical and civilizational ties. India’s desire to build a broad-based strategic partnership with the ASEAN nations and increase its profile in South East Asia was evident.
ASEAN is a regional intergovernmental organisation comprising ten Southeast Asian countries which promote Pan-Asianism and intergovernmental cooperation and facilities of economic, political, security, military, educational and socio-cultural integration amongst its members and other Asian countries. ASEAN is an official United Nations Observer, as well as an active global partner.
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.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the plenary session of the commemorative summit, said, “India shares ASEAN’s vision for peace and prosperity through a rules-based order for the oceans and seas. Respect for international law, notably United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is critical for this.” Modi added that India remained committed to “work with ASEAN to enhance our shared maritime domain”. Prime Minister, on the retreat at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, stressed on the theme of ‘Shared Values, Common Destiny’ to drive home the point that India and ASEAN’s rise is irrevocably linked. He added that, “Humanitarian and disaster relief, security cooperation and freedom of navigation will be one of key focus area of our maritime cooperation.”
Delhi Declaration, a joint statement, issued after the plenary session of the summit made all the right noises on keeping the vital maritime routes of trade in Indo-Pacific open and free from coercion. China, the elephant in the room, wasn’t mentioned but there was little scope for doubt:
- Focusing on the presence of the Islamic State and other forms of radicalism in the region, sought 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.” Out of all the countries of ASEAN region, Philippines had the most serious threat from the Islamic State in the last few years and the bilateral discussion focused on this aspect.
- 11 leaders confirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability, maritime safety, freedom of navigation and over flight, and other lawful uses of the seas in the region.
- There was also a collective reaffirmation about the need to have “peaceful resolutions of dispute” in accordance with UNCLOS and standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation and International Maritime Organisation.
- “In this regard, we support the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and look forward to an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).”
- Under the rubric of economic cooperation, the joint declaration called upon all states to “intensify efforts in 2018 toward the swift conclusion of a modern, comprehensive, high quality, and mutually beneficial Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)”.
Prime Minister Modi offered to set up digital villages in the Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam by utilising the $1 billion line of credit for connectivity. India will also host an ASEAN-India start up festival this year and 1000 scholarships in IITs for doctoral students from ASEAN countries will be allocated. Besides, 2019 will be marked as the year of India-ASEAN tourism by both the sides.
Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore, Lee Hsein Loong in Singapore’s capacity as the ASEAN Chair for 2018 and the Co-Chair for this Plenary Session stated that, 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.