Mr. Chairman, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and delegates from fraternal ASEAN countries.

  1. I am happy to be participating in this ASEAN India (9+1) meeting. This marks the third year of India’s full dialogue partnership with ASEAN. Beginnings, though challenging in themselves are relatively easier to make. Sustaining them and keeping the inner energy alive is the true test. This calls for constant application, focussed interest and the required will. That is why we can, with some satisfaction, assert that we have succeeded in maintaining the momentum of Indo-ASEAN partnership, also of enhancing its value.

  2. This is all the more creditable, as during the last one year in particular, a number of developments have inclined towards diverting both India’s and ASEAN’s attention to more pressing political, economic and foreign policy issues. The South East and East Asian economic crisis is one such phenomenon, whilst changes of governments in India and some ASEAN countries and the recent nuclear tests have been another. Essentially, such developments test the strengths of the new ASEAN India partnership. They are occasions to prove to each that the two are not just fair weather friends, that we decline to judge on the basis of transferred or derived perceptions. This central feature of the new era of ASEAN-India partnership we certainly would wish to both sustain and promote.
  3. On our side, ever since our Look East Policy was launched in 1991, every successive government in India has supported it with its emphasis on special relationship with ASEAN. Our government has gone further in emphasising the importance of ASEAN’s geographical proximity, also to the civilisational linkages with India. We have accorded high priority to developing a multifaceted relationship with ASEAN, moving on the four wheels of security, economy, culture and science & technology. I firmly believe that ASEAN and India can give much to each other, that we can and ought to derive immense benefits through co-operation in all these areas
  4. Let me begin by looking at the political and strategic convergences. It is more than a historical coincidence that ASEAN and India have neither any territorial disputes, nor any conflict of strategic interests. If anything, it is a reaffirmation as much of the fraternal bonds that have existed for centuries as of the peace loving and consensual culture that permeates India and ASEAN. But in today’s context, I would say that India and ASEAN are joined by more than simply an absence of conflict. We share common strategic and security concerns, also goals regional and global, Our political value system is similar, based as it is, on full respect for the principles of sovereignty territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. These principles are sought to be upheld by India and ASEAN, despite pressures. ASEAN and India also share the belief that multipolarity and democratisation, regionally and globally, are the best guarantees for peace, security and stability.
  5. It is, therefore, necessary that we intensify the dialogue in political and strategic areas between India and ASEAN bilaterally, as well as through fora such as ASEAN India Senior Officials’ Meeting and ARF and cooperate to the maximum. It is natural that we expect mutual understanding on issues that are of vital security interest to either of us. india’s recent actions in response to the developments in the security environment around us, have to be seen in that light. It is therefore, gratifying that our dialogue with ASEAN countries on this has evinced an understanding of our concerns.
  6. On the economic front, we have, despite the challenges posed by the South East Asian crisis. made considerable progress, amongst other through the activation of dialogue institutions. My government has preferred India’s support to ASEAN in its time of economic difficulty and sought to contribute to the restoration of an atmosphere of confidence. This so that the dynamism of the region could be restored, also to enable an early getting back on the track of rapid economic growth and wellbeing. in international fora too, we have advocated a balanced, holistic and objective approach to the solution of this challenge, in all its dimensions, and with the urgency that it deserves.
  7. Our keenness to see ASEAN well on its way to recovery has also prompted us to take specific measures to sustain and give impetus to India ASEAN trade, investment and development co-operation. Earlier this year, my colleague from the Ministry of External Affairs had written to your Excellencies conveying a package of measures – ranging from government to government credit, to facilitation of counter trade arrangements from the Government of India to affected ASEAN countries. Since then, I understand that follow up has taken place. In addition, I would like to assure that we would be willing to consider participation in any intra-ASEAN or regional schemes for trade, investment and finance. We have been encouraging our business sector to marry the extant ASEAN India economic complementarities with the opportunities brought to the fore by the crisis. In this manner a broader foundation of intra-industry and inter-industry collaboration, of mutual sourcing of competitive commodities, manufactures and services, thereby of true economic inter dependence can be laid. It is, therefore, particularly gratifying that work would be shortly commencing on examining the potential and promise of AFTA India linkages. The inherent dynamism of ASEAN-India trade and investment and India’s continued openness and liberalization in these areas is proved by ASEAN India trade continuing at a steady level, with ASEAN exports to India increasing by 13% and ASEAN investment project approvals in India rising to $756 million in 1997 despite the financial turbulence.
  8. Under this broad category of culture are embedded elements relating to human resource development and tourism related co-operation, intellectual and academic exchanges and people to people contacts. My government attaches great significance to this component of ASEAN India partnership and will do its maximum to promote and intensify it. We therefore, welcome the umbrella study being launched under the auspices of the ASEAN-India Fund-to explore mutual interest areas of human resource development co-operation and to draw a practical action plan. Within this, we lay emphasis on the setting up of ASEAN study centres in India and India study centres in ASEAN; interlinkages between ASEAN universities and their Indian counterparts, also collaboration in vocational and technical training. Getting to know each other at the level of opinion makers is being attempted through an Eminent Persons ASEAN India lecture series. Under this we have had three distinguished speakers including Prime Minister, Mahathir of Malaysia, Dr. Takshin Shinawatra, former DPM of Thailand and Dr. Villegas, an academic from Philippines. Some eminent speakers from India are scheduled to visit ASEAN countries on lecture tours shortly.
  9. On tourism, I believe a similar exercise on a co-operative work programme is in progress and India attended the recent meeting of ASEAN NTOs in Chiang Rai, Thailand to take this proposal forward. In the context of the regional crisis in particular, ASEAN India tourism cooperation as a two-way traffic and profit multiplier has particular value and deserves to be nurtured. We are in favour of expanding people to people contacts and all measures should be taken to facilitate the movement of bona fide businessmen, tourists and professionals who represent the million points of light: illuminating our path and providing warmth to the ASEAN-India relationship.
  10. Science and technology has been a strong point of ASEAN India cooperation, everyday new facets of that are being discovered. The three areas of frontier technology that we are plumbing together-that is information technology, bio technology and advanced materials-are areas where India can make a contribution and synergise with ASEAN efforts, Good progress has been recorded by projects in these areas and we need to give our scientists and technologists greater support in keeping with their obvious enthusiasm for collaboration. in regard to our flag ship project on an ASEAN India Informatics Training Centre, I am happy to inform you that we are putting in place a training programme in India for training 100 ASEAN nominees every year in state-of-the-art IT applications. This scheme will be notified shortly and will constitute a first operational Step towards the eventual establishment of the Centre in ASEAN countries as originally proposed.
  11. Mr. Chairman, with your kind support and leadership and with the co-operation of our other ASEAN friends, institutionally, ASEAN India dialogue partnership is well on its way to consolidation. Since the last PMC, we have had a very successful inaugural meeting of the ASEAN India SOM in New Delhi in February this year, a highly productive joint Co-operation Committee meeting in April, 1998 and a useful and substantive inaugural meeting of the Working Group on Trade and Investment in May, 1998. In November last year, the first meeting of the ASEAN. India Working Group on Science and Technology took place which carried forward the already fruitful co-operation between Indian and ASEAN scientists. Business sector co-operation is growing through interaction between respective national chambers and the ASEAN India Business Council and an ASEAN-India SME Parterneriat is planned for November 1998 in New Delhi. I am sure you share my hope and expectation that these institutional links will grow from strength to strength and become catalysts for the renaissance of our great civilisations through creative fusion.
  12. Mr. Chairman, countries like people and made up of people, have aspirations in their relationship with each other. The aspirations of human life, activity and relationship as we understand it in India are Dharma (virtue and principles), Artha (wealth and propsperity), Kama (enjoyment and aesthetics) and Moksha (liberation and self-realisation). I am convinced that our unique partnership with ASEAN has the potential of fulfilling all these aspirations, given the completeness and depth of our relations.