Thank you Your Excellency Mr. Kanwal Sibal,
Allow me at the outset, on behalf of my ASEAN colleagues, the ASEAN delegations and on my own behalf to express our sincere gratitude for the warm welcome and hospitality and for the excellent arrangements made for our meeting.
My ASEAN colleagues and I are delighted to be in New Delhi, this beautiful city of a great country.
It is an honour for Malaysia as the country coordinator for ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations to chair this meeting together with you.
This is the 5th ASEAN-India Senior Official’s Meeting. As Country Coordinator, Malaysia is honoured to Co-Chair this meeting for the second time. I am particularly glad to see Your Excellency personally co-chairing this meeting. It certainly signifies the importance that India attaches to the ASEAN-India Dialogue process.
As you can see on our side, ASEAN is well represented. We have come a long way with only one basic objective – to promote and enhance ASEAN-India relations.
But beyond that, our presence here also carries a number of messages:
- that India is a valuable partner for ASEAN;
- that there exists an enormous potential to develop and enhanced partnership with India;
- that the interest of both sides would be well served by strengthening the ASEAN-India institutionalised relationship in all dimensions;
- that India is a politically important to ASEAN just as ASEAN is, as a regional grouping, to India.
The last ten years have seen India’s association with ASEAN graduating from being a sectoral Dialogue Partner to a full Dialogue Partner culminating eventually with the 1st ASEAN-India Summit in Phnom Penh last November.
This is not just a chance happening but a reflection of the active cooperation generated over the years between the two sides in the fields of science and technology, trade and in vestment, human resource development, tourism, people to people interaction, information technology as well as maritime and security.
ASEAN therefore welcomes India’s continued active participation at the ASEAN-India SOM, ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference and the ASEAN Regional Forum.
But ASEAN-India meeting today has a new meaning.
We are meeting today against the backdrop of the erosion of the multilateral system where cardinal principles cherished by all members of the UN are being sacrificed. The consequences of this trend are yet to be fully comprehended by especially small developing countries.
On the trade and economic front, the fragile and sluggish global economy, already weakened by the recent war in Iraq, is further compounded by the debilitating effects of SARS.
It is still uncertain as to how long SARS will be with us. But for members of ASEAN it simply means that no one is an island. It is important that we cooperate together as a group in bad times as we strive to share collectively the benefits of economic prosperity.
Having said this, we can only wish India well for not being a SARS affected country.
Looking ahead, the question before us is whether ASEAN-India SOM can play a role. The answer to this, I believe, is yes. As senior officials, we can do so by simply not turning this Meeting into a useless talk shop. We can do so by being more focused in our deliberation in order to meet the manifold changes ahead. We can do so by engaging in constructive dialogues that could le ad to something meaningful for our leaders to eventually endorse. In this regard, I must thank India for coming out with a draft agenda that focuses on issues of interests to both sides.
For Malaysia, it has indeed been a privilege to be the Country Coordinator for the vibrant dialogue relations with India over the past three years.
And we look forward to successful completing our deliberation and to the fruitful outcome of this 5th ASEAN-India SOM.