Your Excellencies,

Dato Fuzi Ahmad, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia,

Mr. Ong Keng Yong, Secretary General of ASEAN

Mr. Bounkeut Sangsomsak, Deputy Foreign Minister of Lao People’s Democratic Republic,

Heads of ASEAN Delegations,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. On the occasion of the fifth India-ASEAN SOM, I extend to you a warm welcome and friendly greetings. Despite the inclement weather In New Delhi, I hope your stay will be comfortable.

2. May I, at the outset, place on record India’s grateful appreciation for the commitment and dynamism with which Malaysia has steered the India-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership in the past three years.  It has been an eventful time which has seen the holding of the first India-ASEAN Summit, and a steady expansion of the range and content of India-ASEAN interactions.   Malaysia has made a vital contribution on this process.  I am sure India-ASEAN relations will be strengthened further when the Lao PDR assumes coordinating responsibility in the near future.

3. I would also like to express our happiness at the presence of the ASEAN Secretary General at this meeting. We have known you as a good friend of India, since your days in New Delhi as Singapore’s High Commissioner to India.  The ASEAN Secretariat has actively championed the further development of India-ASEAN relations.  I am sure this tradition will continue, under your stewardship.

4. Since the first India-ASEAN Summit at Phnom Penh in November 2002, we have received a number of distinguished visitors from ASEAN countries. These have included Their Excellencies, the President and Prime Minister of Singapore, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Viet Nam, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Lao people’s Democratic Republic, and the Foreign Ministers of Thailand and Viet Nam.  We look forward to welcoming, in a few weeks from now, His Excellency the Prime Minister of the Lao PDR.

5. India and ASEAN have experienced sustained economic growth, even during a global slow down. I am sure the ASEAN region would quickly recover from the SARS-induced economic difficulties, and resume steady growth.  Together, we can overcome the adverse effects of recessionary conditions in the world economy. This is why our leaders have chosen the path of closer economic integration between India and ASEAN, and endorsed the long term objective of a India-ASEAN Regional Trade and Investment Area.  A Joint Task Force is developing the draft of a Framework Agreement, which will provide the blueprint for an India-ASEAN FTA, for conclusion at the Bali Summit.

6. Our leaders have also recognized the imperative of India-ASEAN cooperation for combating international terrorism and other trans-national crimes.  At the India-ASEAN JCC held in New Delhi a few weeks ago, India had presented the draft of an India-ASEAN Declaration against International Terrorism, for ASEAN’s consideration.  We hope we can carry our discussions forward in this area, with a view to adopting the Declaration at the Bali Summit.

7. India and ASEAN have a common interest in peace and stability in the region.  India’s participation in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is an integral part of our relations with ASEAN.  As a further contribution to regional peace and security, we have been considering India’s possible accession, as a non member, to the Treaty of Amity and cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia.  India would welcome a briefing from ASEAN on the current status of accession of non-members.

8. Excellencies, we look forward to an exchange of perceptions and perspectives on global and regional issues of mutual interest.  We should remain alert to the possibilities of closer cooperation in multilateral fora, especially the United Nations.  ASEAN and India also share a broad affinity in our approach to the issues under discussion at the WTO.  We should seek to build further on these opportunities, to enrich and strengthen India-ASEAN relations.

9. May I conclude with welcoming you once again at New Delhi, and wishing you a  pleasant and productive stay in our country.