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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 891

India expands strategic partnership with Asean

From R. Vasudevan- Reporting from New Delhi
New Delhi, 22 December (Asiantribune.com):

As a follow-up to the substantive free-trade agreement, India and the 10-nation Asean took ties to the next level, creating a strategic partnership at a time when Chinese assertiveness as unsettled many in the region.

Inaugurating a ceremonial summit of all 10 Asean leaders, PM Manmohan Singh said, "We should intensify our political and security consultations, including in regional forums such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus. We should work together more purposefully for the evolution of an open, balanced, inclusive and transparent regional architecture."

Significantly, India pushed for greater cooperation on maritime security, which acquires special importance in the current environment. "As maritime nations, India and ASEAN nations should intensify their engagement for maritime security and safety, for freedom of navigation and for peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in accordance with international law," the PM said. He also picked up and legitimized use of the new term — Indo-Pacific — that presumes New Delhi's role and interest in the Asia-Pacific theatre.

The emphasis on these forums holds a significance that escaped no one. The focus on Asean as the central institution has come under strain recently as some of the members battle Chinese assertion of sovereignty over territories in the South China Sea.

A vision statement released by the leaders drew heavily from the recommendations of an eminent persons group (EPG), which looked forward to focusing on maritime security and connectivity as the pillars of an expanded India-Asean relationship. Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary and a co-chair of the EPG, told TOI, "The summit marks an inflection point in the emergence of a new political, security and economic order in Asia with an opportunity for India to assume a leadership role in the region."

The India-Asean relationship was all about trade so far. And trade has flourished. Saying the relationship has become more strategic, the PM listed defence and counter-terrorism as areas where cooperation has expanded.

Interestingly, Singh highlighted the "centrality" of Asean, a sensitive issue in south-east Asia that worries about its future, and whether it would be able to stay together in the face of increasing pressure from China and a countervailing pressure from the US. The PM instead plumped for an Asean community, saying "ASEAN has emerged as the principal architect and driver of economic and security structures and institutions that are emerging in the region. ASEAN centrality and leadership are essential elements for the success of these forums and India fully supports ASEAN as the lynchpin of these efforts."

No one mentioned, China. All the Asean countries, as well as India, have deep bilateral ties with China, but for many of these countries, Beijing's rise and the manifestations of that are causing disquiet, particularly over the simmering tensions in the South China Sea. India has an equally complex relationship with China. And, despite the potential, India is far from becoming a credible balancing power to China, largely because its economy is one-third of China's, and New Delhi's ability to deliver on infrastructural support is abysmal. That might affect the larger strategic relationship with Asean.
The Sultan of Brunei Darussalam, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the President of the Republic of Indonesia, the Prime Minister of People's Democratic Republic of Laos, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the President of Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the Vice-President of the Republic of the Philippines were received by President Pranab Mukherjee in Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Besides, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore, the Prime Minister of Kingdom of Thailand and Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam also arrived at Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet Mukherjee. Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were present during the function.

India is hosting the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi to mark the 20th anniversary of the ASEAN-India dialogue partnership and the 10th anniversary of ASEAN-India Summit-level partnership. The theme of the summit is 'ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace and Shared Prosperity'.

- Asian Tribune -

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