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Ambassador’s Article in the World and Vietnam Report (TGVN): “ASEAN-India Cooperation: A growing partnership” (8 August 2020)

Posted on: August 08, 2020 | Back | Print

Read in Vietnamese.


The 5th ASEAN Summit held at Bangkok in December 1995 made a landmark decision to accept Vietnam as its full member. Since then Vietnam has emerged as one of the strongest proponents of ASEAN by contributing significantly to its core ideas of building an ASEAN Community and taking initiatives to create new ASEAN-led mechanisms.

The Bangkok Summit also bears a special significance for India. Recognizing the important contribution made by India to support the growth of ASEAN as an important regional grouping in its formative years, ASEAN invited India to become its full Dialogue Partner. This paved the way for creating a strong bond between India and ASEAN. Subsequently, India became a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1996; Summit-level annual meetings between India and ASEAN started in 2002; and India began participating in other ASEAN led mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit and the ADMM Plus. The upgrading of ASEAN-India relationship to the level of Strategic Partnership in 2012 was a natural progression of our close cooperation.

India’s policy towards ASEAN has been clear, consistent and comprehensive. India sees ASEAN as a regional group which has created an ecosystem of peace, prosperity and growth over the last five decades. Recognizing the importance of ASEAN, our leadership has always given the top priority to India’s engagement with the group by regularly attending the Annual Summits and related meetings and launching new initiatives in areas of mutual interest.

The multifaceted India-ASEAN relations has been growing steadily since India’s association with ASEAN in 1992 as a sectoral dialogue partner. Enhancing economic cooperation has remained key to our relations. India's trade with ASEAN stands at US$ 96.79 billion (2018-19), which is approximately 11.5% of India's overall trade. India's export to ASEAN stand at 11.35% of our total exports.  The imports from ASEAN constituted 11.54% of India’s total imports. Investment flows are also substantial both ways, with ASEAN accounting for approximately 18.28% of investment inflows into India since 2000.

The ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit held on the theme "Shared Values, Common Destiny” on 25 January 2018 in New Delhi was an important landmark in our relationship with ASEAN. The Summit articulated India’s engagement with ASEAN as premised on practical cooperation in areas described as three C’s – Connectivity, Commerce and Culture. 

The Summit was culmination of the year-long celebration in 2017 to mark the 25th Anniversary of ASEAN-India Dialogue Partnership, 15 years of Summit interaction and 5 years of Strategic Partnership. A wide range of commemorative activities were undertaken including ASEAN-India Regional Diaspora event in Singapore, a Youth Summit, a Music and Film Festival, a Workshop on Blue Economy, a Connectivity Summit, a Global SME Summit, a Business and Investment Meet & ICT Expo, and the inauguration of an India-ASEAN Friendship Park in the heart of New Delhi. These activities and initiatives laid a firm foundation for an enduring partnership for our future engagements with ASEAN.

ASEAN, as a regional group driven by the core idea of consensus, has worked tirelessly over the last five decades to help secure peace, progress and prosperity in the region. India, therefore, places ASEAN at the center of its Act East Policy and the Indo-Pacific vision as well as its doctrine of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). At the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in 2018, Prime Minister Modi outlined India’s future cooperation with ASEAN, when he said,

“India shares ASEAN’s vision of peace and prosperity through a rules-based order for the oceans and seas. Respect for international law, notably UNCLOS is critical for this. We remain committed to work with ASEAN to enhance practical cooperation and collaboration in our shared maritime domain, as one of the key focus areas for growth and development of the Indo-Pacific region. Humanitarian and Disaster Relief efforts, Security cooperation, and Freedom of Navigation will be key focus areas for our Maritime cooperation.”

At the commemorative Summit, India and the ASEAN Leaders jointly adopted the Delhi Declaration and decided to identify Cooperation in the Maritime Domain as the key area of cooperation under the ASEAN-India strategic partnership.

At the 2019 EAS Summit in Bangkok, Prime Minister Modi launched the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) as a blueprint for strengthening India's multi-sectoral engagement with the ASEAN and to take forward India’s vision for Indo-Pacific through practical cooperation across seven verticals spanning areas such as maritime security, maritime S&T and ecology, and maritime connectivity – based on partnerships built upon existing ASEAN-led frameworks. Welcoming the convergence of views between India and ASEAN for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, Prime Minister Modi noted, “India's Act East policy is an important part of our Indo-Pacific vision and ASEAN lies at the core of it. Integrated and economically vibrant ASEAN is in the interest of India. There is opportunity for boosting cooperation in the maritime security sphere, connectivity and blue economy as well as in areas of agriculture, engineering, digital technology and scientific research.”

Developing ASEAN-India connectivity is a priority focus for India. In 2013, India became the third Dialogue Partner to initiate an India-ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee Meeting. Since then India has made considerable progress in implementing the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway. To realize the dream of an interconnected region, there is potential to enhance the maritime and air connectivity between ASEAN and India and transforming the corridors of connectivity into economic corridors. A possible extension of India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam is being explored to boost economic integration through land connectivity.

India’s efforts to improve connectivity and economic integration with ASEAN received further boost with India’s announcement of a Line of Credit of US$ 1 billion to promote physical and digital connectivity between India and ASEAN and a Project Development Fund with a corpus of Indian Rupees five billion (nearly US$75 million) to develop manufacturing hubs in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Our efforts in the fields of connectivity is also aimed to enhance People-to-people exchange.  A number of platforms such as the ASEAN-India Student Exchange Programme, ASEAN-India Youth Summit, ASEAN-India Media Exchange, ASEAN-India Cultural and Civilizational Links and ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks have been helping to strengthen our people-to-people and cultural links. At the Commemorative Summit of 2018, India announced 1000 Fellowships to students and researchers from ASEAN countries for pursuing integrated PhD programmes in the globally acclaimed Indian Institutes of Technology to further boost exchanges in higher education.  The programme was rolled out in September 2019.

Since its accession to ASEAN 25 years ago, Vietnam has been playing an important role in promoting intra-grouping cooperation at different ASEAN led mechanisms and ASEAN’s engagement with other dialogue partners. Some of the basic principles of Vietnam’s foreign policy including support for multilateralism and following the UN Charter and fundamental principles of international law have been critical for regional and global peace and stability.

The ASEAN Chairmanship brings new opportunities for Vietnam to play an even more meaningful and prominent role in the region. At the inauguration of its chairmanship of ASEAN 2020, Vietnam set its priority as upholding the common interests of the region and the international community, including peace, cooperation and development. The motto of “Cohesive and Responsive” for ASEAN 2020 reflects the high priority Vietnam attaches to building a stronger and more adaptive ASEAN community in the emerging regional and global geopolitical and geo-economic landscape. Vietnam, as one of the fastest growing economies in the region with an abiding interest in the peace and stability of the region, has natural strengths to guide the development and prosperity of the region.

Having come out of the shadows of COVID-19 pandemic most successfully, Vietnam has not only set an example, for the region and its partners, of its effective healthcare management but is also well-positioned to lead the post-pandemic economic recovery of the region. 

As a close friend, we are happy to see Vietnam playing an active role in promoting regional and global peace, stability and prosperity.  We recall with gratitude Vietnam’s most constructive role in facilitating our engagement with ASEAN as our Country Coordinator during 2015-18 and ensuring the success of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in January 2018.

Based on its deep civilizational contacts with the region and guided by its Act East Policy and the Indo-Pacific Vision, India looks forward to building ever closer links with ASEAN through enhanced connectivity, commerce and cultural exchanges. We are confident that under the chairmanship of Vietnam, which is one of our foremost partners in the region, our efforts to deepen engagement with ASEAN will be even more productive. India stands ready to work closely with Vietnam to fulfill all the objectives of its ASEAN chairmanship.