India bats for deepening its ties with ASEAN
India today called for strengthening connectivity within the ASEAN group to a new level to further boost trade and people-to-people contact and sought for further deepening of ties.
Addressing a gathering of the ASEAN countries here, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said, "To my mind, connectivity, trade and investment can bring about a seamless integration of our economic space and enable us to optimize our human and resource potential. I hope that our Economic and Trade Ministers will be able to sign the FTA() on Services and Investment when they meet later this month and also agree on the modalities for setting up a dedicated ASEAN India Trade and Investment Centre."
"We have suggested that India, Myanmar and Thailand begin negotiations on a Transit Transport Agreement at the earliest so that this can be concluded by the time the Trilateral Highway completes in 2016," she added.
"The ACCC-India meeting and Working Groups suggested by it should inform the AISOM () on how ASEAN and India can identify the SEZs or economic nodes along their connectivity corridors of road, rail and sea. It should adopt a multi-modal approach to bring in Industry as a participant player. The Task Force on Maritime Connectivity and the IMT Transit Transport Agreement Task Force will be important to this," she further added.
"Our civil aviation experts should find ways to complete the unutilized 18 sectors connecting Tier II and Tier III cities in India to tourist and business destinations in ASEAN. This will be practical and will assist our search for innovative financial solutions. We need to encourage a symbiotic relationship between the infrastructure of roads/railways/shipping lines, which the ASEAN want India to help create, and regular economic activity with India to sustain such "connectivity". I look forward to your suggestions on how we, as Governments, can fast-track this process," she said.
"We would like to further strengthen our people-to-people programmes with ASEAN. I suggest extension of the Media Exchange Programme for another three years. The course for ASEAN Diplomats and Officials from the ASEAN Secretariat at the Foreign Service Institute in New Delhi will continue. I understand our Agriculture Ministers will be discussing the extension of the farmers exchange programme when they meet in October this year. We are adding new dimensions to the programmes for 250 ASEAN students when they visit India in September and December 2014. I have asked our Missions to establish Alumni associations for these students as also those who avail of scholarships under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme (ITEC) and the Mekong Ganga Cooperation. We will also be requesting ASEAN concurrence for scholarships to be given from the ASEAN India Cooperation Fund to students from CLMV countries to be part of the first group of students to be enrolled in the Schools of Historical Studies and Ecology and Environment Studies at Nalanda University, which will begin functioning this year," she added.
"For the future consistency of our engagement, it is important that as ASEAN integrates and works towards an ASEAN Community by 2015, ASEAN-India integration keeps pace. This is particularly necessary for people-to-people connectivity for tourism and business. We need to enhance visa facilitation for business purposes, including grant of long-term (5-10 years) multiple entry business visas and stay permits for professionals and their families. This needs to be given urgent priority on the agenda ahead," she further added.
Sushma also stated about opening of new mission in ASEAN. "We hope to open our new Mission to the ASEAN before our Summit in November 2014 and we are exploring the possibility of seconding one Officer to the ASEAN Secretariat," she said.
Sushma also talked about India would soon draft a five- year plan of action starting 2016-2021 to take the "trajectories" of common interests with ASEAN.
"Looking ahead at the next Plan of Action for 2016-2021, we would wish to see greater focus on areas such as education and vocational skills training, which would impact the youth, and sectors of healthcare, pharmaceuticals and medical training, which impact the elderly in our countries.
Excellencies, in fulfillment of the ASEAN desire to see India play a greater role in support of the ASEAN Political Security Blueprint for 2015, we have attempted to provide balance and ballast to the Security Framework currently under discussion in EAS related workshops. We have contributed a paper to these discussions and we would be ready to explore possible principles for inter-state relations in East Asia," she said.
She also talked about a proposed workshop on cyber-security "The work plan under preparation by the SOMTC+India meeting will allow concerted action against international terrorism, transnational crime, combatting drug trafficking and ensuring cyber security. The ASEAN-India Centre will be organizing a workshop for brainstorming cyber security issues early next year," she added.
"We are reactivating our aseanindia.com website, which is currently being re-vamped to strengthen the dialogue between ASEAN and Indian people as one community. This will allow our citizens to discuss the achievements and relevance of the ASEAN India strategic partnership through an interlinked mechanism of a website and seven social media platforms. Our respective officials should work together to utilize the dynamism in this public dialogue," she further added.
"We must ensure that the tragedy of the crash of MH17 on July 17 is never repeated. It is imperative that safety of civil aviation be ensured and parties in conflict situations urgently abjure violence and work for diplomatic solutions. We support a broad-based international investigation be launched quickly to cover all aspects of this incident," she said.
"The USP of the ASEAN India strategic partnership is our common vision for the future development of our people. We are approaching 2015 as a landmark year for the ASEAN and 2017 would be the 25th anniversary of the ASEAN India strategic partnership. In this context, India looks forward to working with you all to anchor our common vision even more firmly in our region," she added.
(Posted on 09-08-2014)