Addressing the Seventh South Asia Conference on "India and South Asia: Exploring Regional Perceptions" at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses here, Antony said such conferences were an important Track II initiative to generate ideas for regional peace.
"Over the years, India has assumed a responsibility to improve its relationship with neighbours. This policy has paid off at a bilateral level. India's relationship with some countries has undergone dramatic transformation. However, its relationship with some other countries continues to be problematic. Nevertheless, India has always remained committed to further and maintain peace and friendly relations with all its neighbours," Antony said.
He said India's "natural predominance" in the region due to its larger size and economy "is viewed with concern in some states". "Such concerns about Indian intentions are far from real and often misplaced", he stressed.
The minister said India has always tried its best to reach out to all its neighbours and engage them through political, economic, defence and development cooperation.
India has been playing a major role in strengthening regional infrastructure and in supporting efforts aimed at human resource development, including by relaxing its visa policies to allow people to avail of its improved healthcare systems and offering scholarships to students from neighbouring countries to receive education at premier educational institutes in India, he said.
"India continues with its efforts to strive to achieve better economic relationship with all the countries. We expect that an improvement in India's bilateral relationships with the countries of the region will have a beneficial impact on the process of regional integration," Antony said.
He said: "We hope that the perception about India will change gradually, as we make earnest efforts to build trust and mutual confidence."
Antony said India has to "factor in expectations of people from different states, while framing its policy towards the region. In fact, not only with India, but all the states of the region will have to deal with mutual perceptions, while conducting their foreign policies towards each other".
Antony remarked that South Asia is one of the least integrated regions of the world and its share in the world economy is quite small. "This often leads to misunderstandings."
He said the issue needs to be focused on "how to make perceptions favourable to bring about a positive change in the region", and added that think tanks, civil societies and media could play a crucial role in this.
Antony said the countries should draw inspiration from the common strands of history and culture and also respect cultural differences and stress on inter-cultural learning.
He said the South Asian region has many heritage sites that connect the nations through history. "We must use this capital to build bridges with one another," he said, citing the joint celebration by India and Bangladesh of the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.
--IANS (Posted on 30-10-2013)