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Asean-India partnership to boost Asian voice globally : Ansari

Bangkok, Feb 4 (IANS) A stronger partnership between the Asean countries and India will boost Asia’s voice in global governance, Vice President Hamid Ansari said on Thursday.

“It is evident that a stronger Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-India partnership would give us a stronger voice on global governance issues,” Ansari said while delivering a lecture on “India, Thailand and Asean: Contours of a Rejuvenated Relationship” at Chulalongkorn University here.

“The time is ripe for our common engagement for bringing greater equity into the international order,” he said.

“Asean members and India have similar aspirations to have an open trading system through global organisations like the WTO. We have also shown a strong commitment, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, as we take up our own role to address issues related to climate change.”

Ansari arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday on a three-day visit to Thailand at the official invitation of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The second and last leg of his visit to southeast Asia which earlier took him to Brunei, Ansari’s is the first visit by an Indian vice president to Thailand in 50 years.

Stating that his visit underscored the importance India attached to Thailand as part of New Delhi’s increasing engagement with the region, he said that despite the large size and rapid growth of economies of the two countries, trade and investment between the two remained modest.

“There is a need to synergise our efforts in the areas of economy and business to enhance and diversify our trade. We need to encourage our private sectors to make investments in infrastructure and manufacturing sectors in the each others’ country and for this the two governments are willing to provide a predictable and comprehensive legal and taxation frame-work,” the vice president said.

He also stressed on enhancing bilateral defence ties.

“Thailand has played host to ships of the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard on several occasions in recent years. We hope to continue this cooperation through technical, human resource development, capacity building and contributing to the development of Thai capacities, both physical and human,” he said.

The countries of the Asean bloc form the core of India’s Act East policy, Ansari said.

“India places Asean at the core of the Act East policy and at the centre of our dream of an Asian century,” he said

“There is a special emphasis on India-Asean cooperation in our domestic agenda on infrastructure, manufacturing, trade, skills, urban renewal, smart cities and Make in India programmes,” he stated.

“Connectivity projects, cooperation in science and technology development and people-to-people exchanges are to be the springboard for regional integration and co-prosperity.”

The vice president said the three Cs of commerce, culture and connectivity defined the future focus areas of cooperation between Asean member states and India. Allow me to dwell on some aspects of it.

“The spread of Buddhism from India is attributed to Emperor Ashoka, who sent Buddhist emissaries to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodiaand Vietnam. Indian mythology and folklore finds reflection here. The Thai epic, Ramakien, is based on the Ramayana. The Ahoms, the Khamtis and the Khasis of India have links with Thai people,” he said.

As for commerce, he said in the year 2014-15, Asean-India trade stood at $76.58 billion, growing at an average annual growth rate of 12 percent, up from $44 billion during the year 2009-10.

“In terms of two-way FDI (foreign direct investment) flows, the India-Asean region has significantly outpaced many other regions of the world,” he stated.

“With mutual trade and investment opportunities arising from the realisation of the Asean Economic Community and India’s emphasis on ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Skill India’ and ‘Smart Cities’ initiatives, we are confident that India-Asean commercial partnership will flourish.”

Ansari said India was open to offering Asean its indigenously developed GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN) services, which provide advanced navigation and location assistance and information facilities.

Regarding connectivity, the vice president said special efforts were being made to develop a coherent strategy, particularly for linking Asean with northeast India.

“This is reflected in the finalisation of negotiations on the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicles Agreement and Asean-India Maritime Transport Cooperation Agreement. Asean-India Civil Aviation Task Force is expected to oversee optimisation of air connectivity. Other major projects on connectivity include the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project and Rhi-Tiddim road,” he said.