PM Modi To Take The “Act East” Policy to ASEAN

PM Modi To Take The “Act East” Policy to ASEAN
November 10
00:48 2014

ASEAN Community Ready for Launch in 2015

EAM Summit  in Myanmar to shape Partnership Agreement among 16 Nations

By TN Ashok Diplomatic Editor

New Delhi, Nov 09 Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves on a 10 day three nation tour Tuesday  reaching Myanmar on the first leg of his tour to attend the twin summits of  12th ASEAN India Summit  and the 9th East Asian Summit  On November 12 and 13 where he will project India’s East Asia policy while pitching strongly for greater connectivity within the group for boosting trade and investments besides people to people contact for greater cross cultural exchanges.

Modi departs Myanmar on November 14 for Brisbane  to attend the G20 Summit as well as have bilateral meetings with leaders in Australia that takes him through the outback to Melbourne, Sydney and then onto Fiji on the last leg before returning to India on November 19.

Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry Anil Wadhwa briefed media on the two back-to-back summits saying India  is keen that the next ASEAN-India five-year plan of action starting 2016 should lay emphasis on enhancing people-to-people contacts, augmenting trade besides reinforcing the strategic and political relationship. The plan will also focus on security architecture in the region. .

A trilateral highway that links India, Myanmar and Thailand through a 3,200 km long highway is one of the ambitious project that involves India in its engagement with the ASEAN nations as a summit partners now graduating from a dialaogue partner of yesteryears. . It was originally envisaged to be completed around 2017 but it is behind schedule and is now expected to be completed in 2018.

India and the 10-nation ASEAN bloc hope to dovetail their connectivity plans with this highway. The, grouping of 10 southeast nations hopes to make ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) a reality by the end of 2015 on the lines of the Eurpean Economic Community.  Wadhwa said the free trade pact in services and investment between India and the ASEAN is expected to help bilateral trade touch 100 billion USD by 2015.

India’s bilateral trade grew 4.6 per cent from 68.4 billion USD in 2011 to 71.6 billion USD in 2012. ASEAN’s exports were valued at 43.84 billion USD and imports from India amounted to 27.72 billion USD in 2012. India has said there should be connectivity in all its dimensions—geographic, institutional and people-to-people.

Wadhwa claimed that Prime Minister Modi is keen to tap the potential offered by the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit to attract more tourists from southeast nations.

The ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

On the East Asia summit (EAS), Wadhwa said it is a premier forum with 18 members comprising leaders in the region. In addition to the 10 countries in the ASEAN region and India, the other EAS members are Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the US and Russia.

The EAS bloc is representative of 55 per cent of the world’s population and accounts for around 56 per cent of global GDP.

“ This year we are taking an “Act East” emphasis to the 12th ASEAN-India Summit. And we would highlight the deep roots of our shared civilizational heritage, also reinforce the common strategic political and economic perspective between ASEAN and India, and also discuss the next steps after implementation of the Plan of Action for 2010-2015. That is because by next year we will have to have a new Plan of Action for the next five years. This summit, therefore, assumes a lot of importance because of that.”, Wadhwa said.

The Prime Minister and ASEAN leaders will review different aspects of our strategic partnership and also share their vision for the future as to what they want to do with each other. The meeting will also provide an opportunity for Prime Minister to emphasize the importance that India attaches to ASEAN.

As ASEAN reads itself to declare the ASEAN Community in 2015, they have 26 Dialogue Mechanisms across sectors with India. Seven of these are at the Ministerial level. So, seven of our Ministers are actually talking to the Ministers of ASEAN. This includes Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Trade, Tourism, Telecommunications, Environment and New & Renewable Energy), he said. .

Trade with ASEAN has grown 20 times in the last 20 years and that has now reached USD 76.9 billion in 2013. With the signature of the ASEAN-India Agreements for Trade in Services and Investment, its  hoped that both sides can create a facilitative environment for reaching the trade target of USD 100 billion by 2015. “ We are told that the Philippines is making efforts to complete its processes, and all other ASEAN countries and India have signed this FTA on services and investments in August this year, “ Wadhwa said. .

Investments from ASEAN in the last eight years have totalled USD 27.9 billion, and Indian investments in ASEAN have been USD 32.4 billion. Enhancing ASEAN India connectivity is one of the key priorities between ASEAN and India. Our flagship project in this regard, which many of you already know about, is the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, of which we have constructed 160 km in Myanmar, and have committed to upgradation of another 120 km of road and 71 bridges in Myanma, he said. .

Simultaneously we are also working with ASEAN to increase aviation and shipping linkages. Shipping Corporation of India has started a direct shipping service from India to Myanmar last month. We have enough cargo volume for the onward route and we are consulting Myanmar for cargo traffic on the return leg.

Jet Airways has recently announced direct flights to the Vietnamese commercial centre of Ho Chi Minh City from New Delhi via Bangkok. That began on 5th of November. The airline will also introduce another direct service from Mumbai to Bangkok in addition to the already operating two flights to the Thai capital in the winter.

Given the fact that our North-East region is the gateway to ASEAN, there are efforts to create physical and economic corridors between the two regions.

The annual Delhi Dialogue, a Track 1.5 Forum for exchange of ideas, is going to hold its seventh edition on 11thto 12th March 2015. Wadhwa said we are also adding five associates to this programme that is CII, ASSOCHAM, ICC in Kolkata, All India Association of Industries in Mumbai, and ECRIER which is based in Delhi. And then two new foreign partners from ASEAN which is ISIS in Malaysia and the ASEAN India Centre will be joining this year. The fourth round table of the ASEAN-India network of think tanks is expected to be held in Malaysia in 2015 when Malaysia would also be the ASEAN chair.

We have begun discussions for implementation of four IT Centres in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. That is a USD 8.7 million project. Then we have C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing) to execute the project over a three-year period under supervision of Department of Information and Technology, Wadhwa said. .

We are also in the final stages of our approvals for beginning the establishment of a Tracking and Data Reception Centre in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. This would make remote sensing data available from the RESOURCESAT and OCEANSAT for applications in disaster management and also utilization of natural resources for ASEAN countries. It would also provide us telemetry, tracking and tele-command support to the satellite and launch vehicle missions of these ASEAN countries, the secretary said. .

These and other programmes which are essentially oriented to capacity building and sharing our expertise with ASEAN member states are funded out of the three funds that have been set up by India – the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund to which we had committed USD 50 million in 2009; the ASEAN-India Green Fund a USD 5 million fund; and the ASEAN-India Science and Technology Fund.

On the EAS summit, The Prime Minister would be having detailed exchange of views with his counterparts on the evolution in the political and economic architecture of the region. Also EAS members are negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement within the 16 countries of the East Asia Summit. India of course is also hosting the next Trade Negotiating Committee meeting and that will be in early December 2014 here in New Delhi.

The leaders would exchange assessments on regional and international issues of concern, as I told you, also non-traditional security threats and climate change.

They would also assess the pace of cooperation in the six core areas of priority which East Asia Summit has. That is education, energy and environment, finance, pandemics management, disaster management and mitigation, and connectivity.

Prime Minister will leave for Australia on the evening of 13th November from Myanmar.

Question and Answer session at the XP briefing Saturday. .

Question : What happened to the Imphal-Mandalay bus service? And we are yet to have air connectivity with Myanmar.

Secretary (East) : On the Imphal-Mandalay bus service the MoU is getting signed. On air connectivity between Myanmar and India, the civil aviation talks have been scheduled. So, they should work out something fairly quickly.

Question : My question also relates to air connectivity. ASEAN countries and India are on the track of developing connectivity and other bilateral issues. But until and unless border interests…(Inaudible)…of the North-East region, how it can be feasible, this entire exercise of bilateral cooperation?

Secretary (East) : I think you are quite right in pointing that out and that is why under the aegis of the ASEAN-India Centre there have been a series of meetings which have been organised over the course of last year. The focus of course is on how to generate economic hubs in the North-East itself so that it gets prepared for linking up with the outside world. And one of the primary requirements in this is to develop the highways, also to make sure that the railheads are within reach of the highways, and that goods can be then brought to the railhead and on to the highway. Also, the highway between the existing portions in the North-East and to the border which is going to be opened up, that is the Moreh-Tamu border, it is very important that that stretch is also ready.

We need to also work upon things like customs formalities, we need to work on the soft infrastructure. And for the trilateral highway a trilateral group between Thailand, Myanmar and India has been formed which is looking at about five or six aspects on how to make this trilateral highway viable and to make sure that there is enough tonnage which can be carried on the trilateral highway so as to make it more economical.

Of course the coordination between the agencies which look after the development of North-East, the shipping lines, the companies as well as the infrastructure related companies and government agencies, they all have to work together in this because there should be no duplication of efforts. Therefore, these meetings which have been held have been held essentially to make sure that everyone is aware as to what role or what part is being played by different agencies.

I think it is a good beginning because some very important ideas have been thrown up during these discussions, and over the course of the next few years that kind of a blueprint for North-East would definitely emerge. In fact in the North-East itself there have been regular seminars and meetings that have been held, in which Ministry of External Affairs has also taken part, to give the perspective of connectivity from the outside and what is actually required in the North-East for that. Those preparations are on.

Question : This figure of about 160 km of the trilateral highway completed, 71 bridges and 120 km of that other upgradation – these figures have been there since the past two years. Does it indicate there has been no progress since then? There is no addition to the figure. The figures are just the same.

Secretary (East) : Because these are long-term transport projects, they take a long time for getting completion. There is a process of first evaluation, after that tendering process, and then the bid is awarded. And when the work starts, it obviously takes a long time to fructify. So, you will actually hear these figures for some time till actually the work gets completed. I think that is a natural process in these infrastructure projects.

Question :There are still a large number of stateless Indians in Myanmar running into several lakhs. This has been going on for a long time. What has the Government of India done to get them citizenship of that country?

Official Spokesperson :  you are aware of thepast provisions in our countryregarding citizenship for certain people of Indian origin who were in Myanmar. You are aware of that background. That said, since it is a choice for those to opt to continue to stay there or to move on, and all the others who have not opted have, therefore, opted to stay back. We are in touch with them. There are no issues of the nature that you are talking now.They are equal participants in Myanmar’s development and in Myanmar’s society. The issues that you are talking of were issues of the past.

Question : On India-ASEAN Strategic Partnership, are there any new initiatives we are looking at to deepen the strategic content of the relationship? You also spoke about 2015-2020 Action Plan. What are the new ideas we are taking to the table this time to galvanise this relationship?

Secretary (East) : I think this time in the new Plan of Action which will come about by next year the focus will be on people-to-people contacts, increasing the civilisational linkages, making sure that there are enough studies which are conducted on the linkages of the ASEAN countries, on issues like language, religion, traditions, dress, and our traditional crafts. These are a number of areas where there are so many similarities between ASEAN and India but they have never been documented and put together in one place. Of course if you go to South East Asia, you will notice it immediately. But at the same time these are subjects which should also be known by the youth. There should be subjects which should be studied in the universities and we will be undertaking studies for that purpose so that these are introduced as courses in the India Centres over there and at the same time in the study centres in Indian universities in India itself so that there is more awareness about each other, the historical linkages with these countries. Also the linkage as far as art and architecture is concerned, this is a very important segment.

Second aspect is the connectivity issue. As you know, the ASEAN has been talking about a connectivity plan within itself and also an ASEAN Connectivity Plus plan. We are looking at ways to dovetail the trilateral highway into that connectivity plan, also to dovetail the BIMSTEC initiatives that have been undertaken to make sure that there is no overlap. In fact both of them complement each other. That can happen only if we talk to the ASEAN in terms of what their plans are for the future and where they would like to increase connectivity and what is the focus area of cooperation. That is a second aspect.

In terms of the ASEAN Regional Forum, we will be co-chairing activities in 2016 when Lao will be the ASEAN chair. We will, therefore, be focusing a lot in that segment on the security architecture of the region and contributing our ideas to the evolving security architecture.

These are all areas where ASEAN and India feel that we should do more. At the same time, we should also look at some areas of focus of the new government, which we will be doing. For instance skilling is another area, vocational training is another area, and mutual recognition of degrees between ASEAN universities in India is another area.

Question : You have talked about the civilisational linkages. It almost amounts to playing the Buddha diplomacy with the ASEAN countries and East Asian countries. In that…(Inaudible)… the MoUs on Nalanda moving fast? Will there be certain thing to invite FDIs in India’s plan to develop the Buddha Circuit over here?

Secretary (East) : I think that is a very important question that you raised. It is very useful to have focus on the Buddhist Circuit as well because that is one of the more important linkages that we have with Southeast Asian countries. On the infrastructure, as you know, six places out of the seven which normally all Buddhists around the world want to visit are in India. There has to be a proper connectivity for them to move around these places in the minimum amount of time possible, also to find affordable accommodation which is reasonable. Some people would also like high-end accommodation to be there.

The main issue is that most of these places are located in remote areas and they have not developed in the past few years to the extent that they should have, or the development has been quite haphazard and un even. Things like meditation parks etc., which are very important for centres of Buddhism, museums or places where you can keep Buddhist relics which can be visited in peace by Buddhist pilgrims, all these need to be provided proper facilities. So, FDI is a very important aspect of this. In our bilateral talks with ASEAN countries when we discuss investments of course this will be an important issue which will be discussed as well.

Question :When we talk about connectivity and the highway which goes from the North-East into Myanmar, there earlier were some security concerns on the Myanmar’s side because there were large tracts which we were told were still with insurgents or whatever we would like to call them. Has that been sorted out or do those concerns still exist, and to what extent?

Secretary (East) : As far as the trilateral highway is concerned, the Myanmar Government requested us for a realignment of the trilateral highway, which happened about three years ago. The realignment was asked for precisely because of the fact that the security situation in certain areas through which the original trilateral was to pass was not very stable. Of course overall the security situation in the country has improved quite a bit since then. But we have an alternate alignment which has been approved by India, Thailand and Myanmar in the trilateral context. At the same time the old alignment will also be developed by Myanmar themselves in the future. So, it will be a quadrangle which will form in the middle of the country. Later on it is an opportunity to connect our other North-Eastern States with the trilateral highway.

Question : My concern is tourism sector. This is the 12th summit. How much will be discussed about tourism so that India will be motivated to attract tourism? I do not see anything on the tourists coming from the eastern side.

Secretary (East) : I think your question is linked to what some others have asked about improving infrastructure and at the same time about making sure that air linkages are improved. A very important centre for Buddhist travel is Bodh Gaya and Bodh Gaya does not now have enough flights. In fact there should be connectivity with almost all the Buddhist countries with Bodh Gaya.

There are 18 other Tier II cities that have been identified by Ministry of Civil Aviation which have been opened for flights from ASEAN countries and we have been urging them to look at that very seriously because that would then provide a good network in the North-East in particular.

The North-East is definitely a place which will benefit a lot from air connectivity right now till the road network is developed. But yes there is a lot of focus on tourism and we will be talking about it in our bilateral statements at the summit. In fact the Prime Minister himself would be very keen to mention it also bilaterally.

I must also add here that the Tourism Ministers of our countries have an annual meeting between them and they have a website too but there is a lot to be done in terms of tourism. So, it is a big potential.

Question : Sir, in 2012 an ASEAN Car Rally was organised. Will this issue be taken up in ASEAN-India summit in concrete form in the context of connectivity?

Secretary (East) : We have discussed this issue in the ASEAN connectivity context. In fact the car rally was organised in 2012. It requires a lot of planning to do it again on such a large scale. If you remember, last time the car rally passed through eight countries, it touched many places, and everywhere the car rally went there were events which were organised around it, commercial events and cultural events, etc. And that requires budget and it requires planning. So, we have to give it a gap because it has just been held. Perhaps in the year of 2016 where we can plan it because it takes a whole year to plan and at the same time it has to be put into the bilateral plan that we have with ASEAN.

The other issue is that we would very much like this to take place in a situation when the road is much better motorable. Since the work is going on major segments of the trilateral highway right now, we feel that it would be a good idea to test this highway a little later because that would give us the feel about what more improvements are required, what are the places that need to be developed along the way, which are the economic nodes which need to be coming up in the future for that trilateral to become viable. So, it will happen but we will have to give it some gap.

Question : Just an additional question to that. By when are we hoping that the highway gets completed? At this point what is the target date?

Secretary (East) : The earlier target date that we had set for ourselves was 2016, 2017. But at the moment it does not look as if all three countries will be able to complete their work by that target date. So, I have a feeling that it will at least slip by one more year.

Question : Sir, in the context of the East Asia Summit, this is not on the ASEAN, you have mentioned about how the Prime Minister and India will be along with the other nations discussing the political and economic architecture of the region. Will the security architecture also be coming up for discussion?

Secretary (East) : Yes, the security architecture of the region will be discussed in the context of the East Asia Summit as well because the security architecture of the region has been discussed in three workshops and so far these are workshops which do not have an approval of the senior officials’ meeting. So, therefore there is still much more work to be done there as to what format it should take, what should be the footprint and what are the basic principles. So, I think this work will continue although there will be references I am sure to the evolving security architecture.

Question : Who are the other members of the delegation accompanying the Prime Minister to ASEAN and G20?

Official Spokesperson : Since there are several elements, let us take the ASEAN and East Asia Summit. There will be the National Security Advisor, there will be Secretary (East), and other officials who assist the Prime Minister either from his office or from the Ministry of External Affairs.

As regards the G20 Summit, you have already had a briefing by Mr. Suresh Prabhu who is the Sherpa. Apart from him of course there will be the National Security Advisor, the Foreign Secretary will join in, and there will be others from the Prime Minister’s Office and from the Ministry of External Affairs.

Coming to the last leg which is the Australia bilateral and Fiji, that I can keep you waiting till Monday.

Question : Sir, during his stay in Myanmar is there any meeting planned between Prime Minister Modi and Aung San Suu Kyi, and is there any request from their side to meet Mr. Modi?

Official Spokesperson :  You are aware when the Prime Minister of India travels to various countries he does meet important people in those countries, those who are in government as well as other people. I can confirm to you that Prime Minister will be meeting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Question : Sir, there have been recent intelligence reports about Dawood Ibrahim moving from Pakistan towards the Af-Pak areas. Does India know anything and is the process of trying to get him back still continuing?

Official Spokesperson : Shrinjoy, I think the operative part of it you use an adjective to describe those reports. The Ministry of External Affairs is not the right Ministry to respond to that adjective that you mentioned in your question. I suggest you address this question to those agencies who handle this.

Question :Twenty-two fishermen are facing hard working conditions in Saudi Arabia by their employer. Even the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month or in the beginning of this month. So far what has been done to rescue those 22 fishermen from Saudi Arabia?

Secretary (East) : Our Mission in Saudi Arabia is aware of this issue. Whenever incidents such as these happen, the Mission takes it up with the concerned Ministry, in this case the Ministry of Manpower in these Gulf countries. In this case also it is a dispute according to the Saudi owner which needs to be settled, and our Mission is helping out in that process so that it could be settled quickly. I am sure that is what is going to happen.

Question : Sir, in the last ASEAN Ministerial meeting in Nay Pyi Taw External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was also there and she met Indians living there and also Indian businessmen who are working there. When we talked to them they raised the issue that Indians are not getting same treatment as Chinese businessmen are getting in Myanmar. They were demanding to talk to Myanmarese government about that? The External Affairs Minister also told us that there should be a Joint Commission she will suggest to Myanmarese Government. Has there been any development on these issues?

Official Spokesperson : They told you, I do not know, but they did not tell the External Affairs Minister. Maybe they consider you more important. But that said, commercial ties are an important factor in our bilateral relations. However, the Prime Minister is going for a multilateral meeting. Obviously there are issues that he will focus on. As the Secretary has mentioned, there are three C’s if you would like to know – one is commerce, the other is connectivity, and the third is culture. In addition, he will also focus on issues of a strategic nature.

Please do not forget that India and Myanmar are neighbours with a border. So, obviously there are issues of a strategic nature that will also be focused on. Now, given the limited time that we have in that, what are the specific issues we will certainly tell you at the end of that meeting rather than before the meeting because we would not like to announce through Rajya Sabha TV what is going to be discussed between India and Myanmar in a meeting which is basically on the sidelines of a major summit.

Question : Sir, can you just tell us about the other important bilateral meetings that have been scheduled during the Prime Minister’s visit to Burma? Apart from his meetings with the Burmese President and with Aung San Suu Kyi, what are the important meetings?

Official Spokesperson : I think he said it, you did not listen. Let me try and tell you again that on multilateral occasions we work with a variety of countries to have what are called either pull asides or structured bilateral meetings. These are dependent on availability of our interlocutors and given timeslots being available. This is a work in progress because it is a juggling act. Juggling acts cannot be predicted in advance. We will certainly let you know the outcome when we finish the meetings. But I can assure you, Prime Minister is extremely keen to meet as many people as possible, and that is the goal with which we are approaching this meeting. There will be several meetings but it will depend on time available for either the Prime Minister or for his interlocutors there. We will let you know once those are finalised and once those meetings take place.

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