asean: India & Asean look to partner on Indo-Pacific amid China’s inroads

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India and Asean on Thursday decided to explore potential cooperation between their respective Indo-Pacific strategies in areas of maritime security, connectivity and Blue Economy amid China’s fast growing presence in the Indo-Pacific region, which has raised concerns in various quarters due to territorial claims and the Belt & Road Initiative.

Officials said at the Special Asean-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held here, the two sides decided to explore potential cooperation between the Asean outlook on Indo-Pacific and Indo-Pacific Ocean’s Initiative (IPOI) initiated by India. It was decided to strengthen regional connectivity, including both physical and digital, and explore synergies in line with the ‘Connecting the Connectivities’ approach.

The meeting emphasised the need for the early completion and operationalisation of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and looked forward to its eastward extension to Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as supporting and collaborating with the Asean Smart Cities Network in building communities that are resilient, innovative and well-connected through technological advancement.

The ministers from both sides also emphasised the need for more robust air and maritime connectivity, according to a co-chairs statement released after the meeting. India and Singapore are co-chairs of the meet to celebrate 30 years of dialogue partnership.

The meeting was also attended by foreign ministers of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and representatives of foreign ministers from Lao PDR, the Philippines, and Thailand along with the secretary-general of Asean. The discussions included key focus areas of Covid-19 & health, trade & commerce, connectivity (physical and digital), education & capacity building, as well as implementation of Asean-India Joint Statement on Cooperation on the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP). In his opening remarks, foreign minister S Jaishankar noted, “It is heartening that we are meeting in person for this first Asean-IndiaForeign Ministers’ Meeting in New Delhi.

Even so, the Covid pandemic has not fully abated and there is much ground yet to be covered as we walk towards post-pandemic recovery. This path has become even more arduous with geopolitical headwinds, which we face due to developments in Ukraine and its knock on effects on food and energy security, as well as fertiliser and commodities prices, and logistics and supply chain disruptions”.

The two sides decided to explore potential synergies with sub-regional frameworks, such as, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT), Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East AseanGrowth Area (BIMP-EAGA), and Mekong sub-regional cooperation frameworks, including Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and Ayeyawady Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), and to support Asean and India’s efforts in promoting equitable development by aligning sub-regional growth with the comprehensive, mutual growth and development of Asean and India.

The meeting also agreed to strengthen Asean-India cooperation on cyber and related issues through the proposed G-2-G Asean-India Cyber Dialogue in addition to India’s Track 1.5 Dialogue on Cyber Issues with Asean, being held since 2019. With regard to security partnership, the meeting also welcomed Asean-India cooperation in preventing and countering terrorism, the rise of radicalisation and violent extremism, and combating transnational crimes through the early finalisation of the Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC)+ India Work Programme on Transnational Crime. The meeting also agreed to cooperate on vaccine production and distribution, research and innovation in generic medicines, cooperation on traditional medicines, strengthening public health infrastructure; and enhancing capacities for preparedness and response to the pandemic and public health emergencies, officials informed.



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