ASEAN symbolizes the ASEAN spirit of solidarity and peaceful, prosperous and socially responsible community. The theme for this year’s ASEAN Day is “Stronger Together” which invites and welcomes forward-thinking ASEAN people to come in sync and work as a collective to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
ASEAN is one of the most successful regional blocs in the world today. 55 years ago, on this day, ASEAN began its journey from Bangkok with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) by the founding fathers of ASEAN, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam then joined on January 7, 1984, Viet Nam on July 28, 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar on July 23, 1997, and Cambodia on April 30, 1999, constituting what are today the ten member states of the ASEAN.
Dato Lim Jock Hoi, the ASEAN Secretary General, in his address to the ASEAN audience this morning from the ASEAN Secretariat, reminded us that after two years of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic and containment, the region is now reopening to businesses and international exhibitions.
India’s engagement with ASEAN officially started in the early 1990s and continues with the Act East strategic partnership and policy. In 2022, ASEAN and India are celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations and the year has been marked as the Year of ASEAN-India Friendship. AIC and RIS, being part of this wonderful journey between ASEAN and India, take the opportunity to observe ASEAN Day in 2022 to strengthen the important pillars of friendship which are political ties. – security, economic cooperation and socio-cultural bonhomie.
Pattarat Hongtong, Ambassador of Thailand, Ung Sean, Ambassador, Cambodia, Dr Mohan Kumar, President, RIS; Geetika Srivastava, JS (Indo-Pacific) MEA and Dr. Prabir De, Professor and Coordinator, AIC at RIS were present at the event.
Dr Kumar touched on three main points, including the geopolitical tensions that have now crossed Europe’s borders and made their way to Asia; The centrality of ASEAN, and the recent presidency of the G-20 held alternately by two Asian countries, namely Indonesia and India. Dr. Kumar mentioned that due to all these factors, strategic convergence of interests has become inevitable for ASEAN and India.
Srivastava spoke about the multitude of events the Ministry of External Affairs has organized in 2022 to celebrate 30 years of partnership between ASEAN and India. People-centered events include the ASEAN-India Parliamentary Exchange Program, ASEAN-India Music Festival and Artist Camp. In addition, ASEAN and India have already hosted the 12th Delhi Dialogue in June 2022 in New Delhi and the Special Foreign Minister Level Meeting at the same time.
Hongtong focused on the centrality of ASEAN and the ASEAN-India partnership in the areas of non-traditional security issues. These include maritime security, partnership to mitigate transnational crimes, counter-terrorism initiatives and cybersecurity. Connectivity at the physical, digital and people levels needs to be improved. She also mentioned the promotion of health security and sustainable development goals.
Sean highlighted the journey of ASEAN and the ASEAN-India partnership. The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), India’s role in maintaining ASEAN’s centrality and 30 years of friendship have captured his attention.
The panel discussion, themed “75 Years of India and 55 Years of ASEAN: Partners in Progress”, was moderated by Professor SD Muni, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Dato Alaihuddin Mohammad Taha, High Commissioner, Brunei Darussalam High Commission, spoke about the ASEAN mantra, including promoting peace, social cohesion, development, ASEAN community, peace with neighbors and strategic partnerships with external partners.
Bounneme Chouanghom, Ambassador, Embassy of Lao PDR, spoke about the India-Lao PDR bilateral partnership and development assistance from the former to the latter to narrow the development gap. He also appreciated the recent visit of Foreign Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar to Lao PDR and the friendly relationship between the two countries.
Masni Eriza, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, highlighted issues that could form the next comprehensive strategic partnership between ASEAN and India. He focused on areas such as medical capacity building, food security, maritime cooperation, blue economy and building bridges in the Indo-Pacific. In this regard, the role of Indonesia is important as well as the convergence of interests between ASEAN and India in the maritime domain.
Moe Kyaw Aung, Ambassador of Myanmar, spoke about the multifaceted relationship between ASEAN and India and Myanmar’s role as a bridge in this dynamic. Geographical proximity and the Indian Act East policy play a key role in the ASEAN-India partnership.
Simon Wong, High Commissioner of Singapore, referred to terms such as cohesive integrity which identifies ASEAN’s balance with major powers to maintain peace and tranquility in the region. He also defined ASEAN centrality as a term that refers to the power of ASEAN to negotiate with competitive and geopolitical major powers and not allow them to distort peace in the region. He also appreciated India’s stance in peacekeeping at a critical time in the 21st century when most major powers are battling against each other. Therefore, he suggested non-confrontational ways to play a greater role in the Indo-Pacific.
Hai Thanh Do, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, well illustrated the criticism that ASEAN as an institution had suffered in the past for not being able to manage some of the inter-state conflicts. and intrastate. He then moved on to the convergence of interests in the Indo-Pacific in strategic and security terms.
Other speakers included Gurjit Singh, former Ambassador of India to ASEAN, Indonesia, Germany, Ethiopia and the African Union and CSEP member Dr Constantino Xavier, New Delhi.
Singh outlined India’s expectations from ASEAN, including understanding India’s stance on different global affairs. He also suggested that ASEAN should prioritize its relationship with India through its own prism and not through the mirror of any other external relationship.
Xavier pointed out that ASEAN and India have the choice to coexist with the great powers and this is the key to today’s geopolitics. He also highlighted the informed choices that ASEAN and India can now make in the geostrategic domain of the Indo-Pacific. Bilateral, quadrilateral and multilateral relations between ASEAN members and India are important for peace in the Indo-Pacific.
Overall, the speakers underscored the need for new areas of cooperation emerging between ASEAN and India, including digital services, e-commerce, connectivity, space, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and many others, in addition to the historical link between the two regions. Professor SD Muni drew the conclusion by referring to the cohesion of the ASEAN-India partnership.