By Ateet Sharma
New Delhi, June 16: India’s strategic partnership with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is set to receive a major boost as the Special ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (SAIFMM) begins in New Delhi from Thursday.
Top diplomats and senior politicians of the region have already arrived in the Indian capital to attend the SAIFMM which also marks the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations.
The talks happen at a time when the 10-member grouping is becoming increasingly aware of the significant role it plays to address complex regional challenges, including tackling China which is gaining a foothold in the land and waters of the region.
But instead of adopting a confrontationist approach towards China, India pursues an inclusive approach to region based on the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) doctrine.
Speaking at the Shangrila Dialogue in Singapore in 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said: “Three years ago, in Mauritius, I described our vision in one word – Sagar, which means ocean in Hindi. And, Sagar stands for Security and Growth for All in the Region and, that is the creed we follow to our East now even more vigorously through our Act East Policy”.
In August 2021, PM Modi also made a reference to SAGAR while chairing a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) high-level open debate on maritime security.
ASEAN remains central to India’s ‘Act East’ policy and its vision for the wider Indo-Pacific. New Delhi has also been intensely batting for furthering practical cooperation in the region by building upon the convergence between its Indo-Pacific Ocean’s Initiative (IPOI) and ASEAN’s Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP).
In defining its outlook towards the ASEAN, India takes the cue from its strong historical and cultural ties with the region as the foundation for a solid 21st century relationship.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has in the past noted the growing interest in the Indo-Pacific as an integrated and organic maritime space, with ASEAN at its centre. The 10 ASEAN countries — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — also realise ASEAN centrality in the regional security architecture.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who along with Jaishankar will co-chair the SAIFMM on Thursday, also realises the significance of security in the Indo-Pacific given the recent global developments.
“The Foreign Ministers will discuss ways to strengthen the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership and exchange views on regional and international developments. Minister Balakrishnan will call on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the other ASEAN Foreign Ministers and ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, and deliver remarks at the Ministerial Session of the Delhi Dialogue XII on 16 June 2022,” the Singapore Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Prak Sokhonn, also the country’s Foreign Minister, arrived in New Delhi earlier today along with a delegation to attend the Special ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
Phnom Penh said that the ASEAN Foreign Ministers and Jaishankar will review ASEAN-India cooperation and discuss ways and means to further promote ASEAN-India dialogue relations and cooperation to address the global post Covid-19 economic recovery and other challenges.
“Regional and international issues of common interest and concern will also be discussed. The meeting emphasises the strong commitment to further enhance ASEAN-India Partnership for long-term cooperation for peace, stability, security and socio-economic development within and beyond the region,” said Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry.
On the margins of the meeting, the foreign ministers will also attend and address the ministerial session of the 12th Delhi Dialogue which is being held under the theme ‘Building Bridges in Indo-Pacific’ this time. The event is co-organised by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and the Ministry of External Affairs of India.
Meanwhile, ahead of the Foreign Ministers’ meeting, Secretary (East) Saurabh Kumar co-chaired the 24th ASEAN-India Senior Officials’ Meeting, with Permanent Secretary of Singapore Albert Chua, in New Delhi today. Senior officials from other ASEAN member countries also participated in the meeting.
“As India and ASEAN celebrate the 30th anniversary of their Dialogue Relations, the SOM leaders made their assessment on the progress of cooperation under all three pillars of Partnership – political-security, economic and socio-cultural. The Meeting also deliberated on the steps for further implementation of ASEAN-India Plan of Action (2021-2025),” said India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
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