EMINENT PERSONS LECTURE SERIES
H.E. ONG KENG YONG, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF ASEAN
October 2004 ,
THE ASEAN-INDIA PARTNERSHIP
THE NEW MILLENNIUM”
Moments in ASEAN-India Relations
I am honoured to be invited to deliver this lecture under
the India-ASEAN Eminent Persons Lecture Series. I would like to
thank the organiser, the Research and Information System for the
Non-Aligned and Other Developing Countries (RIS) of
for providing me the opportunity to speak to such a gathering of
are no strangers. The
civilisational links go back thousand of years.
These linkages manifest themselves in the many historical
monuments, the rich cultural heritage, the religious affiliations,
the diverse culinary delights and the linguistic influences in
I remember a quote describing
from the famous American author, Mark Twain, who said “
is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech,
the mother of history, grandmother of legend and great grandmother
The contemporary relationship between
was shaped by events of the time.
acted as an inspiration for many newly independent nations in
being the largest democracy in the world.
At the same time, these countries in Southeast
recognised the strategic importance of developing relations with
one another. In fact,
the Indian navy held its first-ever naval exercise outside the Commonwealth
with Indonesian navy and
signed a bilateral cultural agreement, both in 1960.
Unfortunately, the relationship remained lukewarm for the
next three dec ade
due to the divergence in ideological outlook and security relationships
during the Cold War. Relations
were put back on track with the adoption of the “Look East Policy”
in 1991 and ASEAN’s strong desire to forge closer ties with
became a Sectoral Dialogue Partner of ASEAN in 1992, focusing cooperation
in economic and development cooperation.
This was the first defining moment in ASEAN-India dialogue
relations. The second
defining moment in ASEAN and
relations came about three years later in December 1995 when
became a full Dialogue Partner of ASEAN.
This elevated the interactions between ASEAN and India from
the senior official to the ministerial level and enabled cooperation
in the political and security field, including India’s participation
in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the only such security forum
in the Asia-Pacific. The third defining moment occurred when ASEAN
and Indian Le ade
agreed to their annual summit.
This transformation did not come easily.
The financial crisis of 1997 and the developments in
also affected the dialogue relations between ASEAN and
However, ASEAN-India dialogue relations endured these challenges
and are now on the upswing. This paved the way for both sides to
enter into a new level of a strategic partnership, which will see
the signing of a Joint Declaration and the adoption of a Plan of
Action for a forward-looking relationship at the forthcoming ASEAN-India
Summit in November 2004 in Vientiane
That will be the next defining moment in the relationship.
These defining moments in ASEAN-India relations remind me
of the words of the
great soul, Mahatma Gandhi who said, “Strength does not come
from physical capacity. It
comes from an indomitable will.”
in the Big Picture
Globalisation, widely defined as the rapid increase in cross-border
economic, social, technological exchange under conditions of capitalism,
and its challenges have brought ASEAN and
closer compared with the Cold War years when both had divergent
worldviews and domestic policies. At
the same time, many other developments are exerting pressure on
attacks on the United
and the subsequent terrorists attacks that we are seeing in many
parts of the world have become a new threat to global and regional
are not spared this menace as shown by recent terrorist attacks
in the region. This non-conducive circumstance is against the desire
of ASEAN and India
to create an environment of peace and stability, which is essential
to propel and spur the positive economic growth being enjoyed by
Proliferation of nuclear technology
and materials is another concern of the international community,
including ASEAN and
The spread of nuclear technology and materials could have far-reaching
implications, especially when it falls into the hands of unscrupulous
individuals or terrorists. ASEAN welcomes
support for the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ)
Treaty, which aims at making ASEAN as a
nuclear-free zone, for the purposes of promoting world peace and
Regional security and stability also hinges on other threats
and challenges, especially the non-traditional issues such as maritime
security, trafficking in drugs, arms smuggling and human trafficking.
These problems cannot
be tackled by any single country or a group of nation-states.
They must be handled and managed collectively because of
their transnational nature.
The insufficiency of confidence-building measures, policy
predictability, transparency and mutual understanding in the realm
of regional security cooperation is a troubling thought.
As we work on the immediate economic concerns and socio-cultural
developmental agenda, the governments of ASEAN and
must also act together to improve regional conditions to promote
security and stability.
Unilateralism and disregard for international law require
the attention of ASEAN and
since they have far-reaching effects on the future of inter-state
approach and selective use of international laws will victimise
the small, poor and vulnerable countries.
Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, in his
recent address to the 59th UN General Assembly has emphasised
the importance of the rule of law and that “it must be put to
practice and permeate the fabric of our lives”.
We in ASEAN have m ade
it a priority to remain competitive in this globalisation era. The
ten economies of ASEAN are working together to enhance their collective
competitiveness through various major initiatives such as the implementation
of the ASEAN Free Tr ade
Area (AFTA), ASEAN Investment Area (AIA) and the fast tracking of
11 priority sectors. Greater
economic integration is not only for industries located in the region
but also for investors and consumers as well. Freer tr
eases the burden of procuring raw materials and intermediate goods
elsewhere and this, for one, would drive manufacturing companies
in ASEAN to be more cost competitive and likewise enjoy economies
of scale. There is
no denying that as a competitive manufacturing sector attracts foreign
direct investments (FDI), the growth of supporting industries in
the region would be stimulated as well.
The ultimate beneficiaries would be the consumers in ASEAN
with wider choice of quality goods and services and at competitive
As AFTA reduces the tariff on goods and promotes more intra-ASEAN
, AIA was created to ensure that investments
flow freely within the region and that the principle of non- discrimination
is applied. The AIA arrangement allows investors to harness
the various complementary advantages of ASEAN Member Countries in
order to maximize business and production efficiency at lower costs.
for accelerating regional integration
through the 11 priority sectors in which the region enjoys competitive
advantage, ASEAN is drafting the roadmap for each priority sector
to chart out clear milestones for further integration. The 11 priority
sectors are automotives, wood-based products, rubber-based products,
textile/apparels, agro-based products, fisheries, electronics, healthcare,
information and communications technology (ICT), air travel and
There is no choice for ASEAN but to constantly review its
strategies and policies to make ASEAN more business-friendly and
competitive. The end-in-mind
is to offer unparalleled opportunities to the business community
to leverage upon. Such
opportunities are not confined to the traditional sectors but extended
to those in the “New Economy” as well.
In other words, we are not neglecting the knowledge-based
sectors. Economic integration in ASEAN is not an option but a survival
imperative. Regions across the globe are also integrating, opening
up their markets and making available bigger markets in order to
be more attractive to business people and investors.
ASEAN Member Countries cannot afford to be complacent.
To make itself even more attractive, ASEAN has embarked on
economic integration beyond the borders of ASEAN through the various
proposed FTAs with China, Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, Australia
and New Zealand. Thus,
ASEAN is adding more breadth and depth to its collective size.
Weaving a Regional Fabric
ASEAN and India
are natural partners. Geographically,
shares maritime borders with
and a land border of 1,600 kilometres with
History-wise, I have talked about Indian legacy in ASEAN.
On the economic front,
is an emerging economy of the world with a Gross Domestic Product
of more than US$500 billion and a consumer market of more than 1.2
will grow steadily by 6 per cent in the next few years.
is also committed to implementing its free tr
agreement with ASEAN covering tr ade
investment and services.
with ASEAN is already US$13 billion. In comparison, tr
with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries
is only US$7 billion.
expects to achieve a tr ade
figure of about US$30 billion by 2007 with ASEAN, in the light of
the increasing services transactions, investments, project executions
and labour flows as well as a diversifying tr
basket with manufacturin g
playing an increasing role.
It is in India
interest to forge a closer partnership with ASEAN for a number of
reasons. The per capita
income of ASEAN is twice that of
and ASEAN is rapidly opening up market opportunities.
ASEAN has a rich natural resource base.
eyes the possibilities of integrating into the value chain of multi-national
companies thriving in ASEAN.
Besides, countries like
are becoming major investors in
especially in infrastructure development and venture capital activities.
is also interested in plugging itself to the
economy due to its latent potential.
The Indian economy is increasingly integrated with East Asian
economies. The East
Asian countries account for nearly 25% of
total tr ade
has a web of cooperation with East Asian countries, especially ASEAN
through the ASEAN-India dialogue process, the bilateral free tr
agreements with Singapore
and sub-regional initiatives such as the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation
and the Bangl ade
Lanka-Thailand Economic Cooperation (BIMST-EC).
believes that its dynamic economy of over US$500 billion and its
capabilities in software and services that complements with
hardware and manufacturing will be attractive reasons for a Pan
Asian economic integration.
The former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had
already mooted the idea of an Asian economic community, comprising
the ten ASEAN economies and economies of
and the Republic
in October 2003 at the ASEAN-India Summit in
the Viable Partnership
ASEAN and India
need to focus on developing a partnership that has the dual objectives
of addressing the challenges of globalisation and working closely
to reap the opportunities of the same universal phenomena. There
are enough opportunities and challenges to
compel ASEAN and India
to work closely in maintaining peace and stability, expanding economic
linkages and improving the critical human capacities.
With its dynamic economic growth and superiority in computer
software, engineering and sciences,
will play an important role in maintaining the peace, stability
and prosperity of the region.
Indian has acceded to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation
in 2003 signalling its desire to contribute to the peace and security
India is an active member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF),
and it has worked together with ASEAN in several areas, including
search and rescue, and counter sea piracy to help advance the ARF
ARF should be utilised vigorously to promote peace and stability
by allowing participants to become more familiar with the dynamics
and realities of the security environment and created awareness
of each other’s strategic preoccupations. Like-minded countries
of the Asia-Pacific and beyond can be encouraged to cooperate more
extensively with the ARF agenda.
ASEAN and India
through the ARF and other multilateral fora, should also address
non-traditional security threats or transnational concerns such
as maritime security, trafficking in drugs, arms smuggling and human
trafficking. ASEAN and India
could also work together to curb the proliferation of nuclear technology
ASEAN and India
could work together with other like-minded countries to strengthen
the United Nations to demonstrate their commitment towards multilateralism
and ensure that the world body remains the sole guardian of international
laws, and the protector of the weak and vulnerable.
With increasing competition and the need to remain ahead
in this era of knowledge-based globalised economy, ASEAN and
must expand and deepen their economic linkages. ASEAN and
should work closely under the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive
Economic Cooperation to realise their economic potentials in tr
in goods and services and investment as soon as possible. By doing
so, ASEAN and India
could enhance their respective attractiveness as FDI destinations
and increase their competitiveness as a producer, exporter and service
provider in the global market place.
could work closely together with other developing countries under
the auspices of the World Tr ade
Organisation (WTO) to ensure greater equity in global tr
and that globalisation benefits all countries. We should not allow
global tr ade
to be manipulated for the benefit of a handful of rich countries
and large multinationals.
ASEAN and India
should also look at expanding air, sea and land transport linkages
to promote tr ade
tourism, and other economic activities.
fairs and business summits should be held on a regular basis to
assist each other’s business communities to find right partners
for joint ventures and business deals.
Improving travel-related regulation will also help to spur
tourism and boost the travel business industry.
Cooperation in science and technology should be expanded
to include commercialisation of new technologies such as biotech
and pharmaceuticals. Constant
innovation and cutting-edge research are indispensable if ASEAN
want to move up the value chain to reduce cost and to reap returns.
Combining the talents of 1.2 billion people of
and 500 million citizens of ASEAN will certainly make a huge market
base for our industries and enhance our competitive position in
the global economy.
Energy security in another area of common concern to both
of us. ASEAN and India
could look into promoting sustainable and optimal utilisation of
energy, and alternative source of energy. In addition, both sides
should consider measures to enhance tr ade
and investment in the energy sector.
The rising oil prices have m ade
this a very pressing issue.
Yet, for the longer term, energy security is an imperative
for continued economic growth and prosperity.
In order to build and enhance the capacities of our peoples,
ASEAN and India
could share their expertise, experience and comparative advantages
in critical sectors of the economy and other areas such as health
and ICT. While
both ASEAN and India
are developing countries, we have amongst us some of the finest
and talented people, and leading institutions.
ASEAN and India
should develop extensive people-to-people interactions involving
exchange programmes among youth, media personnel, ac
business people, government officials and artists and literati.
We need to give more attention to the people’s component in our
partnership and to narrow the perception gaps among our people.
More exchange of visits at the grassroots level can take place.
The more they meet, the better they value each other.
I have attached a 10-point wish list. As the great Indian
statesman Jawaharlal Nehru eloquently said, “We live in a
wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure.
There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only
we seek them with open eyes.”
While ASEAN and India
are busy engaging themselves to build a long lasting and durable
partnership, both sides need to be vigilant or mindful of drawbacks
that could momentarily cause irritation in the relations. Greater
dialogue, interactions and channels of communications are needed
to ensure we are constantly developing our mutual understanding
to avoid any misapprehension.
It is important to ensure decisions are swiftly implemented
so that we could progress speedily in the many areas of cooperation.
The momentum to enhance cooperation should not be held back by clouded
lens and red tape.
The challenges and opportunities are aplenty for the partnership
that ASEAN and India
is forging. The partnership is what people in the business called
“a work in progress”. It
is continuous and evolving.
The partnership is not an end to itself. We in ASEAN and
need to nurture it carefully so that the partnership could withstand
the knocks and challenges of globalisation and other concerns that
might arise from time to time. We need to also provide new impetus
to the partnership by expanding and deepening cooperation.
ASEAN and India
can be the catalyst for the region’s peace and prosperity and deliver
the change we all want to see.
Points for Advancing ASEAN–
more segments of people’s sector into ASEAN-India dialogue partnership
to bro ade
n and deepen the foundation of this relationship
knowledge of ASEAN and
at all levels of society through more information
exposure in mass media
10 Indian cities for twinning with 10 ASEAN cities (sister cities’
efforts to connect relevant non-governmental bodies in ASEAN
dealing with development
and welfare of women
cultural exchange programmes/projects to extend coverage and
reach to target audience
dialogue among civil society organisations on promoting public
health, environment protection and inter-civilisation relations
e-linkages among the national organisations responsible for
youth affairs in ASEAN and
exchange programmes for
10 Indian universities and 10 counterpart universities
more intellectual interactions between ASEAN and
through more conferences, lectures and seminars
agreed plan of actions for grassroots cooperation between ASEAN