The 23rd ASEAN-India Joint Cooperation Committee Meeting was held at the ASEAN Secretariat recently, where both parties reiterated their commitment to strengthen their longstanding relationship. The meeting was in pursuit of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership established at the 19th ASEAN-India Summit held last year. The Permanent Representative of Singapore, Kok Li Peng with the Ambassador of India, Jayant N Khobragade co-chaired the meeting, and the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN and their respective delegations were in attendance. A representative from the ASEAN Secretariat and representatives from Timor-Leste also attended as observers.

India and South East Asian region share a long history of cultural and economic ties that go back several centuries. India has prioritized its relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a key component of its foreign policy. The partnership began with the “Look East Policy” in the early 1990s, which led to India becoming a Sectoral Partner, Dialogue Partner, and eventually a Summit-level Partner of ASEAN.

In 2012, the India-ASEAN ‘Strategic’ Partnership was established during the 20th anniversary Commemorative Summit in New Delhi. The announcement of the “Act-East Policy” in 2014 further signaled India’s commitment to enhancing its engagement with ASEAN Member States. This policy focuses on Connectivity, Commerce, and Culture, aligning with ASEAN’s community-building process and master plans for connectivity and information and communication technology.

The engagement of both partners diligently paints a bright outlook for the future. India-ASEAN had developed a plan of Action (POA) for 2021-25. This POA is value-based and people-centric approach for both to navigate their partnership in mutual cooperation. The main thrust of the POA remains the political and security cooperation between the governments. It includes transnational crime and counter-terror cooperation and maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Economic and trade partnership is already discussed. Within its ambit, energy partnership is another dimension where both look to reduce dependency on oil and gas, with a shift to renewable energy. Given the proximity of both, the disaster management and emergency response plays a crucial role. It is included within ambit of socio-cultural cooperation which also includes environment, civilian issues like education, health, etc. Culture has historically kept both the regions in close proximity with the largest Hindu temple complex Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Buddhist influence.

Both sides hoped to further strengthen trade and investment with the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA) working ease business. The meeting discussed several initiatives to enhance cooperation between the two parties, including developing connectivity infrastructure, promoting digital transformation, and expanding trade and investment. The extension of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project into Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Viet Nam would improve transport links and create new opportunities for trade and investment. This is also an important part of POA and the Kuala Lumpur Transport Strategic Plan. Both sides also deliberated the ways and means to enhance people-to-people contacts through exchange programs involving youth, students, media and artists, scholarships, capacity building, and training courses.

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership established between the two parties last year marks a significant milestone in their relationship. India has been an active participant in ASEAN-led forums and has emphasized its “Act East” policy, which prioritizes deepening economic, strategic, and cultural ties with Southeast Asia. In the recent meeting, ASEAN members commended India for its continued support in maintaining peace and stability in South East Asia apart from ASEAN-led mechanisms.

ASEAN and India can achieve a lot together by leveraging their economic and strategic partnership. They can deepen trade and investment ties through initiatives like the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA) and by promoting connectivity and infrastructure development. Cooperation in the areas of defense and security can also be strengthened through joint exercises and information sharing. Furthermore, collaboration in education and cultural exchanges can enhance people-to-people ties and mutual understanding. Together, ASEAN and India can foster regional peace, stability, and prosperity.

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