India and ASEAN: Shared Perspectives

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The theme of shared perspectives between India and ASEAN should be self-evident. History, geography and economics have provided compelling logic for the unity of purpose and action between us. Yet, roughly 50 years after India and the ASEAN countries attained their independence, we are discussing a subject, which should now have been accepted wisdom.

The most basic historical factor that unites us is a civilizational bond formed from the strands of spiritualism, culture and commerce. The cross-fertilization of our human experiences was not through conquest or domination, but through a meeting of minds. Evidence of this confluence between India and Southeast Asia abounds in the art, architecture, language and culture of every ASEAN country.

We are conscious that in the first few decades after our independence, we did not attain the full promise of our relationship. Our cultural and civilizational bonds remained firm. But, the full scope of our partnership was constrained by divergences in economic ideology, political outlook and security assumptions, which the Cold War imposed on us.

Today, we can say with great satisfaction that these artificial wrinkles have been ironed out. We also have a number of additional objective factors, which assure us that the complementarities between us today are both stronger and more enduring.

The Cold War molds have been broken, and this has enabled us to strengthen our links without ideological barriers. India became a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1992, full dialogue partner in 1995 and member of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1996.

Over the last few years, we in India have consciously focused on the rejuvenation of our ties with the countries of ASEAN. This came to be known as our "Look East" policy. But, even as we looked east, ASEAN moved west. The admission of new countries brought ASEAN literally to India's doors. From a maritime neighbor, ASEAN became our close neighbor with a land border of nearly 1,600 kilometers. This has added a new dimension to India-ASEAN relations.

Asian countries are today at the forefront of developing and introducing cutting-edge technologies into their economies. We are in the very epicenter of the Knowledge Revolution.

This provides us with a major opportunity to overcome our historical disabilities and to compress the time gap between successive levels of development. Each of our countries has achieved expertise and even dominance in certain areas of technology. It is crucial that we should cooperate in exploiting the synergies between us, rather than duplicating capacities or undercutting each other. A link-up between some of India's software sectors with hardware capabilities of Southeast Asian countries is only one example. There should be many other possibilities that we need to explore.

India is now launching the second generation of its economic reforms, seeking to reach the benefits of the new technologies and new opportunities of globalization to its entire population. The immediate requirement for this is infrastructural support in the form of communications, roads, ports and power. These are areas of strength and expertise in the ASEAN countries, and we look forward to their participation in these infrastructure projects in India.

The security of India and that of ASEAN are closely interlinked. We believe that a multi-polar world order would provide the best guarantee of equal security for all states. We respect the status of Southeast Asia as a nuclear Weapons-Free Zone and, as a nuclear weapon state, we are willing to convert this recognition into a de jure commitment.

For decades after its independence, India has been campaigning for nuclear disarmament. Instead, much of the world went along with a discriminatory nonproliferation, which preserved the right to nuclear weaponization of a few countries, even while keeping the rest in a permanently disarmed condition. …