All leaders at the just concluded ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit had urged India to play a proactive role in the Asia-Pacific region, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said here on Friday.
In an official statement at the conclusion of two days of diplomatic engagements that included the Summit and the celebrations of the Republic Day where the ten ASEAN leaders were Guests of Honour, Secretary in charge of eastern affairs in the MEA Preeti Saran said, “All the leaders have appreciated India’s role and the bilateral relationship that we enjoy with each one of them and that India has such a positive role in the Indo-Pacific region. They feel that India is a very important component of peace, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.”
The official statement complements Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comments that the Indo-Pacific region will be “indispensable” India’s future. In an op-ed article, published on Friday in leading newspapers across ASEAN countries, including the The Straits Times (Singapore), Bangkok Post (Thailand) and Manila Bulletin (Philippines), Mr Modi said, “Indians have always looked East to see the nurturing sunrise and the light of opportunities. Now, as before, the East, or the Indo-Pacific region, will be indispensable to India's future and our common destiny.”
The comments from the Prime Minister and the MEA officials are significant as they come just months after India joined the quadrilateral grouping of Australia, Japan and the U.S. for maintaining freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ms. Saran, however, declined to elaborate on whether talks on India’s role in the quadrilateral were discussed during the plenary session of the summit. The proposed enlarged Indian engagement in the region is to ensure freedom of navigation in the region’s oceans, MEA officials said, indicating growing concerns over China’s continued build up in the South China Sea.
During the summit, India announced 1,000 PhD fellowships in the IITs for students from the ASEAN countries.
New Delhi also announced a dedicated training course in highway engineering, setting up of a virtual network of universities, and pilot projects to set up digital infrastructure at the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit. Further, an ASEAN-India Startup festival will be held later this year.
The participating countries also agreed to celebrate 2019 as the year of tourism for ASEAN nations, said Ms Saran.
Apart from countering ‘traditional and non-traditional’ threats to freedom of navigation, India plans to work closely with Malaysia and Indonesia on handling radicalisation. A conference on de-radicalisation will be held soon, said the official.
“In specific discussions, that our Prime Minister had with the prime ministers of Malaysia and Indonesia, soft and hard aspects of countering terrorism through strict actions and enabling laws (were discussed),” said Ms Saran.
The India-ASEAN bonhomie will be followed by further diplomacy on Sunday when Delhi will host Cambodian leader Hun Sen for a bilateral vist.