India-Thailand relationship is not of recent origin. In 1915, we were honoured to receive a Royal visit from Thailand by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI). We celebrated the centenary of that visit last year and, in particular, the enduring links then fostered between the Indian port city of Surat and Surat Thani in southern Thailand.
Establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community this year has been a historic event.
Up-gradation of the ASEAN-India relationship into a Strategic Partnership in 2012 was a natural progression. India’s ‘Look East Policy’ has become ‘Act East Policy’.
The ASEAN-India Plan of Action for the period 2016-20 was adopted in August 2015 which identifies concrete initiatives and areas of cooperation along the three ASEAN pillars – political-security, economic and socio-cultural.
We have established three funds to support our vast agenda with the ASEAN- the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund, the ASEAN-India Science and Technology Fund, and the ASEAN-India Green Fund. Numerous projects are being implemented under these funds – ranging from establishing of a space station to fighting malaria to promoting agricultural research.
This trident of Commerce, Culture and Connectivity defines the future focus areas of cooperation between ASEAN member States and India:
Culture: From Borobudur in Indonesia to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, our shared heritage finds an exuberant manifestation. The spread of Buddhism from India is attributed to Emperor Ashoka, who sent Buddhist emissaries to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Thai epic, Ramakien is based on the Ramayana. The Ahoms, the Khamtis and the Khasis in people of India have links with Thai people. In modern times, many Indians emigrated to South East Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their descendants today constitute a vibrant community of people of Indian origin.
The re-establishment of the Nalanda University, which has strong support from several ASEAN members, is progressing well. Nalanda was once a world-renowned knowledge hub where scholars from around the world, including South East Asia and India, exchanged knowledge and ideas.
Commerce: In the year 2014-15, ASEAN-India trade stood at US$ 76.58 billion, growing at an average annual growth rate of 12%. In terms of two-way FDI flows, the India–ASEAN region has significantly outpaced many other regions of the world.
The ASEAN-India Trade-in-Goods Agreement signed in 2009 has helped in bringing about steady increase in trade volumes. The entry into force of India-ASEAN Trade-in-Services and Investment Agreements in July 2015 was a major step forward.
India is implementing US$ 21.53 million project on Establishment of a Tracking and Data Reception Station and Data Processing Facility for ASEAN at Ho Chi Minh City, upgrading of the existing station at Biak, Indonesia and training ASEAN Personnel in Space Science & Technology in Dehradun in India.
Connectivity: Connectivity with ASEAN in all its dimensions – physical, institutional and people-to-people – continues to be a strategic priority for us. This is reflected in finalization of negotiations on the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicles Agreement and ASEAN-India Maritime Transport Cooperation Agreement. Other major projects on connectivity include the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project and Rhi-Tiddim Road.
India has committed a Line of Credit of US $ 1 billion to promote projects that support physical and digital connectivity between India and ASEAN. India and ASEAN need to focus on an extension of the trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam. The Mekong-India Economic Corridor, which is expected to connect the industrial and freight corridors in India with production networks in the Mekong region through the Chennai-Dawei sea link will have a beneficial effect on all our economies.
A stronger ASEAN–India partnership would give us a stronger voice on global governance issues. The economic and geo-political centre of gravity of the world has again shifted towards the Asia-Pacific, with the region showing unparalleled dynamism in economic, political, security and demographic terms.