ASEAN Future Forum and India's Role in Indo - Pacific Stability and Prosperity

Indian Foreign Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar emphasized the importance of a strong and united ASEAN for regional stability in the Indo-Pacific during his virtual address at the first ASEAN Future Forum on Tuesday.
April 25, 2024 | 15:15

India believes that a cohesive ASEAN can be a major player in shaping the Indo-Pacific's future. India's Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IIPOI) and ASEAN's own Indo-Pacific Outlook (AOIP) share many goals, creating a strong foundation for cooperation on various issues, including security. Since ASEAN is central to India's Act East policy and its overall Indo-Pacific strategy, India called for a stronger voice for developing countries (the global south) in international affairs. India particularly underlines the importance of freedom of navigation, overflight, and trade, and commended the QUAD group for its support of ASEAN centrality.

The concept of the ASEAN Future Forum (AFF) 2024 was proposed by Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh at the 43rd ASEAN Summit in September 2023. The forum focuses on achieving fast and sustainable growth for the ASEAN community, with a focus on its people. It aims to bring together ASEAN member states, partner countries, and ASEAN citizens to collaborate on shaping the future of the ASEAN bloc. The event featured two plenary sessions and two working lunches for nearly 500 delegates from governments, diplomatic organizations, businesses, ASEAN organizations, and international agencies.

The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), consisting of ten member states, has been a focal point for India's foreign policy, especially since the early 1990s. India's engagement with ASEAN has evolved from its "Look East Policy" to the more proactive "Act East Policy," as articulated by the Indian Prime Minister at the 12th ASEAN India Summit. This policy shift underscores India's growing economic liberalization and its desire for deeper regional integration. Beyond ASEAN, India has also pursued partnerships with other regional initiatives like BIMSTEC and MGC, while actively participating in forums such as ASEM, EAS, ARF, ADMM+, and EAMF. The elevation of India-ASEAN relations to a Strategic Partnership in 2012 marked a significant milestone, with 30 dialogue mechanisms established across various sectors to foster closer ties.

India's engagement with ASEAN extends beyond diplomatic relations to encompass diverse areas such as economic cooperation, socio-cultural exchanges, and connectivity initiatives. Economic ties between India and ASEAN have strengthened, with ASEAN being India's fourth-largest trading partner. Both sides have worked to enhance private sector engagement through platforms like the ASEAN India Business Council. Socio-cultural cooperation has been promoted through various initiatives, including student exchange programs and cultural festivals. Connectivity remains a priority, with projects like the India- Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Project underway.

Additionally, India has provided financial assistance through funds like the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund and implemented numerous projects in areas such as agriculture, science & technology, and human resource development to further deepen ASEAN-India cooperation. The establishment of institutions like the ASEAN-India Centre underscores India's commitment to fostering a robust strategic partnership with ASEAN.

India strongly supports a united and central ASEAN, believing it can play a key role in regional stability. India and ASEAN countries have a deep historical connection that goes back thousands of years. Their relationship, now a "Comprehensive Strategic Partnership," is built on shared values and goals. ASEAN is a central part of India's foreign policy and its vision for the Indo-Pacific region.

The Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Jakarta in September, 2023 to participate in two major summits: the 20th ASEAN-India Summit, during which he had in-depth discussions focused on strengthening the partnership between India and ASEAN countries, stressing the importance of ASEAN as a central player in the Indo-Pacific region and illustrating how India's Indo-Pacific Ocean's Initiative aligns well with ASEAN's plan for the region. India also proposed a 12-point plan to boost cooperation in areas like infrastructure, digital technologies, trade, and people-to-people connections. Agreements on maritime cooperation and food security were reached. India advocates for a free and rule-based Indo- Pacific region that is open to all, which aligns well with ASEAN's visions for the region.

India also acknowledges ASEAN's central role within the QUAD framework. In this context, India calls for cooperation on global issues such as climate change, maintaining robust supply chains, ensuring energy security, and combating terrorism. India's own initiatives in these areas, such as the International Solar Alliance (ISA), the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), the Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) mission, and the One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG) initiative, serve as valuable models.

Addressing the ASEAN Future Forum (AFF), Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh highlighted ASEAN's current strength and challenges, stressing the need for a comprehensive strategic vision to leverage opportunities, overcome hurdles, and ensure sustainable development. Emphasizing solidarity, trust, and collective effort among member nations, he called for a global, inclusive approach to strengthen ASEAN's resilience and accelerate economic growth. India's potential as a key leader in the Global South adds weight to this vision.

Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn underscored the AFF's significance as a platform for exchanging ideas and policies, especially as ASEAN shapes its ASEAN Community Vision 2045 and Strategic Plans. This highlights the importance of addressing future challenges and opportunities.

Discussions at the AFF explored strategies for fast and sustainable economic growth in Southeast Asia, aligning with the UN's 2030 sustainable development plan and ASEAN's digital roadmap. Delegates emphasized the need for balanced development, environmental protection, and regional autonomy. The forum also delved into comprehensive security within the ASEAN Community, focusing on a holistic approach considering socio-economic and environmental factors. Additionally, a roundtable for investors and businesses facilitated collaboration in digital transformation for development, involving scholars, businesses, and investors from ASEAN and partner states.

These discussions culminated in a cohesive vision for ASEAN's future, emphasizing cooperation, innovation, and resilience to navigate evolving global challenges. The AFF's outcomes align with ASEAN's trajectory towards sustainable growth, strengthened partnerships, and enhanced regional security, reflecting a unified commitment to shared prosperity and progress.

Both India and ASEAN agree on the importance of freedom of navigation, trade, and the rule of law at sea, as outlined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). They also recognize the need to work together on issues like climate change, disaster relief, and transnational crimes. The digital age and growing use of artificial intelligence create new security challenges. India and ASEAN both believe in diversifying supply chains to avoid dependence on any one country. They collaborate on regional projects like the Mekong- Ganga Cooperation and BIMSTEC.

The message resonated with the address of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. He observed that Southeast Asia has a strong foundation for the future, with a robust and diverse economy and a commitment to peace and disarmament. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and create a better world, it is imperative to ramp up investments in renewable energy, green solutions and address global inequalities. The upcoming UN Futures Summit in September will be a crucial opportunity for international cooperation to build a more peaceful and prosperous future. ASEAN countries are key players in this effort, and they must work together with the UN to reach new heights in the years to come.

The extensive discussions during the event have furnished regional countries and stakeholders with valuable insights to ponder upon, emphasizing the importance of collective endeavours in shaping a promising future for the ASEAN community. There is reason to express confidence in ASEAN's developmental trajectory, with the significant participation of policymakers and businesses in exploring and proposing practical solutions.

including innovative approaches to tackle regional challenges. The ASEAN member states look forward to realizing the ASEAN Community Vision 2045, which would pave the way for a brighter future for both present and future generations.

In essence, India's pivotal role at the ASEAN Future Forum (AFF) epitomizes visionary leadership and strategic partnership. With a focus on collaboration, innovation, and sustainable development, India's engagement strengthens ASEAN's solidarity and resilience. Initiatives like the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) showcase India's commitment to driving positive change. As a leader of the Global South, India's presence at the AFF underscores its dedication to shaping a prosperous and inclusive future for the Indo-Pacific region.

(Dr Maheep is an eminent scholar of International Relations and Global Politics. He has been in teaching and conducting research for over a decade).

Tarah Nguyen
Phiên bản di động