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Inaugural Address at the 7th Asian Security Conference

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  • Mr. Natwar Singh, External Affairs Minister
    January 27, 2005

    Excellencies, Distinguished Participants at the 7th Asian Security Conference, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I feel privileged to be invited to deliver the Inaugural Address at the IDSA's 7th Asian Security Conference. Since its inception in January 1999, this Conference has provided a forum for Asian security issues to be viewed in the most holistic manner by experts drawn from all quarters. This year's theme – Changing Security Dynamic in Eastern Asia – is particularly relevant. I commend the IDSA for their choice.

    We are meeting here a month after the Tsunami disaster, which perhaps offers a metaphor about the very nature of the concept of security and the manner in which we are all inter-connected. Distance and proximity are no longer the defining elements in our comprehension and response to security challenges. Vicissitudes of nature or technological changes are rapidly transcending or abolishing borders.

    May I begin with a few broad observations that could perhaps generate fruitful discussion during the course of this three-day Conference.

    India’s geography imparts a unique position to her in the geo-politics of the Asian continent. Our interests lie not only in different sub-categories of Asia - East Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia or South East Asia. Our development and security are also intertwined with that of each of these regions. India’s integrative bonds with her Asian neighbourhood are increasingly impacted by a positive combination of factors. The relatively rapid development since the early 1990s has set us among the world’s fastest growing economies. The new dynamics of economic liberalization and integration and the region’s overlapping security perspectives link this larger neighbourhood in one single continuum. India’s growing inter-dependence with East Asia, which is both the driving force and the manifestation of our “Look East” policy, brings East Asia even closer to us. Peace, security and development of East Asia are, therefore, matters of great interest and direct relevance to us.

    Against this background let me now deal with India’s perceptions.

    India's links with her extended Eastern neighbourhood go back many centuries. There is a distinctive character to this Indian impress. It was devoid of any military component. India's links with the region were civilizational, religious and cultural. The message of the Buddha emanated from here and spread to different corners of this region. Independent India exuded the same spirit of amity, friendship and goodwill. Many of you may recall that Pandit Nehru was the visionary who outlined a framework of Asian solidarity and peaceful co-existence. I myself grew up in this ambiance as a young diplomat. Perhaps Nehru was ahead of his times. The world was not ready to share his high-minded vision.

    Consequently, for many years India remained somewhat distant from its eastern neighbourhood. It was in 1992 that we embarked upon our "Look East" policy with renewed vigour. Gradually our links with the countries of the extended eastern Asian region have grown and are growing. This is at once gratifying and satisfying. India is getting increasingly networked with its eastern neighbours together with new opportunities, common and novel challenges. More than a mere political slogan, our “Look East” policy has a strong economic rationale. It is also sustained by our commitment to democracy and pluralism and is borne out of our desire for stability and security in our region.

    Developments in East Asia are of direct consequence to India’s security and development. We are therefore actively engaged in creating a bond of friendship and cooperation with East Asia that has a strong economic foundation and a cooperative paradigm of positive inter-connectedness of security interests. A common thread joins us. We stand to share the opportunities thrown open by the regions’ increasing economic integration, just as we face the common threats of WMD proliferation, terrorism, energy shortage, piracy and income inequity, to name a few. The Tsunami disaster has also brought home the point, in a tragic way though, that we do not live in splendid isolation. We, therefore, believe that greater connectivity – physical, economic and political - between India and East Asia will create strong links in our common endeavour for peace and prosperity.

    It is with this vision that we are engaged with the countries of East Asia to build an edifice of mutually beneficial cooperation. Recent positive developments in India’s relations with China are a case in point. There are many who look at India-China relations with the old mindset of “balance of power” or “conflict of interests” and see East Asia as a theatre of competition between these two countries. Such theories are losing relevance in today’s fast-emerging dynamics of Asia's quest for peace and prosperity.

    Both India and China are aware that trust and cooperation between them are one of the most crucial elements that make our region and Asia a vibrant and energetic fulcrum for growth. We are engaged in positive ways to expand our commonalities, while pro-actively addressing our differences, including the boundary question. We are doing so in a purposive and mutually acceptable manner. Despite the differences on the boundary issue, our 3,400 km long land border with China has largely remained tranquil over the last twenty-five years. This is by no means a minor achievement and should be enough to silence those who look at India-China relations only from an adversarial prism. It is for everyone to see that we have not allowed our differences to hold development in our relations across an impressive range of areas.

    While there are differences between us, there is also an increasingly greater realization that there is enough space and opportunity in the region for both India and China to prosper. We are not just passively embedded in our region bound by our common neighbourhood, but are constantly interacting through endeavours which have brought huge dividends to both. Look at India’s trade with China. From a meagre few hundred million dollars in the beginning of the nineteen-nineties, our trade has already crossed US$ 13 billion last year. We also look at our relations in a larger regional and global backdrop and realize the responsibility we both shoulder in contributing to the well being of humanity. We are mindful of the overarching importance of a peaceful surrounding environment for us to pursue our most fundamental task of national development. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India later this year will offer another opportunity to us to add further substance to our relationship, a relationship which both value.

    Our relationship with Japan is another important point of anchor in our extensive interaction with East Asia. As the second largest global economy, Japan has an important role to play in Asia emerging as a key player in this century. We have traditionally viewed Japan in the perspective of our common Asian identity. In the last few years, our bilateral relations with Japan have steadily progressed. The India-Japan Global Partnership, launched four years ago, has provided an opportunity to impart new direction and dynamism to our growing bilateral relationship. We are constantly endeavouring to add increasingly greater substance to this interaction. Economic partnership is an important dimension of our ties with Japan. Our relations are also based on the firmly shared recognition that both countries are legitimate candidates for the permanent membership of the UN Security Council. We are looking forward to Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to India later in 2005 which will help us further upgrade and deepen our relations with Japan.

    The Conference is looking at Japan in a focused manner - and the Japanese participation is noteworthy. I am also gratified to learn that Mr. Ishiba, a senior Japanese parliamentarian and former Japanese Defence Minister will address you tomorrow.

    With South Korea, our traditional friendship is developing on the strong foundations of our shared commitment to democratic ideals and the common desire to consolidate and diversify our exchanges. The success of South Korean President Roh’s visit to India three months ago was a manifestation of this, during which we decided to establish a “Long-term Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity” with the aim of fully utilizing the substantial potential and opportunities for deepening mutually beneficial cooperation by taking advantage of our economic complementarities and political convergences. My own visit to South Korea last month convinced me that our relations are poised for significant expansion. I returned immensely impressed by South Korea’s achievements in so many spheres.

    India has also consciously moved forward to re-establish its age-old ties with ASEAN countries. This has been duly reciprocated. The ASEAN countries also recognize the mutual advantage of a wide-ranging partnership with India. During the Third India-ASEAN Summit in November last year, our Prime Minister emphasized that India’s “Look East” policy had acquired considerable substance and irreversible momentum and that relations with ASEAN, based on mutual interest in shared peace and prosperity for the region, constituted an important priority in India’s foreign policy. We signed an agreement on India-ASEAN Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity, which encapsulates our commitment for a long-term cooperative partnership based on our respective strengths and complementarities.

    Today, as India strives to add greater substance and depth to her “Look East” policy, she espouses a vision of an Asian Economic Community, which encompasses ASEAN, South Korea, Japan, China and India – the five pillars which may form the initial core to drive Asia’s emergence as the centre of gravity of the global economy. The idea of the Asian Economic Community is built on the fundamental realization of the new dynamics in Asia and existing synergies. This is bringing us closer together in search of greater prosperity and is based on our common aspirations. These are visions to secure a stable and peaceful environment and pursue the development objectives that would impart strength to Asia’s global standing.

    As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has declared, this community of nations would constitute an “arc of advantage” which would act as an anchor of stability and prosperity for our region and beyond. In today’s global reality, where regional trading blocs are gaining strength in terms of their political and economic clout, we in Asia risk falling behind if we do not act in time. The prospects are positive, as there is a broad recognition of the enormous benefits flowing from greater integration within this part of the world. We share the common emphasis that the economic dynamism of Asia can be strengthened and sustained by developing greater linkages between the nations and integration of their markets and society. How India and East Asia fashion their cooperation in response to this emerging need will be a crucial factor in deciding how successful will Asia’s success story be.

    There is a general aspiration to evolve towards a more co-operative strategic and security paradigm – both globally and regionally. It is here that Asia as a whole and East Asia in a more specific sense will have to rise to the challenge. As I said, we are bound together with the destiny of a common neighbourhood. We must also join our energies in overcoming challenges to our common security and pursuing our goal of common prosperity. The emergence of Asia is in reality the sum of the success of each of its parts and the strength of their inter-linkages.

    Today we stand at the cusp of exciting times, which hold a bright promise for our future collaboration. We share the responsibility to shape our co-operation to liberate the creative energies of the entire region. We must put in place a political and economic architecture which is conducive to Asia’s emergence as a pre-eminent region of stability and prosperity. This can make the 21st century the Asian century in the truest sense. But this will need dedicated, sustained hard work. And eternal vigilance.

    At this moment in time, the future looks promising. While we have a deficit of democracy in international relations, there are also diverse challenges and new opportunities engendered by globalisation. The non-state entity has emerged as a potent actor and the spectrum ranges from the multinational corporation to the terrorist plague. Simultaneously there is no major contestation - ideological or otherwise - among the major powers. Perhaps we are in a domain where reality and empirical evidence has gone beyond any of the conventional theories that seek to explain international relations and security studies! The mindset is perhaps changing.

    Here, then, ladies and gentlemen is an intellectual challenge for all of you - as eminent academics and analysts. How does one square the circle of realpolitik with the normative values of equitable security? As a person who has some acquaintance with the Republic of letters, I believe that the human mind, imperfect though it is, can come up with fresh and innovative ideas, so sorely needed.

    I thank you for your attention. It is my privilege to inaugurate the IDSA’s 7th Asian Security Conference. I wish you all success in your deliberations.