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Keynote Address at the 9th Asian Security Conference

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  • Hon'ble External Affairs Minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee
    February 09, 2007

    Hon'ble Vice President, Shri. A. K. Antony, the Defence Minister of India, Mr. M. Sonampil, the Minister of Defence, Mongolia, Shri N. S. Sisodia, Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I am honoured to address the Inaugural Session of the 9th Asian Security Conference. I see that you have an exhaustive agenda. I am sure your discussions over today and tomorrow would be fruitful and would advance understanding and the search for co-operative solutions to Asian security dilemmas.

    It is befitting that sixty years since the Asian Relations Conference was held in this city, this Conference with the theme of Southeast Asia is taking place in New Delhi. Southeast Asia is the starting point of India's Look East policy. This policy conceived in and pursued since the early 1990s was prompted by significant changes in the global politico-economic scenario and by initiation of economic reforms and liberalisation in India. ASEAN's economic, political and strategic importance in the Asia-Pacific region and its potential to become a major partner of India in trade and investment were significant elements in our approach. Over time, this policy gradually evolved to include the Far Eastern and Pacific regions. It also facilitated enhanced links with China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Pacific Island States.

    Today Southeast Asia and India are partners in harnessing our respective economic, technical and professional strengths. ASEAN countries and India also have a convergence in security perspectives, a common interest in peace and stability in the region and in the maintenance of security of sea lanes of communication. We now have regular, annual dialogue at my level and at the Summit level. These political level interactions are further enriched by meetings of senior officials as also specialised working groups in functional areas - science and technology, health, trade and investment and transport and infrastructure. The signing of the "India-ASEAN Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity" at the 3rd India-ASEAN Summit in Vientiane in November 2004 was a key development in our relations. The 5th Summit in Cebu last month has given further momentum to India-ASEAN ties.

    The resurgence of Asia in political and economic terms has been accompanied by the rise of powerful economic forces unleashed by globalisation and the trend towards regional economic integration. The engagement in the political and security arena has either followed or led to progressive economic integration in terms of Free Trade Agreements and Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreements that have either been concluded or are being negotiated with countries of the region. Since 1990, when our Look East Policy was initiated, our trade with countries of the region has grown from US $ 8.1 billion to $ 67.5 billion and the share of trade with these countries in our global trade has increased from 19.4 per cent to 28.2 per cent. Following the agreement reached at the Cebu Summit, we hope soon to conclude negotiations on a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN. Our vision, as articulated by Prime Minister during the India-ASEAN Business Summit in New Delhi on October 19, 2004, is that of an "Asian Economic Community," which would be the driver of growth and economic integration in the entire region.

    The usage of the term East Asia has over time expanded from its narrow confines of North East Asia to encompass the entire region from India to Japan. The First East Asia Summit (EAS) held in Kuala Lampur in December 2005 was a historic event that underlined this evolution. Speaking at the Summit, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said that the long-term goal of the EAS should be the creation of a harmonious and prosperous community of nations that would pool its resources to tackle common challenges. He also observed that a virtual Asian Economic Community was emerging with the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) amongst countries of the region. However, there is a need for a wider perspective so that ongoing processes could become building blocks for a larger vision. It was in this context that we have suggested a Pan-Asian Free Trade Arrangement that could be the starting point for the Economic Community. Such a community would be the third pole of the world economy after the European Union and the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA).

    The theme of this conference - security, cannot be looked at in isolation from these broader political and economic developments. Even in a narrower sense, a significant aspect of our 'Look East' policy has been the growing co-operation and dialogue on security issues both bilaterally with ASEAN countries as well as through multilateral institutions like the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which also brings in significant non-ASEAN players in the Asian region. Our focus, including in our bilateral dialogues and co-operative activities with neighbouring states in Southeast Asia and East Asia, has been on issues like border security, maritime security, counter terrorism and energy security. I am delighted to note that your agenda broadly reflects the priorities we have chalked in our dialogues with countries of the region.

    Asia's security environment is unique given its geographical expanse and the political, economic and cultural diversity of the region. Our view has been that in Asia, a pluralistic security order based on a co-operative approach to security is the answer. For one, such a polycentric security order would be accommodative of the diversity of the region. It would also be a reflection of the growing strength and confidence, manifested either individually or through organisations such as ASEAN, of the various economic and security players in the region. In today's increasingly interconnected world, each participant has an equal stake and responsibility. Only a pluralistic security order working through a network of co-operative structures can have the legitimacy as well as the wherewithal to deal with the security challenges of the 21st century. This vision has guided our approach to Asian security right from the Asian Relations Conference of 1946 to the recent initiatives including the 'Look East' policy.

    Our participation in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which we value, flows from this vision, the 'Look East' policy and closer links with ASEAN as a full-dialogue partner. We consider ASEAN as the driving force of the ARF and believe that the ASEAN way of 'dialogue and consensus' should remain the ARF's guiding principle. Participation in the ARF also enables us to engage with a broader range of countries beyond the ASEAN underlining India's commitment and goal in ensuring regional peace and stability. It also underscores our belief that from India's perspective co-operative security can be looked at only in a broader context going beyond Cold War notions of sub-regions. I am happy to note that there is a greater recognition today of India's stabilising role in the region born out of our restraint, our economic dynamism and potential, the history of our civilisational engagement and our role as a firewall against destabilising ideas and influences. Encouraged by this we will continue to seek in our interaction with countries of the region greater political and economic convergence, closer people to people links through cultural co-operation and education exchanges and meaningful security co-operation to meet common challenges.

    May I conclude by wishing you success in your deliberations. Thank you.