Welcome Address by Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General
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  • Welcome Address by Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General at the 12th South Asia Conference on India’s “Neighbourhood First” Policy: Regional Perceptions

    Hon’ble President of IDSA & Raksha Mantri, Shri Rajnath Singh ji,

    Members of the IDSA’s Executive Council,

    Distinguished Guests and Participants,

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I would like to extend a warm welcome to participants at the 12th edition of the South Asia Conference which is one of our annual flagship events.

    I wish to extend our special thanks to the Defence Minister and President of IDSA, Shri Rajnath Singh ji, for agreeing to deliver the inaugural address at the Conference despite his busy schedule and numerous other commitments. We greatly appreciate his support in all our activities.

    The South Asia Conference series, which commenced in 2007, plays a key role in bringing together scholars, academicians and officials from India’s neighbouring countries in a common endeavour to deepen mutual understanding and cooperation.

    South Asia has a population of 1.8 billion people with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of about US$ 3.47 trillion, of which a very large part, about $2.72 trillion, is that of India. As a country accounting for about 70 percent of the region’s area, population, GDP and defence expenditure, India has a special role to play in this regard.

    IDSA, as India’s premier think-tank , is striving at building a community of experts and analysts who would contribute through their ideas, analyses and recommendations to the efforts being undertaken at various levels to strengthen regional integration.

    In previous editions of the South Asia Conference, the participants have dealt with a number of themes ranging from growth and stability, economic and non-traditional issues, to cooperative security, culture, role of media and connectivity. We have fostered an atmosphere in which discussions are frank and candid. We value the ideas that you contribute. It is encouraging to see broad consensus among participants over the years that South Asian states ought to set aside legacy issues and work to enhance peace and prosperity for all.

    Another point on which there is consensus is that there is a huge reservoir of goodwill among the people of the region towards one other. Ideas such as instituting someday a South Asian Union with a single currency and visa-free travel have been floated in earlier editions of this conference.

    India’s initiatives over the last five years to build regional cooperation are anchored in its Neighbourhood First policy. From inviting the heads of all SAARC states to PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in 2014 to India’s initiative to launch a South Asia satellite to improve communication and disaster response, India remains committed to its neighbourhood. India has always been the first off the block to provide relief in the wake of tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Importantly, India does not seek reciprocity in the implementation of its Neighbourhood First policy.

    You will all agree that the greatest challenge before South Asia is the fight against poverty, climate change, natural disasters, and food and energy security. These are indivisible and transcend borders. Cooperation on these issues will ensure the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    Cooperative security in any region is like a chain which is as strong as its weakest link. South Asia too has a weak link, with one country choosing to adopt terrorism as an instrument of state policy against its neighbours. The consequences of such a policy of nurturing radical jihadi groups has been felt across South Asia and globally too.

    Connectivity is integral to regional security. Better connectivity can help nations overcome political differences by conceiving of their borders as bridges and not barriers. However, the efforts of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to build a regional consensus have been undermined by one state as evident in the case of the proposed SAARC motor vehicle agreement which would have allowed region-wide movement of vehicles and promoted trade, commerce and people-to-people contacts.

    Afghanistan, devastated by conflict, needs help. It requires the support of its neighbors to spur economic growth. Yet, India and Afghanistan have been denied overland transit by a common neighbor.

    Therefore it is not without reason that intra-South Asian trade remains one of the lowest in the world.

    We however remain optimistic about the future of our region at a time when growth is no longer the monopoly of just a few.

    We are keen to use the potential of South Asian countries to strengthen other regional groupings and partnerships such as BBIN and BIMSTEC. India is also committed to greater connectivity and cooperation with the ASEAN region through its Act East Policy.

    We have a special friendship with Bhutan. Bangladesh is a key pillar of India’s regional engagement with which we have positively resolved long-pending maritime and boundary issues. We have an open border with Nepal that demonstrates mutual trust and confidence. Our security cooperation with Myanmar has deepened in recent years. India is cooperating closely with both the friendly nations of Maldives and Sri Lanka to promote maritime security. As one of the biggest regional donors to Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts, India has established an air and maritime corridor with Afghanistan to strengthen bilateral ties. Notably, India trains the largest number of Afghan army officers, over a hundred, every year.

    Our shared maritime interests in the extended neighbourhood remain anchored in developing a blue economy, particularly in the context of what PM Modi has termed SAGAR (Security And Growth For All In The Region). It is in our common interest to ensure unimpeded commerce, protection of key Sea Lanes of Communication and freedom of navigation and over-flight.

    In conclusion, I wish to inform you that the Conference will not end with these two days of deliberations.

    We are planning to develop an alumni page to make interaction among the participants an on-going process beyond the conferences.

    I do hope that you will continue to contribute to the process of deepening mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation between us.

    Thank you.

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