NEW DELHI: With an eye on the growing Chinese military and economic assertiveness in the region, India and the 10 members of the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) on Saturday decided to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership and enhance cooperation against terrorism.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of India’s relations with the southeast Asian grouping and is being celebrated as the Asean-India Friendship Year.
At the 19th Asean-India Summit in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, that was attended by Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar on Saturday, India and the ten-nation bloc "reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and overflight in the region" while "enhancing cooperation against terrorism and transnational crimes".
External affairs minister Dr S. Jaishankar was present at the summit. The 10 Asean members are Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines, Thailand. Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
In his opening remarks, Dhankhar, in a veiled indication towards Beijing's role, mentioned the "uncertain geo-political landscape" in the region that "cannot be wished away" while calling for India and Asean to "deepen the strategic trust" between them in order to maintain "peace and stability" in the region.
Talking about the growth of ties from a sectoral partnership way back in 1992 to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership this year, the Vice President also spoke about cooperation in sectors such as connectivity, climate change, security, space, education, technology and trade.
A joint statement released on the occasion stated that India and the Asean would set up a comprehensive strategic partnership “that is meaningful, substantive and mutually beneficial, and task our officials to follow up on its implementation."
The statement also mentioned appreciation of "India’s support for Azean centrality in the evolving regional architecture and its continued contribution to regional peace, security, and prosperity and to Asean integration and the Asean community building process."
India and Asean also decided to "enhance cooperation against terrorism and transnational crimes including international economic crimes and money laundering, cybercrime, drugs and human trafficking, and arms smuggling; and in military medicine while reaffirming that it plays an important role and offers to ensure health security in the region."
Both sides also decided to "strengthen cooperation on cybersecurity, such as through establishing new dialogue platforms and working closely with the Asean-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence, and the ADMM Cybersecurity and Information Centre of Excellence".
In a message to China, the two sides "reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and overflight in the region, and other lawful uses of the seas and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce and to promote peaceful resolutions of disputes, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)".
India and ASEAN also decided to "expedite the review of ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA) to make it more user-friendly, simple, and trade-facilitative....