ASEAN, India elevate partnership to 'strategic' level

By Kushal Jenna, Kyodo

Posted at Dec 21 2012 10:42 AM | Updated as of Dec 22 2012 01:11 AM

NEW DELHI - India and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations elevated their bilateral ties Thursday to a strategic partnership at a two-day India-ASEAN summit.

"We declare that the ASEAN-India partnership stands to a strategic partnership," a vision statement unanimously adopted at the end of the first day of the summit said.

They also declared to further strengthen military ties and boost maritime cooperation, the vision document said.

"We are committed to fostering greater security cooperation to further address traditional and nontraditional security challenges, including transnational crimes and strengthening the effective implementation of the ASEAN-India joint declaration for cooperation to combat international terrorism," the statement said.

The vision statement added the member countries are "committed to strengthening cooperation" to ensure maritime security and freedom of navigation and safety of sea lanes of communication for "unfettered movement of trade" in accordance with international law.

"As maritime nations, India and ASEAN should intensify their engagements for maritime security and safety for freedom of navigation and peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in accordance with international laws," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who hosted the summit, said in his opening remarks.

Singh said the sides should also foster regional cooperation to counter piracy and respond to natural disasters

The vision statement added the group is "committed to promoting maritime cooperation," including through the ASEAN maritime forum and its expanded forum to address common challenges on maritime issues, including piracy, search and rescue, the maritime environment, maritime security, maritime connectivity, freedom of navigation, fisheries and other areas of cooperation.

"We will make use of existing bilateral and multilateral frameworks and mechanisms and ASEAN-led regional process such as ASEAN defense ministers plus meeting to promote defense and military exchanges and cooperation and the ASEAN Regional Forum to foster constructive dialog and consultation on political security issues," it said.

India and ASEAN also concluded negotiations for a free trade agreement in services and investments, Singh said. "This represents a valuable milestone in our relationship. I am confident it will boost our economic ties in much the same way the FTA in goods has done."

He noted two-way trade and investment has grown significantly since the FTA in goods came into effect in 2010.

"I am optimistic that our trade will exceed $100 billion by 2015 and we should aim for the milestone of $200 billion 10 years from now," he said, while urging improved connectivity as a means of expanding commerce.

Singh also noted the summit marks the first time for the leaders from all 10 ASEAN countries to visit India, calling it "a historic moment for us and our region."

The summit is being held to commemorate 20 years of "dialogue partnership" between India and ASEAN and 10 years of annual summits.

"Together we constitute a community of 1.8 billion people, representing one-fourth of humanity, with a combined GDP (gross domestic product) of $3.8 trillion," the Indian leader said. "It is only natural that India should attach the highest priority to its relationship with ASEAN."

Singh said the "breadth and intensity" of India's engagement with Southeast Asia "is unmatched by any of our other regional relationships."

Besides having annual summits and frequent ministerial consultations, the two sides now have nearly 25 mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation covering "virtually every field of human endeavor," he said.

Singh said that while the relationship began with a strong economic emphasis, "it has also become increasingly strategic in its content" with the two sides increasing political dialogue and expanding defense and counterterrorism cooperation.

"The path to regional peace and stability is greater coordination, cooperation and integration among our economies," he said.

"In so far as the broad lines of cooperation in coming years are concerned, I feel we should intensify our political and security consultations," he said. "We should work together more purposefully for the evolution of an open, balanced, inclusive and transparent regional architecture."