Success of Act East Policy Has Drawn India More Comprehensively into Indo-Pacific, Says Jaishankar

The ASEAN region is one of the major hubs for India’s global economic engagement and the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a new urgency to re-imagine the cooperation and expand its ambition further, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday. In an address at a CII event, he also said that the centrality of ASEAN to the Indo-Pacific and the importance of ties between India and the grouping are self-evident. “But if they have to continue to be salient, then we must strive to go beyond ideas and concepts that have outlived their shelf life,” the external affairs minister said without elaborating. The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is considered one of the most influential groupings in the region, and India and several other countries including the US, China, Japan and Australia are its dialogue partners.

Jaishankar said the larger region is undergoing “significant” socio-economic changes and that the pandemic has clearly accelerated them. “It is important that we — India, the ASEAN and our relationship — we recognise that a different world awaits us. It is one that puts a greater premium on trust and transparency, resilience and reliability, as also on choices and redundancy,” he said. “Our contemporary conversations will be relevant only if we adequately capture these emerging concerns,” he noted.

Jaishankar said India’s ties with the ASEAN are rooted in history, geography and culture and what has energised them in recent years is a growing awareness of the potential they hold for mutual interests and development. He said that as cooperation between the two sides grew in the course of the last 25 years, new facets and domains emerged for collaboration and that connectivity and security were among the more notable ones. “As a result, our Look East policy matured into an Act East one. Its success is reflected in drawing India more comprehensively into the Indo-Pacific. There is no doubt that the ASEAN is one of the major hubs for India’s global economic engagement,” Jaishankar said “As it develops, it is natural that we would like to re-visit the level of ambition that we have set for our partnership. That is also influenced by autonomous changes in the region. But what has given this objective a new urgency is the necessity to re-imagine our cooperation in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

The external affairs minister said a crisis can often be the basis of creativity and the endeavour should be to come out of the pandemic stronger. The 10 member countries of ASEAN are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. The ties between India and ASEAN have been on an upswing in the last few years with the focus being on ramping up cooperation in the areas of trade and investment as well as security and defence.

The ASEAN region along with India together comprises a combined population of 1.85 billion people, which is one-fourth of the global population and their combined GDP has been estimated at over USD 3.8 trillion. Jaishankar said that the pandemic provided the backdrop for how most countries approach both their economic policies and their global outlook now.

“After all, it has disrupted our supply chains, impacted our manufacturing, affected our trade and veritably ruined many services sectors. These developments have not just altered various dimensions of our day to day business; they have even shaped our way of life,” he said. “From the prolonged crisis of the last two years, four areas have come into sharp focus for international business cooperation: resilient and reliable supply chains, health security, digital for development and green and sustainable recovery,” he added. Jaishankar said these four elements should constitute the core agenda for the ties.

He said uncertainties brought forth by the pandemic cannot just be wished away nor can it be considered as a one-time phenomenon. “Therefore, we are tasked with responding to the immediate repercussions even as we are compelled to plan for the future. A large part of the answers – both short term and beyond – lies in diversification, expansion and transparency. De-risking our national economies will only be possible if we achieve a strong measure of success quickly in that regard,” he said. Jaishankar said the pandemic has brought out many inadequacies in the global health system and that meaningful partnerships, sharing of advanced technologies, collaboration in vaccine and pharmaceutical production and transparency in health information are all part of the answers. He also highlighted the achievements of India’s pharma sector. “Apart from vaccines, Indian pharmaceutical manufacturing stepped up to the challenge by ramping up production for medicines that were in great demand. All this was happening even as we simultaneously transformed the public health system in India,” he said. “The fact is that health has emerged as a more serious priority for all societies. Business must recognise the ensuing opportunities,” he added.

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