Asserting that the development of India-China ties has to be based on mutual respect, mutual sensitivity, and mutuality of interests, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made it clear on Thursday that the state of the border will be reflected in the state of the Sino-India relationship. Addressing the 12th Delhi Dialogue in the presence of many foreign ministers of ASEAN countries, Jaishankar noted that the ASEAN partners would have an interest in the relations between India and China.
He also said the world is currently experiencing turbulence which, along with the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, has made the global outlook even more uncertain and complex. "Developments in our own region too have had their implications, whether we speak of Afghanistan or of Myanmar. Further away, the conflict in Ukraine is exacerbating concerns over food, fertiliser, and our fuel security," the external affairs minister said.
This global scenario highlights the need for countries in the Indo-Pacific region to enhance cooperation and in fact, to stand together, he asserted. Jaishankar noted that it is natural while surveying the larger landscape that the ASEAN partners would have an interest in the Sino-India relations.
"So let me be clear that the development of our ties has to be based on three mutuals — mutual respect, mutual sensitivity, and mutuality of interests," he said, adding that the state of the border will be reflected on the state of the relationship. The remarks came amid a standoff between India and China that began in early May of 2020. As a result of military talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process last year on the north and south banks of the Pangong lake and in the Gogra area.
India has been consistently maintaining that peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are key to the overall development of the bilateral ties. Jaishankar said the theme of the current edition of the Delhi Dialogue -"Building Bridges in the Indo-Pacific" — is relevant both in its substance and in its timing.
"The undeniable logic of the connectedness of the two oceans, along with the ongoing global re-balancing call for an open-minded dialogue… And this is also an opportune time to discuss this topic because as I noted, we are celebrating 30 years of the ASEAN-India ties. "So we are not just looking at bridges for their own sake, I think we are looking at bridges that could become a pathway for a truly comprehensive strategic partnership between ASEAN and India," he said.
Where the contemporary era is concerned, India's Act East policy has clearly been the bedrock of the ASEAN-India partnership, Jaishankar said. "ASEAN, in fact, holds a unique value as a confluence of our Act East policy and our Neighbourhood First policy," he added.
The Union minister asserted that from the Indian perspective, ASEAN lies at the center of the Indo-Pacific — geographically, culturally, and strategically. "ASEAN centrality is therefore self-evident, especially as its architecture has such wide coverage. It was for this very reason that Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi announced the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) at the 2019 East Asia Summit. The IPOI shares strong convergence with ASEAN's own outlook on the Indo-Pacific," he said.
Talking about how to realise the full benefits of the India-ASEAN relationship, Jaishankar said the two sides must make connectivity more expansive and effective. "We align our initiatives in this regard with the Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivity. The Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, both passing through Myanmar, are the most significant of these undertaken by India," he said.
"They are also the hardest ones, both because of the topography and local conditions. Realising their early implementation will require a sustained focus, including through our bilateral engagement with Myanmar," Jaishankar said. He also called for exploring synergies in connectivity plans with others like the BIMSTEC Master Plan for Connectivity.
"Indeed, seamless connectivity from India all the way to Vietnam and the Philippines will create an east-west lateral that will impact the entire Asian continent," Jaishankar said. "India and ASEAN contribute to the ongoing rebalancing of the global order. We are driven by a rising consumer class, a strong start-up ecosystem, a growing internet economy, and a robust demographic dividend. We have also between us the necessary trust and transparency now, which is so central to digital cooperation," he said.
Emphasizing deepening the India-ASEAN ties, Jaishankar said the ability of the two sides to expand collaboration, add more facets, and make it more intense has a resonance far beyond. "We can make a real contribution to the evolution of the Indo-Pacific and I dare say, even to the emergence of a new world order," he said.
In his remarks, Lim Jock Hoi, the Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, noted that the ASEAN-India economic partnership grew in recent years despite Covid and called for further strengthening of the ties. Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bi Thanh Son, Cambodia's Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lao PDR Thongphane Savanphet, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and the special envoy of the Thai foreign minister also participated at the ministerial session of the dialogue and called for the strengthening of the ASEAN-India ties.