South China Sea security architecture to figure in India-ASEAN dialogue
New Delhi, March 10
Amid growing concern over China’s territorial assertions in the South China Sea, India and the 10-member ASEAN will discuss the security architecture in the sea as well as connectivity projects with Southeast Asia to give a fillip to India’s Act East policy, a top official said on Tuesday.Briefing the media on the eve of the two-day Delhi Dialogue VII, a platform for brainstorming on all aspects of the ASEAN-India relationship, Anil Wadhwa, secretary (East) in the external affairs ministry, said the government’s Act East policy has lent new vigour to India’s engagement with Southeast Asia. Wadhwa said India was for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and in other parts of the world where India’s trade passes through.
He said that the ASEAN countries have expressed concern in the past at the situation in the South China Sea. “The idea is to evolve a security architecture in the region, which is currently being discussed at workshops at the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum context and the process of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” he said.
India has submitted a paper on the security architecture of the South China Sea and intends to participate regularly in the meetings and put across its views, he said.
There were many views on the issue and finally what evolves will be a consensus, he said. Wadhwa said the two key connectivity projects between India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – the Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal project – were set to be completed by 2016.
“Both are on track,” he said, adding that the Kaladan project, which will provide a road and riverine link between Myanmar and Mizoram as well as connect Indian ports to Sittwe port in Myanmar, would be completed ahead of the Trilateral Highway.
Wadhwa said issues dogging completion of the 3,200-km Trilateral Highway linking India, Myanmar and Thailand, like alignment changes, have been tackled. India was also working to set up the “soft infrastructure” along the highway – like customs clearances, permits for vehicles etc. – to make the highway when ready a seamless connect with the ASEAN.
The highway will connect Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar. To a question, Wadhwa said the northeastern states and the central government were working together to improve the infrastructure of the northeast to boost connectivity through road and rail, with some foreign governments helping.
India was also working to improve maritime connectivity with the ASEAN, through setting up dedicated shipping lines for trade between India and the bloc.
The ASEAN-India Trade in Goods agreement inked in 2009 created one of world’s largest free trade areas (FTA) – a market of around 1.8 billion people with a combined GDP of $3.8 trillion.
The agreement, which came into force on January 1, 2010 has helped boost bilateral trade, from $44 billion in 2009-10 to over $74 billion in 2013-14, he added.
The FTA in Services and Investment is likely to enter into force later this year, which would give a further fillip to trade and investment. Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore have already ratified the agreement while rest of the ASEAN members are expected to follow.
The Delhi Dialogue has the theme “ASEAN-India: Shaping the post 2015 Agenda”. It will be attended by foreign ministers of the ASEAN countries as well as some of the chief minister of the northeast Indian states.