Asean-India summit: PM Modi harks back to shared voyage between India and SE Asia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi giving his opening speech at the Asean-India commemorative summit in New Delhi on Jan 25. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

NEW DELHI - For centuries, migrants and traders have travelled between the Indian subcontinent and South-east Asia, enriching both their regions.

As leaders of all 10 Asean nations gathered here for a landmark meeting with India on Thursday (Jan 25), Prime Minister Narendra Modi harked back to their long history and called for deeper maritime links and closer cooperation in security as well as technology between India and Asean countries.

This friendship has been nurtured by a cultural connection, he noted.

"Our shared voyage goes back thousands of years. The Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic, continues to be a valuable shared legacy in Asean and the Indian subcontinent," he said.

"Buddhism also binds us closely. Islam in many parts of Southeast Asia has a distinctive Indian connection going back several centuries," he said at the Asean-India commemorative summit to mark 25 years of ties between both sides.

Mr Modi, who hosted the summit, has also invited the leaders of all 10 Asean member countries as chief guests for India's Republic Day parade on Friday.

He also underlined their common interest in a peaceful region.

"India shares Asean's vision for peace and prosperity through a rules-based order for the oceans and seas. And respect for international law, notably Unclos, is critical for this," he said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Mr Modi noted that maritime cooperation and security is a key issue for both regions, and was the focus of discussions during a leaders' retreat earlier in the day at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president's palatial residence.

"We had an opportunity to discuss Asean-India cooperation in maritime domain as one of the key focus areas of growth and development of the Indo-Pacific region," he said.

"Humanitarian and disaster relief, security cooperation and freedom of navigation will be key focus areas for our maritime cooperation."

Outlining proposals to deepen ties with Asean, Mr Modi said India would undertake a pilot project on rural connectivity to create "digital villages" in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, saying this could be replicated in other Asean countries.

"Information and communication technology will forge new bonds of digital connectiy among us," he said.

He also announced 1,000 fellowships for students and researchers to the Indian Institute of Technology, India's top institution, and proposed that 2019 be declared the "Asean-India Year of Tourism".

Mr Modi has sought to boost India's ties with South-east Asia since he took office in 2014, and renamed the country's Look East policy as an Act East policy.

Over the past two days, Mr Modi met the various Asean leaders individually.

Ms Preeti Saran, Secretary (East) in India's Ministry of External Affairs, told a press briefing that "Asean is at the fulcrum of India's Act East Policy".

On Wednesday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj launched an India-Asean friendship park in the capital, noting it symbolises the friendship between India and Asean and demonstrates both sides' commitment to protecting the environment.

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