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ASEAN and India Look to Strengthen Economic and Political Partnership


The global financial shakeup has shifted some of the world's economic weight toward the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a group India sees as a "pivot point" on which to build its interests.

The world economic crisis appears to have been a boost for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is expected to achieve regional economic growth of as much as 5.6 percent in 2010. ASEAN and Indian officials discussed Asia's economy at a meeting in Jakarta.

India is hoping to benefit from that growth by advancing its relationship with the regional group, and it is looking at trade as the driving force behind deeper integration, says ASEAN Deputy Secretary General Pushpanathan Sundram.

"Trade is growing at 28 percent. Now, it is about $41-billion. We started with a very small base, but now we have achieved $41 billion. In the next few years I think it will hit 50 and the ASEAN-India leaders are looking at $70 billion," Sundram said.

The relationship is not just based on economics. Other efforts to advance the partnership center on cooperation in combating terrorism, technology transfers and knowledge sharing, and support for development projects among less-developed ASEAN members.

India's Ambassador to Indonesia, Biren Nanda, says the goal is to build a broad partnership that does not limit India and does not prohibit other countries from expanding their relationships with ASEAN.

"We firmly believe that we should have an open and inclusive regional architecture, it is not something that is limited to a small club of countries," said Nanda.

Given political volatility in Burma, and now Thailand, Indonesia is likely to emerge as the region's shining light, but India's former Foreign Minister Shyam Saran said ASEAN's hands-off approach means it is up to Indonesia to decide whether to take the lead.

Despite India's desire to see a strong, democratic ASEAN emerge as a counter to domination by Japan, China or the United States, Saran says India has no plans to impose its will over the region.

"India certainly does not look upon itself as a kind of midwife for democracy to emerge in other countries," Saran said. "If there is a role that India has to play in this regard it is a role only by example, rather than in terms of actual export of democracy."

Saran also said India has consciously chosen a different development path from China, based on what is important to its citizens.

"We have our strengths, China has its own strengths. China may be the workshop capital of the world, the manufacturing capital of the world, but India has strengths in the Indian knowledge sector, in the services sector," he said.

Saran indicates India will continue to explore the ways its relationship with ASEAN can grow.

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