The 50th Foreign Ministers’ Meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took place in Manila, Philippines under the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World”.
India is a strong partner of ASEAN. New Delhi has extremely cordial relations with each member state and would be hosting all the ten Heads of State/ Government from the region as Chief Guests for India’s Republic Day on 26th January 2018.
Meeting looked forward to the convening of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi on 25-26 January 2018 with the theme “Shared Values, Common Destiny” as an important opportunity to reaffirm our shared commitment to further strengthen the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared prosperity.
ASEAN agreed that this year’s 25th Anniversary of ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations is a milestone to further advance cooperation through various ASEAN-India cooperation projects across the political-security, economic and socio-cultural areas.
ASEAN meet welcomed various commemorative activities in ASEAN Member States and India to mark this historic milestone in our strategic partnership. ASEAN valued India’s commitment to support ASEAN Connectivity. In this regard, ASEAN noted the ongoing efforts in developing the modalities and project proposals on utilizing the US$ 1 billion credit line for digital and infrastructure connectivity projects.
ASEAN looked forward to the expeditious conclusion of the ASEAN-India Air Transport Agreement, and the ASEAN-India Maritime Transport Agreement in accordance with the decision of the ASEAN Transport Ministers on this matter.
ASEAN also looked forward to the establishment of air transport cooperation on technical, economic, and regulatory matters between ASEAN and India. ASEAN underlined the need to further strengthen ASEAN-India economic relations including through the full utilisation of potential offered by the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area, and the early operationalisation of ASEAN-India Trade and Investment Centre, etc.
ASEAN looked forward to the completion of the ratification of the ASEAN-India Trade in Services Agreement and the ASEAN-India Investment Agreement.
ASEAN are confident that the ASEAN-India Centre (AIC) would serve as a platform to promote cooperation in various areas and contribute to the strengthening of ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations and looked forward to the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the AIC.
As coordinator of ASEAN-India relations, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and India’s Minister of State for External Affairs V.K Singh co-chaired the ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, which produced important outcomes, including the approval of the theme for the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit as “Shared Values, Common Destiny”.
The two sides also agreed to accelerate the signing of an MoU on the establishment of the ASEAN-India Centre; work together to draft the Delhi Declaration to mark the 25th anniversary of ASEAN-India ties; and pinpoint priority fields for bilateral cooperation in the time ahead, such as connectivity, marine cooperation, terrorism combat and bio-diversity.
Highlights of this Meet:
ASEAN failed to arrive at a consensus yet again, over the South China Sea dispute. As a result, the member countries could not produce the customary joint communiqué, which was supposed to be released after the meeting.
Apparently, lack of consensus on how to refer to the South China Sea dispute in the joint communiqué led to the failure to issue the statement on time. The Philippine foreign ministry’s spokesperson it called a ‘standard practice’.
China’s land reclamation and militarisation of the artificial islands in the South China Sea has been a matter of concern for some of the ASEAN members, who do not assess Chinese activity as a favourable development for their national security. It may be noted that even countries such as Indonesia, which are not directly involved in the South China Sea dispute, are apprehensive of the Chinese posture on the issue. Indonesia’s renaming of the ‘Natu Na Island’ indicates this.
Meanwhile, in an interesting post-meeting development, China and ASEAN agreed to officially start the Code of Conduct (CoC) on the South China Sea in November 2017,provided that the parties involved in the dispute find the situation in the region stable and conducive for a meaningful dialogue.
It may be noted that Singapore is coordinator for ASEAN-China relations till 2018. Singapore will also be the ASEAN Chair in 2018, which will give it more responsibility, strength and opportunity to diplomatically pursue China to work on the CoC.