Southeast Asia at heart of India’s ‘look east policy’, says Sushma Swaraj

Sushma Swaraj while addressing the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations in Singapore said the whole of the South-East Asia is on the rise in partnership with each other and added that ASEAN region is integral to Asia’s success and to a possibility of an Asian century.

india Updated: Jan 07, 2018 19:34 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Singapore
Sushma Swaraj,ASEAN,External affairs minister
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj with her Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan in Singapore.(PTI Photo)

Southeast Asia lies at the heart of India’s ‘look east policy’ and New Delhi is working towards strengthening its connections with the region, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Sunday.

She was speaking at the regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, an event held to mark the overseas Indian community’s contribution towards the country’s development, in Singapore. “We have growing political, economic, defence and cultural relations with each southeast Asian country, and growing connectivity has reinforced our proximity. Today, 16 Indian cities are connected to Singapore, a trilateral highway linking India with Thailand is in progress, and we plan to expand this further to connect with other Asean countries,” Swaraj said.

While Swaraj was upbeat about ties between the two regions, she also dwelt on the common responsibilities they faced in the current scenario. These, according to her, include challenges such as creating skills for the digital age, employment generation, coping with rapid urbanisation, protecting biodiversity and pooling knowledge for productive agriculture.

Singapore foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan, in his address, said the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership between the Asean grouping and six of its key partners (including India) can potentially establish the world’s largest trade bloc.

Balakrishnan said there was a need to build more bridges, not walls. “Asean is poised for strong growth, driven by increasing consumption, an emerging middle class and a population of 633 million... Economic integration is not a mere mantra; it is crucial for the mutual prosperity of India and Asean,” Balakrishnan said.

NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant highlighted the demographic changes that resulted in the growth of India’s youth population, bringing with it socio-economic as well as technological shifts that resulted in the digitisation of workplaces. “Advances in robotics will play a major role (in the future), and artificial intelligence will be a key driver in terms of driving productivity. But then there’ll also be challenges in terms of making the labour force more flexible, adaptable and skilled,” he said.

Kant claimed there was a need to gear up for the big test. “If you look at India, we’ve had two major structural reforms in the last one year. The first was demonetisation, and the second was the one-tax, one-country rollout (GST),” he said.

Piyush Gupta, Group CEO of DBS Group, said a distinct feature of India’s digital economy was public ownership of critical Internet infrastructure, and social inclusivity through “innovation at the bottom of the pyramid”.

Meanwhile, top business professionals participating in the ‘inspreneur connect & Grow’ segment of event said identifying the right talent and management teams was paramount for Indian and Southeast Asian firms to achieve the next level of sustainable growth. “It is very hard to find (the right) CFOs, sales heads and CEOs to lead our businesses,” said Atul Kapur, co-founder & managing partner, Everstone Group.

Rajiv Menon, managing director head of APAC & Japan at Cisco Investments, claimed that while investors were always looking for companies with great management teams, entrepreneurs often held the contrasting view that founders have the right talent and expertise to run their ventures. Once a team proves that it has the right talent to execute its objectives, funds will begin chasing companies instead of the other way round, he added.

First Published: Jan 07, 2018 11:43 IST