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India's ASEAN ties important for Asia

Shyam Saran says ties with southeast Asia will contribute to emergence of a strong Asia.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 13:12 IST

India's deepening all-round ties with Southeast Asia from the 1990s will contribute to the ultimate emergence of a strong Asia also involving China and Japan, says Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.

Speaking after releasing a book on India and ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) by Sudhir Devare, a former Indian diplomat, Saran said here on Tuesday night: "The centre of gravity is moving towards Asia, thanks to China, Southeast Asia and India. It is going to be a challenging period."

He said the transformation, already noted in global capitals, would demand considerable challenges and wisdom on the part of the Indian government to sustain a momentum that started with New Delhi's Look East policy unleashed in the 1990s.

Referring to China, Saran said there were "some uncertainties" as well. "But it is becoming more and more important to understand China, Japan and Southeast Asia (for everyone)."

Saran said India now felt quite comfortable dealing with countries of Southeast Asia and the reverse, too, was true. He underlined in this context the deep-rooted cultural affinities between India and Southeast Asia.

"You can see the colours and echoes of India in every corner of Southeast Asia. It is not just India. It is a refinement of what was received from India (in ancient times). It is a very, very promising and mutually rewarding relationship."

Devare's book, "India and Southeast Asia: Towards Security Convergence", has been promoted by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and published by the New Delhi-based Capital Publishing Company.

Speaking on the occasion at the India International Centre, Devare, a visiting senior research fellow at the Singapore institute, said New Delhi's decision to pursue a Look East policy helped it to get out of the straitjacket South Asia compartment where it was bogged down by "one neighbour of ours" - Pakistan.

"We saw an opening and the opportunity was not lost. We seized the opportunity and the results are there for everyone to see.

"Will (this relationship) sustain for long?" he asked, and answered in the affirmative. "India and Southeast Asia have a great deal of commonality. There are differences and these will continue for a while. But there is greater convergence."

According to the book, a number of important factors in geopolitical and geo-economic trends would have a bearing on India's position in the Asia-Pacific region.

These include the continued US preponderance with its security arrangements with a number of countries, China's phenomenal rise (economic and military), India's rapidly increasing economic and military strengths and its growing engagement with the ASEAN.

These, according to Devare, present Southeast Asian countries and India an opportunity to evolve a cooperative relationship not only with one another but also with major powers of the region - China and Japan.

First Published: Jan 25, 2006 13:02 IST