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SOUTH EAST ASIA: HIGHLIGHTS OF 2012

BRUNEI: In an effort to extend bilateral cooperation between Bangladesh and Brunei, April 2012 saw Khandker Mosharraf Hossain (Bangladesh’s Minister for Labour and Employment and Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment) pay an official visit to meet Minister of Home Affairs of Brunei. The visit focused on meeting labour demands of the Brunei economy with the assistance of Bangladeshi labour. In September, the Principal Staff Officer (PSO) to the Prime Minister, Armed Forces Division of Bangladesh, H.E. Lieutenant General Abdul Wadud paid an introductory visit to Brunei’s Ministry of Defense. The exploration of the avenues for military cooperation between the two countries was also touched upon, during the visit. In the following month, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, met the Sultan of Brunei to express the willingness of India, to intensify energy cooperation with Brunei, especially with respect to signing LNG contracts in specific.

CAMBODIA: In March 2012, the Secretary of State, Ministry of National Defense of the Kingdom of Cambodia, shook hands with the Deputy Minister of Defense of Brunei Darussalam while on his visit to the latter country. The meeting zeroed in on addressing the developments of bilateral defense issues. 2012 was also the year that marked Brunei being the host country for the 19th ASEAN-EU Ministerial meeting held in April, for which, Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister paid an official visit to the nation as well. Towards the end of the latter half of this year, India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh also paid a three day visit to Cambodia for attending the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and East Asia Summits. In the light of the ‘Look East Policy’, the Prime Minister pushed for increased trade in investment and services, between India and ASEAN. This endeavour on India’s part is another step towards fostering greater connectivity amongst South Asian and South East Asian nations.

INDONESIA: For the purpose of investigating further areas of future cooperation between India and Indonesia, Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr. R.M. Marty M. Natalegawa  visited the Indian capital in July 2012. Trade and investment, energy, science and technology, coal, oil and gas were some of the areas identified during the meet. Two months later, in September, India’s neighbor Pakistan, also took a leap forward for maintaining friendlier ties with the country when Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf met Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro where they discussed the possibility for further cooperation in the areas of defense and energy. In the following month of October, the first ministerial level biennial defense dialogue between the visiting Indian Defense Minister AK Antony and his Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro was held. Issues surrounding regional and global security along with co-production of defense equipment and ammunitions were looked into. AK Antony spoke at length about the power rivalries in the Indian Ocean Region along with the disputes in the South China Sea. Towards the close of 2012, Indonesia’s External Affairs minister held bilateral discussions with his Sri Lankan counterpart, Prof. G.L Peiris, before chairing the first meeting of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation.

MALAYSIA: In an attempt by the Malaysian government to push for greater mobility of labour between countries, an MoU was signed between Malayia and Bangladesh, to open up the formers labour market to the latter’s workers at a minimal cost. Malaysian Human Resource Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam visited Bangladesh to take the final decision on whether the government-to-government basis labour market openness can be a possibility or not. Malaysia and Pakistan’s ties seemed be building up, in several spheres. In September, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf met the Malaysian High Commissioner Dr Hasrul Sani Bin Mujtabar at Islamabad where they discussed about future business partnerships that could take place between the two nations. Later in November, the Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water of Malaysia Data’ Sri Peter Chin Fah Kui exchanged a MoU in the field of Renewable Energy with the Minister of New and Renewable Energy, Dr. Farooq Abdullah. India shook hands with Malaysia in the area of energy and expansion biomass and biogas, micro hydropower, solar energy and wind power. To commemorate two decades of the India-ASEAN relationship, for the first time, a Summit was held for bilateral talks, in the areas of construction and infrastructure, pharmaceutical and biotechnology, education and healthcare, information and communication technology (Atan, 2012).

MYANMAR: The year commenced with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visiting Myanmar for discussing economic ties with the country and the longtime democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma’s capital Naypyidaw warmly welcomed Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak along with four diplomats and at least 50 businesspeople prior to the elections of the latter. This visit concentrated on further developments in the area of trade and investment along with cooperation in the field of energy. The first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Myanmar in a quarter of a century, was marked by Dr. Manmohan Singh’s meeting with Myanmar’s pro-democratic leader, AungSan Suu Kyi in May this year. Suu Kyi mainly wished to discuss Myanmar’s ongoing transformation into a fully functional democracy with the Indian Prime Minister. Agreements on building land, rail and air links that were signed during Singh’s visit helped to foster infrastructural connections between the two nations (MArwah, 2012). Even more historic was the trip marked by Aung San Suu Kyi in November, 2012, her first trip to India in 40 years. She met the prime minister and delivered a public lecture. The meetings between Myanmar and India, signified the strengthening of economic-politico-social ties between the two nations.

LAOS: With Laos hosting the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting, Prime Ministers of several South Asian nations for instance, Pakistan, Bangladesh, were seen in the country’s capital, Vientiane. Chaired by Laotian Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, mainly economic issues were discussed, owing to the slow progress of the European economy and its need for Asian nations to help boost demand of European goods.

PHILIPPINES: Education, science and technology, tourism and trade are some of the spheres in which bilateral talks were held between Deputy Minister of External Affairs, Neomal Perera and Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, Madam Erlinda F. Basilio, who visited Sri Lanka. Burma’s (Myanmar) foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin paid a visit to the Philippines to deliberate on issues of mutual interest, especially in the field of political cooperation and trade. To take forward, the over half a decade bilateral relations between the two nations, Minister Thongsing Thammavong of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was on a two day official visit to the Philippines, when a MoU was signed, for agricultural cooperation.

SINGAPORE: In February 2012, Sri Lankan President visited the Singaporean Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense with the aim of discussing investment cooperation between the nations. In the same month, Myanmar’s president also paid a visit to Singapore to forward bilateral relations with the country, considering the new democracy of Myanmar had just taken birth recently. Later in May, Myanmar Union Minister for ConstructionU Khin Maung Myint, visited Singapore to examine urban planning in the country. Yet again, in May 2012, Singaporean Foreign Minister K Shanmugam was on a four day visit to India to explore new areas of cooperation between the two nations. In specific, to buttress economic relations, India and Singapore signed a MoU in July at New Delhi, when Singaporean Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong was on a three day trip to the country. Being a major source of India’s FDI flows, a step in this direction should prove fruitful in the long run.

THAILAND: In January 2012, Thailand’s first woman Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was called in, as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade celebrations. During her visit, avenues to increase trade and investment specifically in energy and food industries, was spoken about. In the following month, Yingluck and her delegation were greeted by Malaysia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Richard Riot. She visited the country to sign a joint statement on general cooperation between both the nations. The close of 2012, was marked by Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dipu Moni meeting Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, when they met to discuss avenues for agricultural cooperation.

VIETNAM: 2012 saw fortified economic and political relations between Vietnam and Singapore, more than any other South East Asian nation. Vietnam Minister of Public Security Senior Lieutenant-General Tran Dai Quang made an official visit to Singapore from 22-25 February 2012 where he called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean. The Minister of Planning and Investment Bui Quang Vinh of Vietnam visited Singapore to co-chair the 8th Vietnam-Singapore Connectivity Ministerial Meeting with Minister for Trade and Industry, in April. Later in the month, President Tony Tan made a State Visit to the country as well. With respect to India-Vietnam relations, a ‘Joint Painting Workshop cum exhibition’ was organized by the Ministries of external affairs which brought together famous Indian and Vietnamese artists in the same month. The ‘Kalpana digitial art exhibition’ was also held then. In fact, the Embassy, Indian Council of World Affairs and the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam organized a very successful seminar on ‘India-Vietnam Strategic Partnership: future directions’ in Hanoi in July 2012. Later in December 2012, at the ASEAN-India Commemrative Summit, the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and the other ten ASEAN nations, including Vietnam, discussed the South China Sea dispute in detail. Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s requested India to play a role in resolving the dispute in the South China Sea by peaceful means, however, Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, stated clearly that the involved nations must resolve this issue. The naval cooperation between India and Vietnam though reached new heights in 2012 with New Delhi moving closer to offering Hanoi the use of naval facilities for training. Indian warships were allowed to dock at Nha Trang port in southern Vietnam. India’s ONGC Videsh Limited has been pursuing oil and natural gas exploration in two Vietnamese blocs in the South China Sea as well (Marwah, 2012).

All in all, in 2012, the South East Asian region, saw the emergence of several bilateral relations particularly in trade and investment along with defense and agricultural cooperation inter alia. Several visits throughout the year, by important personnel amongst the Prime Minister’s Office and defense officials across the region, has marked a year full of fruitful partnerships being built up and maintained with a more futuristic outlook of maintaining them through the years to come. In fact, India has helped in maintaining stable and peaceful regional order by building up and expanding on relations amongst ASEAN members. India and ASEAN agreed in November 2012 at Phnom Penh to develop a new India-Myanmar-Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia Highway thus helping infrastructural connections building up, between South Asia and South East Asia. The 26-day India-ASEAN Car rally that was flagged down in New Delhi in December highlighted the indispensability of India-ASEAN connectivity for any meaningful integration (Shekhar, 2013). MP and BJP leader Tarun Vijay, who was the Indian team’s leader at the car rally rightly stated that “A common thread that binds India and the ASEAN region was visible everywhere throughout the rally be it in language or culture” (PTI, 2012). On a more pan-regional level, the India-ASEAN partnership can be seen as an example of the one which strives for greater economic-politico-social integration (Shekhar, 2013).

 

References:

  1. Atan, H., (2012), “Malaysia, India trade ties to soar”, New Straits Times, Malaysia, 20 December, 2012.  (accessed on 9 January, 2013).
  2. Press Information Bureau, (2012), “India and Malaysia Agreed to Promote Cooperation in Renewable Energy” Press Information Bureau, Government of India.  (accessed on 6 January, 2013).
  3. PTI, (2012), “India-ASEAN car rally was thrilling: Tarun Vijay”, Moneycontrol News, Press Trust of India.  (Accessed on 4 January, 20123).
  4. Shekhar, V, (2013), “India-ASEAN relations enter a new discourse” , Viewpoint, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.  (Accessed on 4 January, 2013).
  5. Marwah, R., (2012), “India-China-Myanmar”, Economic and Political Weekly, Volume XLVII, Sameeksha Trust Publication.

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