India becomes a strategic partner of Asean

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Elevated status to bring India at par with China in terms of clout in the region

India has become a full strategic partner with Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) block of 10 east Asian nations. This elevated status will give India a prominent say in the security and political issues across the region.

Prime ministers and presidents of 10 Asean member-nations and India on Thursday adopted a vision statement that provides for widened relationship on political security, economic, development and social cultural issues.

The decision will bring India on par with China in East Asia in terms of clout, especially on ensuring peace and stability as well as conflict resolution.

At the meeting of Asean – India summit, Vietnamese president Truong Tan Sang made a specific proposal that India should play a pivotal role in the region for ‘conflict resolution’.

In effect, president Tan Sang seems to have referred, albeit indirectly, to South China Sea maritime and territorial dispute that Vietnam has with China and the role India can play in its resolution.

China had objected to gas and oil exploration by ONGC Videsh (OVL) in South China Sea under an exploration contract awarded by Vietnam. On the other hand, Vietnam has extended the exploration contract to OVL by another two years and India has decided to go ahead with its energy security campaign in the region.

While the vision document adopted by prime ministers and presidents of Asean member countries gave this ‘elevated status’ to India, New Delhi seems a little hesitant about taking up this ‘new aggressive role’. Asean block includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Briefing newsmen after summit meeting of heads of Asean and India, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid ruled out the possibility of an immediate role that India could play in conflict resolutions across the region especially where China was involved.

“In conflict resolution with China, India’s intervention is not required,” said Khurshid. He emphasised the excellent relations that India has with China that were “very significant” for the region.

Answering a pointed question, Khurshid said that any role that India plays would be “step by step” and the government would not jump into the fray.

Defence ministers of Asean member nations will shortly hold a meeting with their Indian counterpart to work out the ‘specifics’ of this full strategic partnership, especially on military cooperation and protecting the maritime interests of the block.

Both, Asean and India will work towards high level security cooperation and information sharing on security issues and challenges including transnational crimes and combating international terrorism. They will also chart out a course of action to tackle issues like sea piracy, search and rescue at sea, marine environment, security, maritime connectivity, navigation and other areas.

This enhanced cooperation between India and Asean has been christened as “partnership for peace, progress and shared prosperity” that will be implemented in next three years.

Larger role for India on security and political issues would only mean that the 10-nation block is looking at New Delhi ‘as a big brother’ and counter weight to China.

India itself seems to be preparing for that role, may be very progressively bringing the Asean closer as a “non-aggressive partner” with more focus on investment, trade and economic relations.

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