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As SCS tension flares, India for strong ASEAN role
Bangkok/New Delhi, Aug 3 - Amid rising tensions over China's military build-up and laying claims to other states' territorial zone in the South China Sea, India has stressed that it wants to see a strong, unified and prosperous ASEAN playing a central role in the emerging dynamic of the Indo-Pacific, as it also impinges on India's prosperity and security.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, addressing the ASEAN-India ministerial in Bangkok, said: "For India, ASEAN is a region of great importance. It is associated with a fundamental policy choice we made some decades ago."
"It is not just an important 'gateway' into and out of the Indian Ocean region but also one of the most economically and politically dynamic regions of the world today," he stressed.
He cited Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech at the Shangri La Dialogue in June 2018 of a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific, of which India is an important part, and said "we warmly welcome ASEAN's decision to articulate its own views of the concept".
"We see important elements of convergence, especially from the standpoint of principles and approach. This provides us a road-map to advance ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in the areas of maritime cooperation, connectivity and achieving sustainable development goals.
"The ASEAN-led East Asia Summit format will remain our preferred platform to further discussions on this subject," he said and urged ASEAN on expanding its cooperation activities with other regional formats in the Indian Ocean like the Indian Ocean Rim Association, and the sub-regional BIMSTEC.
"Engagement with ASEAN has been, and will remain, a critical element of India's 'Act East' policy and strategy; Acting East is now also a means to implement our Indo-Pacific Outlook - that is its logical extrapolation," Jaishankar said.
"India seeks greater 'connected-ness' with the ASEAN region. We envision connectivity with the region in very broad terms, including physical, economic, political connectivity and close contact at the people-to-people level.
"The historic cultural, economic and political ties that have existed between India and the ASEAN region are the stepping stones to achieve the vision of a more aconnected' India and ASEAN region and a closer partnership," he said.
Tensions have flared in the South China Sea where Vietnam and China are engaged in a weeks-long stand-off near an offshore oil block.
It was also revealed last month that China test-fired anti-ship ballistic missiles in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
In another incident in June, a Philippines fishing boat anchored off a disputed seamount - believed to hold large quantities of oil and natural gas - sank after it was rammed by a Chinese boat.
China has conflicting territorial claims with four ASEAN members -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- as well as Taiwan in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than a third of global trade passes.
The ASEAN region, comprising Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, is home to around 640 million people. With a combined GDP of over $2.6 trillion, it ranks as the seventh largest economy in the world.ABy 2050 it is projected to rank as the fourth-largest economy. It also has the third-largest labour force in the world, behind China and India.
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