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Trust key to India ties, Asean secretary-general Kao says

Kao says he discussed with foreign minister S Jaishankar the prospect of India joining RCEP in future

Trust key to India ties, Asean secretary-general Kao says
[Source photo: X/S Jaishankar]

Trust is key to the relationship between India and the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean), Asean secretary general Kao Kim Hourn said in New Delhi on Monday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 12-point proposal to boost India-Asean ties, including enhanced connectivity, digital transformation and research support, provides a firm basis for further strengthening the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership, Kao said, while delivering the 48th Sapru House Lecture.

Asean’s ties with India have been defined by geography and centuries-old people to connect as both regions are maritime as well as land neighbors, Kao said, while speaking on ‘Asean-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in the Evolving Regional Architecture’.

Kao said he had apprised external affairs minister S. Jaishankar of “seeing India at some point come on board joining with us on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).”

“We believe this is in the interest of all of us,” he added.

India had exited negotiations on joining the RCEP, the world’s largest trade block with 15 nations on board, in November 2019.

Kao, who arrived in India at the government’s invitation on Sunday for a five-day visit, met Jaishankar earlier on Monday. This is his first official visit since assuming charge of the Asean in January last year.

During his speech, Kao listed terrorism as one of the key challenges facing the region, apart from the rising geopolitical tensions amid the continuing Russia-Ukraine war, Israel’s invasion of Gaza and the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, whose impact Asean cannot escape.

Pointing to the lessons learned from the devastating impact of the covid pandemic on the region, Kao pointed to plans for setting up the Asean Centre of Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, with Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia serving as the hosts of the centre.

The Asean secretary-general was scheduled to visit the Mahabodhi temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in Gaya, and deliver an address on “The Future of Asean: Asean’s Relevance and Resilience in the Evolving Strategic Environment” at Nalanda University in Rajgir, also in Bihar.

Students from Asean member-states pursue higher education at the university under Asean-India cooperation projects. Nalanda University also leads the Asean-India Network of Universities.

Engagement with Asean is an important pillar of India’s Act East Policy, which has entered its 10th year in 2024, as well as its vision for the wider Indo-Pacific.

In 2022, Asean-India relations were elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership level.

India firmly backs Asean centrality and the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP). India also supports the priorities set by Lao PDR in its ASEAN Chairmanship for the year 2024 under the theme “Asean: Enhancing Connectivity and Resilience”.

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