Updated: Feb 2
Friday, January 20, 2023, at The Raintree Hotel, Chennai.
The Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) – National Maritime Foundation (NMF) One-Day International-Conference on “INDIA-ASEAN CONNECT SHARED VALUES & COMMON DESTINY” organized on Friday, January 20, 2023, at The Raintree Hotel, Chennai.
The Conference had four sessions, beginning with Inaugural session which set the tone for the day, Session I themed ‘Building Bridges - Cultural Connections & People-to-People Ties’, Session II on ‘Connectivity & Resilient Growth’ and Session III on ‘Trade, Commerce & Framework for Regional Integration’. The conference was concluded by a Valedictory session. Each session had its own importance and added value to the conference with their own analysis of historical connect cultural and trade connections between India and ASEAN.
The Inaugural session starts with a welcome address by Commodore R.S Vasan IN (Retd.) Director General, C3S, Regional Director, National Maritime Foundation, Tamil Nadu (NMF-TN), who, in his talk, mentioned the importance of the year 2023 as it marks not only the three decades of our cooperation with ASEAN, which was one of the very first steps that we took in our Look East Policy and but also our chance for the progress of this Look East to transform it to Act East. And highlighted the importance of the three Cs in how they play an essential role in enhancing our relations with ASEAN and guiding our plan of action in achieving the objectives of G20 with the theme ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’, which resembles the concept of Vasudaivakutumbakam from our mythology.
Further in this session, Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan AVSM & Bar, VSM (Retd), Director General, National Maritime Foundation (NMF), virtually delivered the theme address. He pinpointed how IPOI and AOIP are aligned and the broad areas of cooperation between India and ASEAN. In this discourse, he talked about the importance of the G20 as a platform through which India could take the lead, and maritime connectivity, which opens the boundaries of the countries and accelerates their cooperation. Toward the end, he highlighted the critical role of the ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks. He concluded by mentioning the importance of Chennai for India in regaining its centrality and past glory.
The keynote address was given by Ambassador Anil Wadhwa IFS (Retd.), Former Secretary (East), Govt. of India, in which he emphasized the words of Vice Admiral Chauhan that Chennai plays a vital role in maritime connections with East Asian Nations and mentioned the Indo-Pacific region as the foundation for strategic and comprehensive cooperation between India and ASEAN. He said that India, which had cultural, spiritual, and mythological ties with Southeast Asian countries, is now looking to progress its economic integration, market access, investment, and trade with the same. He added that connectivity is critical in improving our financial and economic relations with ASEAN. Mentioning about cooperation Ambassador mentioned that it could be enhanced with the 5-year plan, which focuses on the blue economy, investing in desalination techniques, harvesting biodiversity, searching, and excavating minerals, coastal surveillance, and maritime exercises, and also cooperation in financial matters, science and space technology, and climate change litigation. He concludes the keynote address by stating that India to develop better defence, cultural and socioeconomic ties and strengthen its interdependency with the countries of ASEAN.
Ambassador Swaminathan IFS (Retd), Former India's Ambassador to Iceland in the Special address emphasized the importance of connectivity in multifaceted relationships. He mainly stressed four critical areas of connectivity which play a crucial role in strengthening their relationship. Initially, he talked about digital connectivity, which was used to its full potential in the pandemic, and how India could enhance it through ICT, SNT, and the fourth industrial revolution. Further, financial connectivity could be a great initiative to encourage trade by enabling cross-border payments. Later, he mentioned the essence of educational and socio-cultural connections, where the former disseminates India's civilizational connectivity with Southeast Asian countries, and the latter depicts the shared culture that ties India and ASEAN countries. In addition to those four areas, he mentioned the role of tourism and its immense potential in improving cultural ties, connectivity, and commerce.
The Session concluded with the Vote of Thanks delivered by Mr. Sairakshit Raghupathy, research intern at C3S.
SESSION - I
Theme: “Building Bridges - Cultural Connections & People-to-People Ties”
Session chair: Prof. V Suryanarayan, Founding Director – Centre for South & South-East Asian Studies, University of Madras
Session I themed “Building Bridges - Cultural Connections & People-to-People Ties” started with a discourse by Session Chair Prof. V Suryanarayan, Founding Director – of the Centre for South & South-East Asian Studies, University of Madras, in which he pointed out the division of the Asian region into South and South East Asia and how it made the South East nations intellectually distant and also resulted in a lack of proper connectivity with the rest of the region, with which we could have enhanced the cooperation among the countries regarding resources allocation and utilization and countering the Maritime Terrorism. He emphasized the Buddhist and other religions' cultural influences, which would help to establish and strengthen ties between India and South-East Asian nations.
Then the session was handed over to Ms. Joanne Lin Weiling, Lead Researcher & Co-coordinator, ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS), Singapore who, in her address on ‘India – ASEAN Connect: ASEAN Perspectives’, highlighted three essential ideas, initially about the cultural linkages between India and South-East Asian nations and the role of food, fashion, and popular culture in strengthening people-to-people ties. Further, she spoke about the shared values and alignment in evolving regional architecture, which not only enhanced the potential cooperation but also helped in finding the synergies between AOIP and IPOI. This pointed out how geopolitics pulls or pushes nations together or apart from each other, and it was proven that the developments in Indo Pacific region depicted the chances of elevated cooperation and enhanced strategic partnership between India and ASEAN. To add on, she stressed on the growing role of India as a middle power which would play a vital role in promoting multilateralism amid major power rivalry between the USA and China. Finally, she concluded by pointing to the critical areas of cooperation between India and ASEAN and the growing potential and influence of both India as a middle power and ASEAN as a block.
Later in the session, Dr. Chithra Madhavan, Historian & Expert on Architecture, Sculpture, and Iconography, discussed the Cultural Context between India and ASEAN in her presentation, ‘Reflections of India in South-East Asia’, where she linked the connections between Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and India. The First was Banteay Srei, Cambodian temple, which was initially named Tribuvanamaheswara temple, and how its inscriptions were like that of the carvings found in Tamil Nadu. This Cambodian temple also had the essential episodes of the Ramayana and Mahabharata carved on the wall of several important monuments. She went on to explain the world-famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the largest temple ever built in the world and the Ramayana dances and traditions in Yogyakarta of Indonesia to signify the cultural influence of India. In citing the cultural importance of Thailand, she mentioned the holistic significance of Ayutthaya and Buddhism, which acts as a connecting hook for the majority of South East Nations with India.
And the final presentation of this session was the ‘Role of Buddhist Monastic Women in Strengthening Diplomatic and Cultural Relations in South-East Asia’ by Mr. Sourajit Ghosh, Ph.D. Scholar, at Nalanda University in which he mentioned how Buddhist Monastic Women had set an example of Women's Participation and Gender Inclusiveness in Strategic Security Peace Studies and just socioeconomic structure, prioritizing the SDGs that India must achieve as a growing economy.
SESSION - II
Theme: Connectivity & Resilient Growth
Session Chair: Ambassador Swaminathan IFS (Retd)
The second session was chaired by Ambassador. S Swaminathan IFS (Retd) was a career diplomat. He served in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. He was also the Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce and later on Iran and Afghanistan as director in the Ministry of External Affairs. He then moved to Iceland as India’s first resident Ambassador. The second session began with Special Address delivered by Hon’ble Sarah Kirlew, Consul General of Australia to South India. Her Special address was short and crisp and gave audience a good amount of information about India-Australia and ASEAN connects. She emphasised on ASEAN countries people migrating to Australia and their valuable contribution to Australian economy. Her speech mainly focused on trade and commerce between Australia-India and ASEAN countries which would further help strengthen the economic ties. The Consul General gave audiences a brief information about Australia’s drafting of white paper or policy towards ASEAN thereby beginning of their economic ties.
Post the Special address by Consul General of Australia, the session had Dr. Dharitri Nazary Chakravarthy, Assistant Professor, School of Liberal Studies (SLS)/ School of Undergraduate Studies (SUS) Dr B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD). Her topic was “Centring the Periphery: From the Northeast to India and South-East Asia”. The speaker here gave a brief introduction about Northeast India and South-East Asia’s geographical location and their connectivity including the similarity in their culture which comes from the migration of different tribes to Northeast India. Further she gave a precise information about land route connectivity from Northeast India to South-East Asia with a map which gave deep insights about the territorial connect between both the regions and also emphasised on how trade can flourish between both India and ASEAN. The speaker also provided certain recommendations for improvement of trade connectivity and road connectivity by government in order to further increase the trade which would significantly contribute to each-others economy.
The third speaker was Dr. Vijay Sakhuja, Director, School of Integrated Coastal and Maritime Security Studies (SICMSS), Rashtriya Raksha University and he spoke on the topic ‘Shipping in Bay of Bengal: India-ASEAN Connect’. He began his speech with religious, historical and cultural connect between India and ASEAN and how Bay of Bengal played an important role in connecting these two regions. The Buddhist monks from Sumatra used the Bay of Bengal sea route to travel to India and read more about Buddhism. The speaker has also mentioned about Chola kingdom and their use the Bay of Bengal route to reach the South-East Asia and reigned over the region with mighty naval power. He has emphasised on those ports which play a significant role in assisting Bay of Bengal maritime connectivity with littoral states. His speech ended with the emphasis on development of smart port which would help in flourishing the economy of Bay of Bengal littoral states.
Post the talks given by esteemed speakers we had Devjyoti Saha research intern at Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) who presented a short film on “India-ASEAN wildlife connect” which brought the wildlife connection among the Southeast Asian nations and India into the limelight.The session concluded with a very engaging and elaborate Question & Answer session.
SESSION - III
Theme: Trade, Commerce & Framework for Regional Integration
Session Chair: Ambassador Anil Wadhwa IFS (Retd.), Former Secretary (East), Govt. of India
The third session theme was "Trade, Commerce & Framework for Regional Integration." started with a formal invitation for the distinguished panellists onto the stage by Ms Sapna Elsa Abraham, Research officer at Chennai Centre for China Studies. In this session, there were five speakers, including the chair, Ambassador Anil Wadhwa IFS (Retd.), Former Secretary(East), Govt. of India as session chair, Hon'ble Saravana Kumar Kumaravasagam, Consul General of Malaysia in Chennai, Prof. Hemant Adlakha - Associate Professor of Chinese, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi & Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Prof G Jayachandara Reddy, Former Director, Centre for Southeast Asian and Pacific Studies, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, Dr Arvind Yelery(Virtual), Senior Research Fellow, Peking University, Beijing & Visiting Faculty, Fudan School of Management, Shanghai.
Discussion on the topic began with the chair's remark; In his remark, the honorable chair pointed out three major points that needs reflection. These points were: the importance of mutual involvement among Bangladesh, Japan, and India in the regional value chain system, the significance of Indian investment in ASEAN countries, particularly in the industrial sector, and the need to focus on regional connectivity between India and ASEAN countries through the northeast border.
The first speaker in this session was the Hon'ble Saravana Kumar Kumaravasagam, Consul General of Malaysia in Chennai. In his special address, he highlighted the importance of trade and commerce between India and ASEAN, using data to support his points. He also emphasized the need for connectivity and openness in trade and commerce between the two regions.
The second speaker was Prof. Hemant Adlakha - Associate Professor of Chinese, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi & Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS). His topic was "The Indo-pacific and emerging strategic dynamics in ASEAN, South, and Southeast Asia: Is China a large frog in a much larger pond'." The speaker summarized their research paper in a time-bound manner, highlighting the strategic goal differences between India and ASEAN on the Indo-pacific and the importance of ASEAN for Indian strategic objectives.
The Prof G Jayachandara Reddy, Former Director, Centre for South-East Asian and Pacific Studies, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati; The speaker's theme for the presentation was "India-ASEAN & Indo-Pacific: Framework for Regional Integration". The speaker discussed various aspects of regional integration between India, ASEAN, and the Indo-Pacific. Additionally, he highlighted each country's strategic interdependence in the post-cold war era and its implications. The speaker's own words described it as "painting the 'India-ASEAN & Indo-Pacific: Framework for Regional Integration."
Dr Arvind Yelery, Senior Research Fellow, Peking University, Beijing & Visiting Faculty, Fudan School of Management, Shanghai, joined the panel in virtual mode. The speaker presented ideas based on the theme "Regional Cooperation, Supply Chain & Emerging Global Production". His discussion highlighted the new dimensions of regional cooperation. He discussed the various aspects of the theme and its implications on the region.
The final segment of the third session was dedicated to a question-and-answer session. Both the panel and audience actively participated in the discussion, with the speaker’s providing clarification on various questions related to their topic. This conference portion added valuable insights and new perspectives, enhancing the overall experience.
With the first session on Building Bridges - Cultural Connections & People-to-People Ties, the second session on Connectivity & Resilient Growth, and the third session on Trade, Commerce & Framework for Regional Integration, the conference came to an end with the Valedictory Session. The valedictory session started with a special address by Hon’ble TAGA Masayuki, Consul General of Japan in Chennai, where he provided valuable input regarding the economic relations of Japan with ASEAN from a pragmatic point of view. He then explained the extent of support given by both India and Japan to ASEAN's unity and centrality and ASEAN's outlook on the Indo-Pacific region through the joint statement issued by the respective countries' leaders on the Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative and the Free and Open Indo-Pacific region during Japan PM Kishida's first visit to India as the head of government. Later he gave some statistics on the trade of Japan with ASEAN and emphasized the role of Japanese MNCs and their active role in their economies and expected Indian MNCs to do the same. He stressed that Economic activities and the expansion of economic relations between India and Japan, and ASEAN not only led to increased connectivity but also strengthened the supply chain. He concluded that improving economic ties would lead to increased strategic and conceptual relations based on shared values.
The Concluding remarks and vote of thanks was delivered by Commodore R.S Vasan IN (Retd.) Director General, C3S. He began the remarks by emphasizing on the three Cs on which the conference is formulated and the summing of the three-decades of cooperation between India and ASEAN. He highlighted the theme address given by Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan AVSM, VSM (Retd), Director General, National Maritime Foundation (NMF), keynote address provided by Ambassador Anil Wadhwa IFS (Retd.), Former Secretary (East), Govt. of India and special address by Ambassador Swaminathan IFS (Retd), Former India’s Ambassador to Iceland, who had thrown light upon not only India-ASEAN's connectivity but also gave insights from a broader perspective on the Indo-Pacific region.
From the session on “Building Bridges - Cultural Connections & People-to-People Ties”, while mentioning Ms. Joanne Lin Weiling, Lead Researcher & Co-coordinator, ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS), Singapore, specified two essential things, one being the RCEP question of India and the other on the utility of ASEAN to India in terms of Act East policy. He also praised the excellent input regarding cultural influences in South-East Asian nations given by Dr. Chithra Madhavan, Historian & Expert on Architecture, Sculpture, and Iconography, and a unique perspective presented on Buddhist Monastic Women and their role in carrying the culture to different shores, by Mr. Sourajit Ghosh, Ph.D. Scholar, Nalanda University.
Session II on “Connectivity & Resilient Growth”, he highlighted the importance of statistics on ASEAN's economic and financial ties and worth, given by the Hon’ble Sarah Kirlew, Consul General of Australia to South India. He also reiterated the lack of inadequate airlines, the awareness regarding the Northeast, and a critical perspective of working with ASEAN, as given by Dr. Dharitri Narzary Chakravartty,. He mentioned the views provided by Dr. Vijay Sakhuja, Director, School of Integrated Coastal and Maritime Security Studies (SICMSS), Rashtriya Raksha University, regarding Maritime Connectivity concentrated on the greater use of inland waterways for trade and transshipments.
Highlighting the points brought out during session III on “Trade, Commerce & Framework for Regional Integration”, he highlighted the limitations of ASEAN as a block and lack of emphasis on bilateral issues, which Hon’ble Saravana Kumar Kumaravasagam, Consul General of Malaysia in Chennai, put forward. He identified some key points from both Prof. Hemant Adlakha - Associate Professor of Chinese, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi & Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), and Dr. Arvind Yelery, Senior Research Fellow, Peking University, Beijing & Visiting Faculty, Fudan School of Management, Shanghai, who have presented on ‘Reconnecting South and Southeast Asia: Emerging Strategic Dynamics and Regional Cooperation’, ‘Supply Chain & Emerging Global Production’, respectively. He gave a special mention to Devjyoti Saha, a research intern of C3S, for the short film, which brought the wildlife connection among the Southeast Asian nations and India into the limelight. Concluding the Valedictory Session, he pointed out how India should play a significant role in international politics in general and in the ASEAN region, given its growing economy and significance in today's power politics.
He thanked the audience from different backgrounds, Serving officers of Indian armed forces, veterans, distinguished members of C3S, dignitaries from foreign missions across Chennai China watchers, strategic experts, friends from media, and last but not the least the students who joined from different colleges across Chennai.