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Event Report: C3S-CEAS One-Day International Conference

Updated: Jan 24

ASEAN Centrality in the Indo-Pacific: Prospects and Challenges for Security, Peace and Prosperity

Article: 03/2024

Date: December 18, 2023

Speakers: Captain (Dr) Gurpreet Singh Khurana, Dr. Dharish David, RADM Rommel Jude G Ong, Ms. Nguyen Hoang Anh Thu, Ms. Jeslyn Tan, Dr. T.C.A. Raghavan,  Dr. Nguyen Thi Lan Huong, Ms. Sayani Rana, Ms. Patricia Cherlyn, Ms. Ayushi Attri and  Mr. Sarthak Ahuja


The Centre for East Asian Studies (CEAS) Department of International Studies, Political Science, and History, in partnership with the Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3s), hosted a one-day international conference on December 18, 2023. The conference was titled "ASEAN Centrality in the Indo-Pacific: Prospects and Challenges for Security, Peace, and Prosperity." The conference sought to collect significant viewpoints from ASEAN countries on the Indo-Pacific area, encompassing challenges and the potential for collaboration and conflict resolution. 

Inaugural Session 

The first session of the one-day international conference, titled "ASEAN Centrality in the Indo-Pacific: Prospects and Challenges for Security, Peace, and Prosperity," began with a cordial welcome from Dr. Manoharan N, Director of CEAS, who extended greetings to the illustrious guests in attendance. Commodore Vasan, Dr. Fr. Joseph C.C, T.C.A. Raghavan, Captain Gurpreet Singh Khurana, Admiral Rommel Jude G Ong, Dr. Dharish David, Ms. Jeslyn Tan, Dr. Vagishwari, and Dr. Madhumati Deshpande were recognised for their contributions and efforts.

Dr. Fr. Joseph C.C, the Vice-Chancellor of Christ (Deemed to be) University, officially launched the Centre for East Asian Studies' mobile and desktop application The objective of the application is to offer a complete platform for opportunities pertaining to the field of East Asian studies.

Commodore Vasan, the keynote speaker and Director General of C3S, discussed the importance of ASEAN as the central focus of India's ‘Look East Policy’. He underscored the historical linkages between ASEAN and India, emphasizing the continuous endeavors to enhance connectivity.

After Commodore Vasan's enlightening lecture, Dr. Fr. Joseph C.C delivered an introductory message emphasizing the importance of joint endeavors, encapsulating dynamism. He elaborated on the historical background of ASEAN, its significance for India, and the possibility of productive partnerships. Dr. Fr. Joseph C.C, expressed his gratitude to Dr. Manoharan and Commodore Vasan for their valuable academic contributions to Christ University.

Subsequently, Dr. T.C.A. Raghavan delivered a comprehensive analysis of China's exercise of influence and ASEAN's effective position of importance during the course of ten years. He highlighted the significance of India and analyzed the divergent outcomes of SAARC and ASEAN, ascribing the disparity to historical circumstances and governance structures. Furthermore, he underscored the importance of efficient regional collaboration that goes beyond geopolitical and strategic factors.

Dr. Vagishwari concluded the session by expressing gratitude to all attendees. Commodore Vasan and Dr. Vagishwari were honored as a gesture of recognition for their substantial contributions to the occasion.

The inaugural session set a promising tone for the one-day international conference, providing a platform for meaningful discussions and collaborations in the context of East Asian studies.

SESSION I:  Drawing Inferences to ASEAN in the Evolving Security Landscape in the Indo-Pacific

East Asia and China's Geo-economic Footprint in Southeast Asia: ASEAN


The session led by Captain (Dr.) Gurpreet Singh Khurana provided a thorough understanding of the various aspects of Asian prosperity. By emphasizing the Indo-Pacific concept as a means to address China's maritime conduct and acknowledging the interconnectedness of geo-economics and geopolitics, the audience gained a comprehensive understanding of the significant regional influences that will define the future of Asia.

He delineated the focal point of the discussion by posing a series of important questions:

  • Has China overtaken Japan through its own more complicated version of checkbook diplomacy?

  • How do we compare the approaches followed by Japan and China in their respective geo-economic outreach to ASEAN?

  • What are ASEAN's perspectives regarding this approach?

  • Is China's economic leverage in ASEAN a threat to the sovereignty of ASEAN?

  • What are the implications of China and Japan's geo-economic competition for ASEAN and India?

  • What are the geo-economic convergences between India and ASEAN? What should be India's approach to economic engagement to remain relevant in ASEAN through its Act-East policy?

  • Will ASEAN emerge as a robust geo-economic region in the face of heightened competition?

The inaugural speaker of the session was Dr. Dharish David, Associate Faculty at the Singapore Institute of Management, University of London. His speech offered significant perspectives on the economic dynamics within the ASEAN area, elucidating crucial aspects that shape its economic environment. Dr. David began his presentation by using data-driven methods, utilizing graphs and figures to clarify the complex aspects of the ASEAN economy. The crux of his discourse was the inquiry into who dominates the ASEAN economy, providing the audience with a thorough and precise comprehension. He emphasized the crucial role played by the United States, portraying itself as the primary investor in the region. China quickly became the second-largest provider of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the ASEAN countries. An essential element of his presentation focused on analyzing the trade dynamics, highlighting China's significant influence on ASEAN's imports.

Dr. David's discourse illuminated a captivating facet of popular sentiment in the ASEAN nations. The sentiment towards the United States is generally more favorable compared to China. A renowned think tank with headquarters in Singapore conducted studies that served as the basis for this concept.

Towards the conclusion of his presentation, Dr. David prompted participants to reflect on the investment patterns in ASEAN infrastructure. He questioned why Japan, despite its technological prowess, lags behind China in competitiveness in providing construction infrastructure within the region. The explanation provided was Japan's steadfast commitment to quality, which contrasts with China's emphasis on swift and timely project delivery. A notable aspect of the presentation touched upon China's dual policy concerning resource extraction from Africa and subsequent supply to ASEAN.


Captain Gurpreet Singh Khurana summarized the discussion into concise points.

  • The USA and Japan have a strong hold on finance and trade in ASEAN, whereas

China has a strong presence in the infrastructure sector.

  • Concurrently, China is striving to match the USA's trade prowess.

  • Although QUAD has an excellent security connotation, India does not conceive of it as having a complex security connotation. It prefers to portray QUAD as a holistic security cause.

  • Indian policy strives to balance security and connectivity as an essential outcome of QUAD.

Followed by a Q & A segment, during which pertinent questions were posed concerning the presentations delivered by the speakers.

  1.  What investment patterns are observed from China and the USA in the geo-economy and circular economy realms, specifically within Thailand?

Dr. Dharish David noted that while the USA excels in managing geothermal energy, China's strength lies in cost-effective energy sources like solar power. China's assertiveness stems from avoiding the perception of being a significant polluter, which is crucial for sustaining business growth, especially with the potential risk of the EU ceasing to purchase these goods.

2.  Will BRI be a failure in the future?

Dr. Dharish David observed a shift of businesses away from China, foreseeing a probable relocation to ASEAN given its burgeoning infrastructure. Anticipating constraints on the Belt and Road Initiative's expansion due to mounting debts and internal issues across sectors, a competitive pursuit for sustainability emerges.

3.  Can the growth slowdown in BRI in ASEAN be attributed to the failure of the no- strings-attached aid policy? How would the QUAD compete with the no-strings- attached policy of aid and loans?

He addressed the system of grants offered by Nordic countries, contrasting it with China's strategy, which resembles Japan's model of issuing repayable loans. At the same time, ASEAN strives to avoid entanglement in a debt crisis.

Sub-theme 2: Rules-based Order in ASEAN's Indo-Pacific

During the session, Rear Admiral Rommel Jude G. Ong delved into several key aspects, shedding light on China's regional strategy. Firstly, he highlighted China's primary focus, which revolves around countering any involvement by the United States in the South China Sea. China aims to weaken the alliance system in East and Southeast Asia, with a specific mention of concerns related to the Philippines. Admiral Ong mentioned the dual purpose of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), emphasizing its economic and security dimensions. Notably, the discussion stressed the Philippines' concerns regarding how the BRI impacts its maritime security. He also explored the topic of the Nine-Dash Line and Beijing's claims. The significance of the nine-dash line in validating Beijing's claims on South China Sea waters and islands was emphasized. Admiral Ong acknowledged that the Philippines faces both brutal power and soft power threats from China. The former involves military threats related to sea control, while the latter demands attention, with an emphasis on dealing with these threats effectively.

He also addressed the security challenges encountered by the Philippines. As the country primarily faces security challenges from the West due to issues in the South China Sea, there are also challenges from transnational terrorism, piracy, and other nontraditional security threats originating from the south. This comprehensive overview provided valuable insights into the complexities of the geopolitical issues in the region.


  • Develop a counter strategy in the Philippines to balance China's maritime ambitions in the region.

  • Enhance capabilities to promote security and trade as part of the counter-strategy.

  • Emphasize the potential for cooperation between India and the Philippines.

  • Highlighted the possibility of creating a buffer zone through the BrahMos missile to counter the Chinese submarine threat.

  • Emphasized the grounds for collaboration between India and the Philippines in countering Chinese threats.

The next speaker of the session, Ms. Nguyen Hoang Anh Thu, stressed the role, size, and specific activities of the Chinese Maritime Militia in the South China Sea. The impact of the Chinese Maritime Militia was underscored through several key points.

The speaker highlighted the repercussions for the food security of ASEAN nations. The escalating number of Chinese maritime militia vessels has contributed to heightened tensions and conflicts in the South China Sea, primarily stemming from conflicting territorial claims. Secondly, concerns regarding food security were brought to the forefront. Ms. Thu emphasized the oversight surrounding the implications for the food security of ASEAN nations, particularly underscoring the importance of the South China Sea's diverse ecosystem, which hosts approximately 3000 fish species. It was noted that over 50% of the animal protein intake in countries such as Cambodia and Indonesia relies heavily on fish. Thirdly, the focus shifted to the direct impact of Chinese maritime militia actions. Instances of harassment, obstruction, and assaults on ASEAN fishing vessels were highlighted, indicating a direct threat to the livelihoods of those dependent on the sea. The militia's actions were seen as impeding the freedom of navigation and access to fishing in the region. To conclude, Ms. Thu emphasized the necessity of establishing a legally binding mechanism for conserving fish stocks in the South China Sea. While acknowledging the formidable challenges ahead, she stressed the importance of recognizing that achieving this goal would demand significant time, effort, and extensive negotiation. The session concluded with a strong call to action, urging stakeholders to address the pressing issues at hand and work collaboratively to ensure the sustainability of the marine ecosystem and the livelihoods it supports.

Ms. Jeslyn Tan, the final speaker of the session, delved into the intricacies of US Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) and China's submarine patrols within the South China Sea Region, elucidating the consequential challenges posed to the sovereignty of ASEAN States. The presentation began by providing valuable insights into the expansive nature of Chinese submarine patrols in the South China Sea, projecting a substantial increase by the year 2025. Ms. Tan highlighted the crucial function that China-made artificial islands performed, underscoring their strategic significance as military outposts supporting submarine operations. She also shed light on the China Coast Guard and maritime militia, elucidating their tactical advantages in efficiently targeting US FONOPs and gathering intelligence within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Her presentation focused on the looming potential for an intensification of the submarine arms race in the South China Sea, attributing this to technological advancements, particularly in unmanned underwater vehicles. The nine-dash line was brought into focus as a crucial element, providing Chinese authorities with the perceived right to infringe upon the sovereignty of ASEAN nations. Ms. Tan outlined specific instances illustrating the challenges imposed by China on state sovereignty, including the harassment of coastal states, violation of sovereign rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and intelligence gathering and surveillance activities within the EEZ. The thorough analysis Ms. Tan provided clarified the intricate dynamics and potential effects of China's activities in the South China Sea, raising pertinent concerns for the sovereignty of ASEAN States.

Followed by a Q&A segment, during which pertinent questions were posed concerning the presentations delivered by the three speakers.

  1. The concerned audience asked whether the Tripartite Coastguard Agreement signed in 2022 between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines could be utilized against China for information sharing that could increase cooperation between these three countries and potentially involve other ASEAN countries. 

A: RADM Rommel Jude G. Ong responded that in theory, such utilization could be possible, but in practice, it would require further rounds of discussions and agreements. He redirected the focus towards an alternative mechanism for cooperation among ASEAN nations

2. How the Philippines is addressing limitations in using BrahMos missiles and the time required to achieve a deterrent capability against foreign incursions in its EEZ

A: Rommel Jude G. Ong summarized by stating that BrahMos had recently arrived in the Philippines. Considering the ongoing transformation of the Philippine military, he advised refraining from premature conclusions and allowing a few years for a comprehensive assessment.

3.Inquiring about the duration of China's engagement in multilateral talks for managing the South China Sea dispute

Ms. Jeslyn Tan observed that Malaysia and China may require more bilateral dialogues due to Malaysia's non-acknowledgment of China's nine-dash line claim. 

4. Commodore R. S. Vasan emphasized that no entity has successfully contained China, considering it a stark reality. He pointed out the limitations of even BrahMos in achieving this goal and raised the question: What could be a viable solution?

A:  Rear Admiral Rommel Jude G. Ong and Ms. Nguyen Hoang Anh Thu provided perspectives from the Philippines and Vietnam, respectively.

Session 2 

Dr. T.C.A. Raghvan commenced the second session by presenting the theme of Indo-ASEAN strategic connection and introducing esteemed speakers. 

Before commencing the presentation, Dr. Raghavan expressed that the India-ASEAN connection is meaningful and that Vietnam and Indonesia stand out for several reasons. The first reason is historical because the earliest contacts between India and what is today called Southeast Asia began in these two regions, Vietnam and Indonesia. 

The first speaker of the session was Dr. Ngyuen Thi Lan Huong, Assistant Director General of the Center for International Law, East Sea Institute, Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam (DAV).

Dr. Huong presented her viewpoints with an overview of Vietnam's and India's bilateral relations. Her focus was mainly on defense and security cooperation, with some examples of achievements in defense and security cooperation.

She highlighted the enduring nature of the relationship, which traces its roots back to the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1972. Over the years, their relationship evolved into a strategic partnership in 2007 and further strengthened into a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2016. For Dr. Huong, the foundation of this partnership is rooted in cultural ties, shared history, mutual trust, and understanding. She emphasized Vietnam's significance in India's economic policy, particularly in the context of India's "Act East" policy.

She elaborated on the key areas of the comprehensive strategic partnership, including defense-security cooperation, economic-trade and investment collaboration, development cooperation, scientific and technological ties, and broader regional and international engagement. She highlighted the shared vision outlined during the 2018 visit of India's President to Vietnam.

Delving into the specifics of defense and security cooperation, Dr. Huong also outlined essential documents such as the joint vision statement for 2015–2020 and recent agreements signed during the visit of the Indian defense minister to Vietnam. Noteworthy mentions included India's defense line of credit, with examples like the support for offshore patrol boats and a significant $500 million credit extension.

Her discussion then shifted to maritime cooperation, encompassing bilateral exercises, naval visits, and the Green Park exercise. Dr. Huong emphasized the strategic trust and political willingness that underpin Vietnam-India cooperation in this domain. She discussed the significance of maritime collaboration, proposing future cooperation in maritime domain awareness by leveraging India's expertise and technologies. Addressing both nations' commitment to a rules-based order and maritime security, Dr. Huong explored potential collaboration in submarine cable security under the Quad framework. Contrary to concerns about the Quad undermining ASEAN centrality, she suggested that it could serve as a valuable partner, with India playing a pivotal role as a connector. In conclusion, Dr. Huong offered insights into India's role in supporting Vietnam and ASEAN countries for mutual prosperity and security. She highlighted India's contributions to fostering connectivity and resilience, emphasizing the broader implications of the partnership in the regional and global context. 

The second speaker at the event was Captain Gurpreet Singh Khurana, a former Executive Director of NMF and a professor at Naval War College Goa. Captain Khurana's presentation focused on the maritime relationship between India and Indonesia, drawing upon the wisdom of British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston regarding the transitory nature of friendships and the enduring quality of interests.

 He drew parallels with Kautilya's ancient perspective, underscoring the idea that alliances are fundamentally rooted in shared interests. The captain initiated his discussion by positioning Indonesia as a prominent regional power in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the ASEAN Red Multilateral Forum. He focused on the imperative for collaborative endeavors to counter China's influence. The key elements of his presentation encompassed the strategic importance of innovation, countering religious radicalism, and exploring avenues for trade, resource utilization, and tourism contacts. The contiguous maritime zone between India and Indonesia, which emphasizes the Andaman-Nicobar Islands' close proximity—just 170 kilometers away—was a significant aspect that Captain Khurana highlighted. Furthermore, he stressed the critical role of the Andaman Sea as a vital sea lane and international shipping route. His presentation also delved into India's geostrategic frontier expansion, motivated by both economic and military prowess. This expansion has manifested in policies such as the Look East and Act East policies, aligning with Indonesia's concept of a global maritime fulcrum. Captain Khurana noted the active participation of both nations in shaping the ASEAN outlook for the Indo-Pacific, acknowledging and overcoming minor divergences through robust defense cooperation and the alignment of shared vision statements. Overall, Captain Gurpreet Singh Khurana's insightful presentation provided a comprehensive analysis of the maritime dynamics between India and Indonesia, emphasizing the mutual interests that underpin their strategic partnership. The presentation concluded with a focus on expediting maritime boundary delimitation, maritime domain awareness, and cooperation on various regional issues.

Followed by Q& A segment, during which pertinent questions were posed concerning the presentations delivered by the speakers.

Q1: Why are Southeast Asian countries, including Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, focusing on strengthening their military power in response to China's growing presence, while India seems to be investing less in this regard?

A: Dr. Huong, a legal expert from a Vietnamese-based country, addressed this question, expressing difficulty in providing a precise answer. She clarified that her expertise lies in law, not military matters. While she cannot offer insights into why India may not sell military goods, she highlighted the importance of synchronization between a country's people and its military system when sharing such goods. Dr. Huong emphasized the need for alignment between governments in the process, suggesting that understanding the other country's system is crucial.

Dr. Khurana responded to this question, refuting the notion that India is not investing in ASEAN. He mentioned that India is prepared to sell Indonesia the BrahMos design, pending Indonesia's upcoming elections. Dr. Khurana acknowledged that India could do more in terms of investments, especially in science and technology. He highlighted the distinction between obtaining hardware and acquiring the underlying scientific knowledge, emphasizing the importance of a country's development through learning, making mistakes, and creating its own capabilities.

Q2: The emergence of cyber domain awareness. Dr. Khurana previously mentioned the complexity arising from maritime domain awareness, with a specific reference to hacking activities like the case of INS Indiratna in 2012. How do you perceive dealing with the challenges posed by cyber domain awareness in this context?

A: Dr. Khurana discussed cyber domain awareness, focusing on the defensive aspect. He explained the challenges related to cyber attacks on naval platforms and the need for protective measures. Dr. Khurana emphasized the importance of algorithms and the cautious approach of countries like the United States to sharing cyber systems. He underlined the significance of understanding these fundamental issues for the future.

Dr. Raghavan concluded by addressing the broader perspective on national security and strategic planning in international cooperation. He emphasized the need to avoid overly securitized approaches and encouraged a comprehensive view that includes economic, cultural, and technological cooperation. Dr. Raghavan highlighted the importance of sustainable growth in India's relations with countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, emphasizing that national security is part of an overarching strategic approach. 

Student Panel Discussion:

Dr. Madhumati Deshpande, co-ordinator of the department of International Studies, Political Science, and History, presided over the student panel discussion. Dr. Madhumati Deshpande introduced the student panelists and welcomed the discussants, Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam and Ms. R. Madhumita, commencing the session.

The panel was divided into two separate sessions. The first session was titled "India and ASEAN Partnership on Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities," where Ms. Sayani Rana, Graduate Scholar, International Studies, Peace Studies, and Public Policy, St. Joseph's University, discussed the challenges, and Ms. Patricia Cheriyan, Graduate Scholar, International Global Studies, Stella Maria College, Research Affiliate CEAS, Christ University, elaborated on the opportunities.

The second session was titled, "India-ASEAN Economic Co-operation: Present and Future Tense." Ms. Ayushi Attiri, postgraduate scholar, Department of International Relations, Amity University, took the session forward by introducing the current trends of economic cooperation, which was followed by Mr. Sarthak Ahuja's presentation on the possibilities of economic cooperation in the future.


Ms. Sayani Rana brought attention to the 30-year India-ASEAN partnership and the 28th India-ASEAN summit held in 2023. During the summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented a comprehensive 12-stage plan aimed at enhancing state-organization collaboration.

The partnership's primary focus areas, as highlighted by Ms. Sayani, encompassed energy, disaster management, food security, and biodiversity. In addressing the issue of biodiversity neglect in both India and ASEAN, she delved into the collaborative efforts initiated in 2007 through the Green Fund. Ms. Sayani elucidated the green fund's pivotal role in improving biodiversity conditions, underscoring India's relatively disadvantaged position in this context. She also observed India's modest endeavors to bolster renewable energy in other ASEAN nations, despite its high standing. Regarding renewable energy challenges, Ms. Sayani discussed India's standings in the 'climate change performance index' and 'carbon emissions per capita,' emphasizing its limited impact in international alliances. Additionally, she shed light on the geographical challenges faced by ASEAN countries, particularly highlighting Vietnam's dominance in renewable energy and the potential strain it might cause among ASEAN nations. Ms. Sayani urged ASEAN nations to formulate strategies for addressing these geographical challenges, citing India's 'International Solar Alliance' as an example, which currently experiences limited participation.

In the field of disaster management, Ms. Sayani underscored the significance of proper techniques, emphasizing the need for foreign assistance in light of the high risks posed by natural disasters. She acknowledged China's independent strides in developing disaster management technologies, presenting a potential challenge for India's engagement with Chinese technology and trade. She concluded her presentation by directing the spotlight on food security, specifically addressing the impact of 'El Nino' on agriculture and fishing trade. She highlighted joint India-ASEAN partnerships aimed at fortifying food security and nutrition in response to crises, encapsulating the comprehensive approach undertaken during the 28th India-ASEAN summit in 2023.

The second speaker, Ms. Patricia Cheriyan, began by questioning the necessity of climate change partnerships in the ASEAN region in her presentation. She delved into the multifaceted repercussions of environmental degradation, economic setbacks, and the escalating frequency of floods and typhoons. The speaker underscored the urgency of adopting sustainable strategies to navigate the challenges posed by climate change, emphasizing that the benefits far outweigh the costs associated with decarbonization efforts. She also fervently urged the international community to actively implement sustainable practices, with a particular focus on embracing renewable energy solutions. In the field of technology implementation, Ms. Cheriyan shed light on the potential of CO2 capture technology within certain ASEAN countries. Specifically, she identified Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand as nations well-positioned to adopt CO2 capture measures from industrial sources. Notably, she highlighted that these four countries collectively contribute to a substantial emission footprint, releasing 200 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. This insight serves as a crucial call to action, urging these nations and the international community to prioritize and expedite the integration of such technologies to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.

Ms. Patricia then explored the nature of the partnership between India and ASEAN and its evolution from 1992 to 1995. Some of the areas that were identified for possible partnerships were:

  1. Climate change 

  2. Energy Efficiency 

  3. Renewable energy 

  4. Biodiversity Conservation 

  5. Environmental education 

Ms. Patricia used Singapore as a case study to illustrate the workings of renewable energy and the feasibility of developing sustainable plans to meet the country's energy demands. The presentation concluded with the quote, "Leave no one behind and reach the furthest behind first," emphasizing the importance of principles such as equality and non-discrimination in sustainable development.

Followed by a Q&A

Q: Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam asked Ms. Patricia about the challenges faced by India-ASEAN in addressing climate change and the role of the green fund in their partnership.

A: Ms. Patricia expanded on policy decisions and their potential impact on partnerships, emphasizing that her research aimed to alert potential collaborators.

Q: Whether major partnerships are still theoretical and if overcoming this challenge is crucial for countries?

A: Ms. Sayani acknowledged policy-related challenges but pointed out that ASEAN countries face economic constraints compared to "developed countries," making it challenging to make ideal geopolitical decisions.

Dr. Madhumati Deshpande introduced the second session and invited Ms. Ayushi Attiri and Mr. Sarthak Ahuja, student panelists, to take forward the discussion.

Ms. Ayushi Attiri initiated her presentation by providing a comprehensive overview of the India-ASEAN partnership's evolution since 1992. She meticulously covered various sectors and detailed the nature of economic cooperation between the two entities. Among the key agreements discussed were the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA), ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA), and ASEAN-India Investment Agreement (AIIA). In her presentation, Ms. Ayushi stressed the paramount importance of trade facilitation and put forth a series of recommendations aimed at bolstering trade connectivity in the region. These solutions encompassed advocating for a unified policy approach, fostering inclusivity, ensuring long-term stability, and promoting digital connectivity. Drawing upon the India-Singapore agreements focused on advancing digital technology for economic growth, she offered a tangible example to support her arguments.Furthermore, Ms. Ayushi delved into the concept of the blue   and its potential impact on maritime trade and treaties. To illustrate, she referenced India's SAGAR program, designed to enhance economic conditions in coastal towns. The presentation also delved into joint statements between India and ASEAN, shedding light on the extent of trade relations and ongoing negotiations.

Concluding her presentation, Ms. Ayushi put forward recommendations aimed at fortifying economic cooperation within the India-ASEAN partnership. These suggestions included advocating for bilateral diplomatic channels, adopting a unified policy approach, harnessing the power of data analytics and artificial intelligence, promoting greater awareness, and conducting a comprehensive review of previous trade agreements. In sum, Ms. Ayushi's presentation provided a nuanced and insightful examination of the multifaceted facets of the India-ASEAN partnership and offered strategic recommendations for its further enhancement.

Mr. Sarthak Ahuja moved the panel to discuss the potential for future India-ASEAN relations. He divided the presentation into three parts: defense trade, regional connectivity, and the digital economy. Mr. Ahuja illuminated India's burgeoning potential as a supplier of defense equipment. He substantiated this assertion with concrete examples, citing notable deals such as those with the Philippines and Vietnam's substantial 100 million-dollar weapons purchases from India. Turning to regional connectivity, the presentation navigated through significant transport projects, with a focal point on the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway. Mr. Ahuja underscored the highway's impressive 70% completion rate, elucidating its overarching objective to fortify connectivity among the involved nations. He particularly emphasized the project's potential to streamline access to ASEAN ports, thereby nurturing stronger regional ties. Shifting gears to tourism and cultural ties, the panel explored how infrastructure projects play a pivotal role in augmenting these dimensions. His discussion incorporated illustrative examples to underscore the constructive impact of connectivity initiatives on fostering positive regional relationships.

Mr. Ahuja emphasized ASEAN as the world's most rapidly expanding internet market. Simultaneously, he highlighted India's strong digital infrastructure and interface, emphasizing the correlation between the increase in digital transactions in India and the rise of new collaborative possibilities. Significantly, Singapore was explicitly acknowledged as a pivotal participant in this rapidly developing digital age. The presentation by Mr. Sarthak Ahuja provided a thorough overview of the various opportunities for collaboration and expansion within the India-ASEAN alliance.

Followed by Q & A

Q: to Ms. Ayushi, where she was questioned about India's decision to back out of RCEP discussions in 2019 and her opinion on the same. Ayushi explained that the protectionist nature of India's agriculturist sector influences its participation in external discussions to a great extent.

Mr. Sarthak responded to India joining RCEP. He argued that the participation of India in RCEP could expand economic integration and promote India's domestic goods. This, however, would come at the cost of Chinese goods flooding Indian markets.

Dr. Madhumati gave the audience a comprehensive understanding of India-ASEAN economic partnerships, with specific reference to RCEP and Singapore as an important player. 


The valedictory ceremony began with the facilitation of Dr. Madhumati Deshpande by Mr. Andrew Collister, Consul at the Australian Consulate-General in Bengaluru.

Dr. Madhumati Deshpande also facilitated the student panelists with a token of appreciation on stage.

Mr. Andrew Collister was then called upon to deliver the valedictory address. He began the address by introducing Australia's interest in the ASEAN sphere. Mr. Collister mapped out Australia's strategic interests and its geographical advantages, especially with India, in terms of tourism, culture, and climate. He further elaborated on the similar interests of ASEAN and Australia to achieve a stable equilibrium in a state where "no country dominates and no country is dominated.". He differentiated between the cultural and economic pillars of ASEAN that have improved digital connectivity and transactions in the region while also creating awareness of different socio-economic inequalities.

Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam and Mr. Ashwin Dhanabalan further summarized and highlighted the key takeaways of the entire program, highlighting the importance of cooperation and collaboration in the realm of international relations and the impact of research on development.

Ms. Sapna Elsa Abraham delivered the vote of thanks, bringing the conference to an end.


(The event report prepared by Sibani Chowdhary, Tanvi Kashyap & Parvathy KC, Research Affiliates Centre for East Asian Studies (CEAS). Edited by Timhna S & Kriti Chopra, Senior Research Affiliates, CEAS. The views expressed are those of the author and does not reflect the views of C3S.)
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