NATIONAL

India, ASEAN to work out modalities for summit

NEW DELHI, FEB. 15. The modalities for the India-ASEAN summit, the first of its kind, will soon be worked out by senior officials from the two sides in Kuala Lumpur. The decision in principle, to upgrade the present dialogue partnership was taken in November last after protracted exchanges spread over months.

The next ASEAN summit is due to be held in Cambodia in November, and that will become the occasion for the upgraded dialogue with India. It will mark the culmination of a progress, that began with cooperation at a lower level, and was raised step by step. It is seen as a happy augury for the promotion of economic ties, apart from better understanding of each other's concerns on political issues.

It could pave the way for free trade between India and ASEAN, thus giving a boost to economic relationship. Proposals for India's free trade with Singapore and Thailand have already been worked out through bilateral negotiations. When implemented, this could facilitate extension to the entire grouping. Within itself, ASEAN has embarked on the free trade arrangement, AFTA, from January. Another significant feature of the proposed enhancement of cooperation is New Delhi's decision to give shape to the science and technology vision 2020 (India and ASEAN), which will be dovetailed into the vision 2020, for India, prepared by the country's top scientists under the leadership of Abdul Kalam.

Already, New Delhi has plans to set up bio-technology projects in South-East Asia. India has also offered help in the ASEAN Integration Initiative, seeking to weld the economics of the old and new members and in the teaching of English language. The India-ASEAN cooperation fund of two million dollars will come handy for cooperative efforts.

The enhanced relationship with the grouping will be useful, it is felt, for deeper coordination in meeting the challenge of terrorism and trans-national crime. The navies of the two sides could strengthen exchanges for maritime security in the region - for which India's role is regarded crucial by the U.S. and other important world powers.

The significance of India's political relationship with ASEAN will be clear when it is realised that India has a 1600-km border with Myanmar and that Indonesia is only 60 km away from the last island in the Nicobar-Andaman area.

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