Home From The Sidelines ASEAN Secretary-General Dr. Kao Kim Hourn Wants Stronger Ties with India

ASEAN Secretary-General Dr. Kao Kim Hourn Wants Stronger Ties with India

Seceretary-General of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Dr. Kao Kim Hourn stressed on building strong relations with India, its maritime neighbor. He addressed a group of Indian journalists in Jakarta on November 20th, 2023. In his speech, Dr. Kao mentioned how both ASEAN and India had already been working on several sectors ranging from  trade, investment, tourism to defense and counterterrorism and expressed the wish to expand it and explore other sectors for cooperation.

Possible New Sectors of Cooperation:

In his address Dr. Kao admitted that there exists many mechanisms of cooperation between ASEAN and India. He added that “ASEAN is a maritime community. India is a maritime nation.” He further mentioned how “maritime cooperation, which is one of the four priority areas under the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” can present a new avenue of cooperation between the two. Furthermore, he highlighted the importance of cooperation in sectors like the renewable energy sector, digital economy and sustainability, and people-to-people exchange and connectivity. Dr. Kao pointed out the immense role played by ASEAN-India dialogue relations in ASEAN’s community building efforts. He also pointed out how the media had been responsible for enhancing the connectivity, cultural exchanges, and people-to-people ties. He promoted a liberal aviation pact that would facilitate more flights between the ASEAN nations and India to improve people to people ties and boost tourism.

Trade Relations between the Two:

Dr. Kao advocated for India to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which would help the nation by opening up market access. According to him, all parties would benefit from the inclusive, open and rule-based trade pact promoted by the RCEP. The RCEP is a free trade area composed of the ASEAN bloc (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and five of its dialogue partners (China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand). With this agreement signed in 2020, the RCEP makes up 30% of both the world’s GDP and its population. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address at the 20th ASEAN-India summit in Jakarta in September, had stressed on the need to complete the review of ASEAN-India FTA (AITIGA) within a stipulated period of time. Indian exports to ASEAN have been consistently rising every year. The commerce ministry had pointed out how a timely review of the AITIGA would make trade between the ASEAN and India facilitative and mutually beneficial. Dr. Kao mentioned that the current review is under process and both the parties have decided to conclude it by 2025. 

ASEAN is rightly considered one of the most influential groups in the region. Along with India, its dialogue partners consist of the US, China, Japan and Australia. A sectoral partner till 1992, India and ASEAN became full dialogue partners in December 1995, summit-level partners in 2002, and strategic partners in 2020. Since last year, they are both comprehensive strategic partners. Stronger ties between the two would only boost the increasing cooperation they both have displayed in sectors of trade, investment, defense, and security.