Modi Must Make Good on the Promises He Has Made in South-East Asia
On his return, Modi and his ministers will have to make good on the promises made on terrorism and economic climate.
Modi in South-East Asia
- The major focus of Modi’s statements has been the fight against terror; upscaling economic integration between India and ASEAN.
- In an indirect reference to the South China Sea (SCS) dispute, he spoke forcefully for freedom of navigation.
- He invited entrepreneurs and businessmen from ASEAN to visit India and see for themselves the huge opportunities that await them.
- Modi and his ministers will need to urgently apply themselves to implement what has been articulated on terrorism and providing a favourable economic climate.
Prime Minister Modi is spending two days in Singapore after having been in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for three eventful and momentous days.
Although Modi visited Myanmar in November last year to participate in ASEAN-India and East Asia Summits (EAS) and came to Singapore in March this year to attend the funeral of the iconic statesman of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, this is his first full-fledged visit to the region. In his intervention at the East Asia Summit on November 22, Modi said that from the time he assumed office 18 months ago, no region has seen greater engagement from India than the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region. This assertion is not strictly accurate, as he is undertaking his first substantive bilateral visit to the ASEAN region after having visited twenty-seven other countries. However, it needs to be acknowledged that considerable energy has been expended over the last eighteen months to infuse greater vigour into our relations with ASEAN countries.
The major focus of his statements has been the fight against terror, upscaling economic integration between India and ASEAN, particularly in pursuance of flagship programmes of his government like Skill India, Make in India, Digital India etc, and to reach out to the Indian diaspora to make them active stakeholders in the economic resurgence of India.
On the Scourge of Terrorism
In his address at the East Asia summit, Modi spoke of the urgent need for the world to come together to fight the scourge of terrorism particularly of the Islamic State (IS). He spoke of the imperative need to delink terror from religion, as also from political considerations. He came out strongly against radicalisation – particularly of the youth – recruitment, funding, supplying arms, providing sanctuaries to terrorists etc. In an indirect reference to the South China Sea (SCS) dispute, he spoke forcefully for freedom of navigation, over flights and unimpeded commerce in accordance with accepted principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. With these comments, Modi pitted himself directly against China and in line with positions of ASEAN, the US and Japan. The message is clear – if China continues to support Pakistan on Kashmir, India will also take an independent view on the SCS dispute.
The Economic Pitch
Speaking at the ASEAN Business Summit, Modi dwelt at length on the progress India has made on the economic front since his government came to power. He termed India and ASEAN as natural partners. He cited a host of reports from different agencies in the world and quoted several macroeconomic indicators to drive home the point that in the midst of a bleak and gloomy international economic scenario, India presented a bright spot. He invited entrepreneurs and businessmen from ASEAN to visit India and see for themselves the huge opportunities that await them. He also referred to the forthcoming COP 21 meeting in Paris on climate change and asserted that India is pursuing a green and sustainable path to economic growth and development. He confidently declared that the time of India has come.
Modi’s body language and self-assurance will definitely carry weight and bring home the message that India is ready for business and keen to welcome foreign investors. However, to ensure that desired results are obtained, the government will have to make certain that physical and institutional infrastructure is improved significantly and that bureaucratic processing delays are reduced to a minimum. For this, some pending reforms like GST, land acquisition, labour reforms etc will have to be put in place as early as possible.
Time to Make Good on Promises
It will be necessary for Modi to follow a more consensual form of governance at home. It is sincerely hoped that what we are witnessing during the current visit – as also what we saw in the UK and in Turkey – are the beginnings of a more collaborative approach. This will need to be reciprocated in equal measure by the opposition parties so that the parliament can work smoothly. Long pending bills like GST on which considerable work has been done and on which there is a wide measure of agreement should be passed and made into law without any loss of time.
Modi’s address to the Indian diaspora in Kuala Lumpur was of a different hue and nature than what he has delivered in other major cities like New York, London, Sydney etc. One of Modi’s significant achievements since coming to power has been the energising and rejuvenating of people of Indian origin around the world to become active bridges of cooperation and collaboration between India and the countries of their residence.
On his return, Modi and his ministers will need to urgently apply themselves to implement what has been articulated on terrorism and providing a favourable economic climate. It is a formidable task but one that is definitely doable.
(Ashok Sajjanhar is a former Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia.)
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