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India eyes stronger ties with Southeast Asia

Publication Date : 05-07-2013


India, soon to have a three-carrier navy, is not looking for a military base in South-east Asia but will deepen strategic ties with the region even as its Look East policy extends to the Pacific.

"We are not a country that subscribes to policing any part of the world," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told The Straits Times.

"The areas we are comfortable with are capacity building, intelligence sharing, exchange of ships, calling on each other's ports, joint training and joint exercises. And we are willing to enhance that at the pace at which Asean collectively desires it to be done."

Khurshid, who took charge of his portfolio last October, was interviewed on his way home from the Asean Regional Forum and Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting, held in Brunei against a backdrop of tensions with China over disputed waters.

India is a full dialogue partner of Asean.

His meetings in Singapore on Wednesday included calls on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. His Singapore counterpart K. Shanmugam hosted him to dinner last night.

While India is not involved in the disputes in the South China Sea, it has been regularly sending its ships into the area. It also has a history of border tensions with China that have been unresolved after 16 rounds of talks.

India is poised to launch its home-built aircraft carrier within weeks while the Gorshkov, a carrier it is buying from Russia, will join the fleet towards the year end. That will give it a three-carrier fleet and ability to project power far beyond its shores.

Khurshid said India, a peninsula, needed so many carriers because of the long coastline on its eastern and western flanks.

"If you have one carrier on each side and one in reserve, it is not much," he said. "We could do with many more carriers but obviously there are limits to what we can spend and the need that we have at present will be well-served by three carriers."

Khurshid suggested India's Look East policy extended beyond Asean and East Asian powers China, Japan and South Korea. "We are actually looking at the Indo Pacific now. Once we are in Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum), it gives us further opportunity."

Indonesia will host the next Apec meeting in Bali in October and while Apec membership is closed to new members for now, there have been "good conversations" with Jakarta. "I think we can re-energise the process and hopefully, that will begin soon."

In April, Indian and Chinese troops came eyeball to eyeball in the Kashmir sector of their undemarcated Himalayan boundary, resulting in a tense stand-off lasting several weeks. Eventually, both sides withdrew troops.

The two sides last week concluded their 16th round of talks on the border. Khurshid said New Delhi was studying draft proposals presented by China.

"If people did get alarmed and got distressed by what had happened, I would tell them to concentrate on how reasonably and sensibly it was resolved without loss of face or any other distress caused to either country."


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