Amid the current standoff between India and China along the Sikkim sector of the international border, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said on Tuesday that ties between New Delhi and Beijing have a direct implication on the relationship with the southeast Asian nations.
"In this changing landscape, few would dispute that the evolving India-China relationship has a direct implication for Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), for the larger Asia Pacific, and perhaps even globally," Jaishankar said in his S.T. Lee Distinguished Lecture of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore here on Tuesday.
"We are all aware by now of the complexity inherent in the rise of two major powers near simultaneously, that too in close proximity.
"That the powers in question are civilisational ones, with positive far history and difficult near history, adds to the challenge."
Jaishankar's comments came against the backdrop of Indian and Chinese troops being engaged in a tense standoff along the Sikkim sector of the international border.
Soldiers of both countries came to a face-to-face position in the Doklam area of Bhutan where a large construction contingent of China's People's Liberation Army entered on June 16 to apparently build a road there.
Jaishankar said that the "big debate" was about the opportunities and risks that emanate from "this twin rise" of India and China.
"Skewing the analysis in the direction of one at the expense of the other could mislead us.
"In truth, the India-China relationship by now has acquired so many dimensions and so much substance that reducing it to black and white argumentation cannot be a serious proposition. It is not only that India and China have stakes in each other; the world and especially Asean has a vested interest in this matter."
The Indian Foreign Secretary's comments follow Chinese President Xi Jinping's interaction with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an informal meeting of the leaders of BRICS nations on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg last week and praised India's economic progress.
India is trying to implement an Act East Policy with the 10 Asean member states - Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam - going from the previous UPA government's Look East policy.
Southeast Asia has become a point of focus in terms of India's diplomatic engagements given the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) becoming virtually ineffective because of Pakistan's non-cooperation in a number of issues.
Jaishankar said that the relationship between India and southeast Asia "actually reflects a profound shift in India's geo-political outlook towards the world to its East".
"Growing contacts and expanding cooperation with southeast Asia opened up to India the world beyond it. This was around the time when India also sought to engage Japan, South Korea and China more seriously," said Jaishankar, who also served as India's Ambassador to China.
"There is no question that Asean was a bridge - psychologically, politically and perhaps even physically."
Earlier this month, New Delhi hosted the ninth edition of the Delhi Dialogue, the premier annual track 1.5 event to discuss politico-security, economic and socio-cultural engagement between India and the Asean.
"Asean and India are natural partners that share geographical, historical and civilisational ties," External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said in her keynote address at the Dialogue.
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