Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Singapore, spoke about India-ASEAN relations at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) today. “India and ASEAN can benefit greatly from greater economic integration and greater openness, especially with our economies and our people. We need to build more bridges, not walls between us,” he said.
Talking about the relationship of Singapore and India, the minister said, “Singapore and India have come a long way today, from the time we first became independent. In the case of Singapore, just 53 years ago. In the case of India, just over 70 years ago. In 2017, we marked the 25th anniversary of our relations, and this year, Singapore assumed the ASEAN Chairmanship. The theme for our chairmanship will be 'Resilient and Innovative’.”
Emphasising about building connections with ASEAN and India, Balakrishnan said, “As we look forward to the next chapter, it is important for ASEAN and India to continue to reinforce this message of building connections with each other.”
“We live in a time of uncertainty and volatility. Over the past 70 years, despite the fact of conflicts and wars, there was an emerging consensus that we needed a rules-based global order. But the assumptions on which the last 70 years of this global order were constructed – liberal economics, global integration – are today being questioned. Globalisation has become an easy target for populist politicians who want to stoke anger and jealousy. Even the consensus in favour of free trade and economic integration has also frayed,” he added.
What are the new opportunities and what are the changes we need to make? Balakrishnan made a point while saying that this is a time where we need to take stock of what is happening and why the world is so anxious.
“ASEAN is poised for strong growth, driven by increasing consumption by an emerging middle class, and the fact that the ASEAN population of 628 million is a young population and one that is destined to grow. With increasing urbanisation, that will create many opportunities for infrastructure investments,” he said.
Southeast Asia and India represent one-quarter of the world’s population, and a combined GDP of more than USD4.5 trillion.
“The Indian consumer market is expected to become the fifth largest in the world by 2025. And incidentally by 2025, India would be the most populous county in the world, with a population exceeding that of China,” the minister added.
Similarly, the number of middle-class households in Southeast Asia will double between now and 2025. By 2030, ASEAN will be the fourth-largest single market in the world.
Yet today, India only accounts for 2.6 per cent of ASEAN’s total trade, and only 3 per cent of the tourist arrivals to the ASEAN region.
While concluding Balakrishnan said, “I cite these figures not to discourage us, but to make the point there is huge potential for growth in trade, tourism, and many other fields. We need to draw on each other’s strengths; we need to take advantage of our cultural and civilizational heritage and build on this to grow our ties.”