Opening Remarks by H.E. Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand at the Inaugural Session of the 6th ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks (AINTT) on “ASEAN-India: Strengthening Partnership in the Post COVID Era” Thursday, 20 August 2020

Opening Remarks by H.E. Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand at the Inaugural Session of the 6th ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks (AINTT) on “ASEAN-India: Strengthening Partnership in the Post COVID Era” Thursday, 20 August 2020

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Opening Remarks by
H.E. Mr. Don Pramudwinai
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
of the Kingdom of Thailand
at the Inaugural Session
of the 6th ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks (AINTT)
on “ASEAN-India: Strengthening Partnership in the Post COVID Era”
Thursday, 20 August 2020 at 11.30 hrs. (Bangkok time) (via videoconference)
 
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This is perhaps the largest congregation of virtual participants that I ever had previously - mostly ASEAN Meetings. As I count on the screen, we have about 25 small windows and perhaps many more outside of the screen. Certainly, it is my pleasure to be with you. I perhaps should start by extending our greetings to you all from Bangkok.
 
Your Excellency, my Colleague, Mr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs of the Republic of India,
Your Excellency, Mr. Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN,
Dr. Mohan Kumar, Chairman of RIS
Dr. Suthipand Chirathivat, Chairman of ASEAN Studies Centre, Chulalongkorn University
Distinguished Academics, Colleagues and Friends,
 
Again a very good morning to you all from Bangkok. It is a great pleasure for me to be with you all today at this 6th ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks. I offer my opening remarks in many capacities: as co-host of this conference; as Country Coordinator for ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations; and as a close friend of India, bound closely to Thailand by historic, cultural, trade, and multifarious links.
 
We are meeting at an unprecedented time in the history of the world, and the daunting challenges that we face require new and innovative solutions. Today’s Forum, therefore, provides a timely opportunity for us all to brainstorm ideas among the astute and knowledgeable think tanks, academia and policy makers gathered here, as we look to ensure the good health, safety and well-being of our peoples.
 
Distinguished Colleagues,
 
It has become clear that the world is no longer what it used to be just six months ago. The geo-political landscape is shifting. We are redefining “normal”. Multilateralism is being challenged, while the value of regionalism has been reinforced. In the midst of it all, the importance of partnerships is more apparent than ever if we are to address the genesis of the current crisis.
 
The COVID-19 outbreak continues to take a heavy toll on our economies and peoples’ welfare. The IMF has projected economic growth for ASEAN at minus 2.9 per cent, the first contraction in many decades, dating back to the Asian financial crisis back in 1997. And according to the World Bank, an additional 11 million people will fall into poverty in the East Asia and Pacific region.
 
Despite these monumental disruptions, what has proven to be enduring for ASEAN and India are our common aspirations. The two of us are inextricably interconnected and have, for centuries, flourished and been nurtured by those connections.
 
The visions we have for our regions have converged on many core principles that have much in common. The future of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and India’s Act East Policy, as well as the latest Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, continue to be predicated on peaceful, stable and prosperous regions.
 
Distinguished Colleagues,
 
Against the backdrop of this pandemic, the value of sharing and caring have been increasingly reinforced across the globe. Those with the capacity to give have stepped forward to share their surplus with those in need. The culture of sharing is critically important, particularly during times of crisis, to ensure that no one is left behind.
This brings me to offer my reflections today on how the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership should be taken forward at this critical time, threaded together by a simple yet powerful word spelled S-H-A-R-E, or SHARE.
 
Now let us begin scrutinising the first letter, S, that refers to Supply Chain Connectivity. As key players in the global supply chain, ASEAN and India need to ensure that the flow of essential goods, in particular food and medical supplies, is unhindered, and that investment and business travel can be facilitated. As India is seeking to become a stronger, more self-reliant country under the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” initiative, ASEAN stands ready to work with India in supporting our key industries and integrating them into the global supply chain.
 
Owing to the impact of the pandemic, we have witnessed in recent months remarkable two-digit growth in digital-related businesses. ASEAN and India should therefore redirect their resources to enhancing digital infrastructure and creating digital ecosystem conducive for new growth.
 
Physical connectivity will also be key in ensuring the seamless movement of goods and passengers across borders. I, therefore, look forward to the timely completion of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project and its possible extension to Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam. Once completed, it could become one of the world’s most important land bridges for trade and transport, connecting the Northeastern part of India, the deep sea port of Dawei in Myanmar, the new Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) in Thailand, and the Danang Port in Vietnam.
 
Now the next letter, H, in SHARE refers to Human Security in all dimensions. It is widely argued that countries could perhaps have responded more effectively to this crisis had they invested more in their health systems. As a long-time promoter of Universal Health Coverage or UHC, Thailand would be pleased to share our experiences on UHC, spanning nearly twenty years, as well as on the network of Village Health Volunteers. The latter has greatly contributed to enhanced capacity for Thailand in controlling the current pandemic.
 
Given India’s renowned capacity as “Pharmacy of the World”, we look forward to enhanced cooperation on medical research and development as well as on medicine and vaccines. We also support the ongoing efforts among leading global laboratories and vaccine institutes on mass production and distribution of anti-viral medicines and vaccines such as Remdesivir and Covishield. Once available, these vaccines should be made global public goods, accessible to all at an affordable price, in particular for lower to middle income countries.
 
The World Food Programme has forecasted that an estimated 265 million people in low- and middle-income countries could face acute food insecurity by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19. ASEAN and India are among the world’s largest food and agricultural producers and should work to ensure that food safety is there and it is secured for all. New technology, such as climate-smart agriculture and the application of robotics and drones in agriculture, should be widely introduced to increase productivity and meet the world’s demand. This is another area where we should work together.
 
Now the third letter, A, in SHARE refers to Academics. Academics and think tanks make a vital contribution to human capital development. Even before the pandemic, development gaps already existed and were deepening in many countries due to technological transformations. We should, therefore, equip our people, especially the MSMEs and the workforce, with the necessary skills that will allow them to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the digital economy. Women’s empowerment and supporting women entrepreneurs through skills training and financial access will also be crucial as they now constitute the majority of the new workforce.
 
I am pleased that a set of recommendations will be prepared today’s at Forum and look forward to engaging in a lively discussion, along with other ASEAN Foreign Ministers, at the upcoming ASEAN Post Ministerial Meeting with India in September.
 
The fourth letter, R, in SHARE refers to Regionalism. ASEAN and India must stand firm in promoting regionalism and multilateralism as they have served as a solid foundation for the global economic growth over many decades. The ASEAN+1 framework, including with India, as well as other sub-regional groupings, such as Mekong-Ganga, ACMECS, BIMSTEC and IORA, should be further reinforced. And as India is a major economic player in the region, it goes without saying that the door to RCEP will always remain open to India, whose participation would contribute to the region’s advancement and prosperity.
 
As Thailand will take up the Chairmanship of BIMSTEC during the year 2021-2022, we wish that the BIMSTEC members, including India, would carry on our important work on the BIMSTEC FTA which was initiated over a decade ago. We also wish to bring the attention to India that you might want to become the Chairman of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, or ACD, after Turkey, for the year 2021-2022. Just make your move, and the Chairmanship will be falling on your lap.
 
Finally, the last letter, E, refers to the Environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a silver lining for the environment, allowing it to rest, recuperate and rejuvenate itself from human practices that have long damaged our natural resources. We should look into how we can balance reopening our economies and societies with re-invigorated efforts on environmental growth and environmental conservation, and thus ensuring the path for green and sustainable growth. India’s Blue Economy initiative, therefore, deserves our serious deliberation. Other related issues of climate change, haze, natural disaster and marine debris are areas that ASEAN and India can jointly cooperate.
 
Distinguished Colleagues,
 
As we look ahead to the post-COVID era, it is apparent that no single country can overcome this pandemic alone. ASEAN and India will, therefore, need to continue sharing information, best practices, knowledge and experiences among our health experts, academics and policy makers. This value of sharing must be maintained and reinforced even after the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end.
 
The five letters of the word SHARE, which I have just outlined in my remarks, are all key issues that you will be discussing at this important forum. Let me conclude then, with one parting wish – that we use this current crisis as an opportunity to build back better, together. I am confident that through this, ASEAN and India can become a cohesive and responsive community that leaves no one behind and remains resilient to future challenges.
 
I thank you.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues, thank you.