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Fillip to 'Act East' as India joins key sub-regional group (Lead, correcting para 1)

In a big fillip to its Act East Policy, India was formally accepted as a partner of a sub-regional grouping comprising Myanmar, Lao, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, that would provide greater impetus to connectivity, trade and people-to-people ties with its Southeast Asian neighbours.
Fillip to 'Act East' as India joins key sub-regional group (Lead, correcting para 1)

As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar co-chaired the 10th Mekong Ganga Cooperation Ministerial Meeting in the Thailand capital, along with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh, India was accepted as a development partner of the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) Initiative as a Development Partner.

Jaishankar thanked the five countries for admitting India as development partner.

"We are pleased to accept Thailand's invitation for India to join the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) Initiative as a Development Partner. I am told our senior officials have had preliminary discussions on the ACMECS Master Plan 2019-2023," Jaishankar said in his remarks at the 10th MGC Ministerial meeting.

The five countries represent half the membership of the 10-member ASEAN organisation, comprising over 240 million people, and are among the fastest growing. The ACMECS regions is connected to India by land through the northeast region, and water, through the riverine route and sea.

ACMECS is also strategically located, between China and India, two of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world.

Jaishankar, in his speech, stressed on connectivity with the region, on the early completion of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and its extension to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

He also stressed on quickly finalising the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicle Agreement to facilitate seamless movement of goods and passengers across borders, thus leading to greater trade and tourism, at the next meeting in October this year.

On connectivity with the MGC countries, Jaishankar said India had announced a $1 billion Line of Credit (LOC) for connectivity projects in ASEAN, and urged the countries interested in specific projects to hold discussions to take them forward.

On measures taken for direct air connectivity, which would help in business and tourism, he said that IndiGo is to start direct flights on the New Delhi-Ho Chi Minh City sector from October this year and daily services from Kolkota to Yangon from late September. "We have also notified IndiGo and Vistara as designated Indian carriers under the India-Cambodia bilateral Air Services Agreement. We encourage them to start direct flights based on the airlines' commercial considerations," he added.

In another move stressing on the common cultural and historical linkages between India and Southeast Asia, India is working towards operationalization of the Common Archival Resource Centre (CARC) at Nalanda University, in Bihar.

Jaishankar sought the help of the countries in sourcing copies of historical documents and replicas of art works and artefacts for the CARC. "These artworks and artefacts will be made digitally available by the CARC to scholars from around the world interested in academic research on India-Southeast Asia historical and civilisational linkages," he said.

The third international conference on ASEAN-India Cultural and Civilisational Linkages is to be held in Hanoi in October 2019 and will be attended by Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan.

In another move to highlight the common cultural linkages, he said India is working with Cambodia to make the MGC Textiles Museum in Siem Reap, financially self-sustaining, including by promoting the Museum as a tourist attraction. He urged the members to contribute artefacts and exhibits from all their countries to enhance the displays, and help in making the Museum a hotspot by hosting academic and cultural events at the venue.

He said that India has begun work on developing an MGC website to disseminate information about joint cooperation activities, as well as on important trade and travel fairs and cultural events. "We should look at launching it before January 2020," he said.

India is also planning to hold a regional conference on traditional and complementary medicine in November this year, where health regulators and traditional medicine practitioners of the region would be invited.

The first MGC Business Forum, held in New Delhi in January 2018, was very well-attended. "We should plan to hold this event perhaps biennially, and organise the second edition in Vietnam to coincide with a large trade event," he suggested.

Earlier, in his speech, he said the Mekong Ganga Cooperation turns 20 next year. "The MGC is as much a celebration of our long and rich history of trade, cultural and people-to-people exchanges as it is a vehicle to advance modern day cooperation to bring progress and prosperity to our peoples," Jaishankar said.

In the joint statement, the Ministers adopted the new MGC Plan of Action 2019-2022 that envisages project-based cooperation in seven areas tourism and culture, education, public health and traditional medicine, agriculture and allied sectors, transport and communication, MSMEs as well as three new areas of cooperation, i.e. water resources management, science and technology, skill development and capacity building.

They welcomed India joining the ACMECS, and directed senior officials to identify specific projects from the list of ACMECS priority projects for joint implementation, "focusing particularly on projects that can also complement joint projects already being undertaken by India with the ACMECS countries both under bilateral and other multilateral frameworks such as the MGC, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations".

The Ministers welcomed India's assistance to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam under the MGC Quick Impact Projects (QIP) Scheme and noted that since its inception in 2014, 24 projects have been completed so far. In 2019, 18 QIPs will be implemented in Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR at a cost of $900,000. Myanmar was urged to identify projects of mutual interest under the QIP Scheme.

The Ministers also appreciated India's pledge of Rs 5 billion (equivalent to $72.5 million) under a Project Development Fund to facilitate Indian investments in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

( With inputs from IANS )

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Fillip to 'Act East' as India joins key sub-regional group