If India wants its northeast to benefit from the much publicised Look East Policy, it must bring top leaders of south east Asia to that region and encourage dialogue and discussion there, says Surin Pitsuwan, till recently the secretary–general of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“India can call a meeting of the ASEAN+India in the northeast, in Guwahati, on the banks of the Brahmaputra, from where your prime minister (Manhoman Singh) is elected,” declared Pitsuwan, who was secretary general of ASEAN for five years, suggesting that the foreign ministers of the nations could meet in the northeast, at a summit.
Pitsuwan was foreign minister of Thailand, and widely regarded as one of the most articulate of Asian leaders.
He made his remarks on Friday while delivering the fourth Saifuddin Kitchlew lecture at Jamia Millia Islamia under the auspices of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research. The speech was made at a conference on “The Eastern Himalaya: Climate Change, Livelihoods and Poverty.”
The recently inaugurated Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at Jamia Millia Islamia is the only such centre in a central university in the country.
The conference drew over 100 people, including environment officials, scholars, scientists, students and activists from Britain, US, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Thailand, international organisations, diplomats and delegates from the northeast.
Reflecting on his visit to the northeast a few years ago, Pitsuwan said that its role must be central to the efforts by ASEAN and India to build “the east–west corridor from the Mekong River Basin to the Ganges river basin and beyond”.
The ethnic and environmental diversity of the region would also add to this engagement, he said.
Pitsuwan’s innovative policy of “constructive engagement” with Myanmar in the past, both as Thai foreign minister and then as ASEAN’s main trouble shooter, has been critical to the recent, rapid pro–democracy changes in that country.
“Our guiding principle is that when India grows, we grow; when China grows, we grow. The challenge before us is how to keep the balance between two nuclear powers… the evolution of integration with ASEAN in the middle will help mutual dependency,” Pitsuwan said.