It is becoming a familiar story as ASEAN members make overtures to their economically vibrant large neighbours in a bid to strengthen their own economies.
First, it was the Japanese who constructed a flying geese network in ASEAN, bringing three Northeast Asian economies (Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea) and one Southeast Asian economy (Singapore) into the industrialized world and building up manufacturing networks through outsourcing some of the lower value-added tech productions. Then China with its newfound economic might first competed with ASEAN but is now sought after as an investor and consumer of Southeast Asia’s plentiful resources. The newest kid on the block is India whose economy is growing at some nine percent annually.
To demonstrate the importance of the next new great power in the region to Southeast Asia, Philippines president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on a three day visit to India praised her host country repeatedly and appealed to India to take care of its developing neighbors in the region and to use it economic might for the good of the region. "There are political, economic and strategic implications for India and the East Asian region as a result of your new-found economic power. As India becomes a true political and economic giant, your obligations to your neighbours also increase, separate from that to your own citizens…These are big responsibilities, which we hope will be accommodated in our bilateral relations with each other," Arroyo said.
Arroyo is only the second Philippines president to visit India after a 10 year gap from Fidel Ramos' visit in 1997. The Philippines is seeking a closer relationship with the grouping's dialogue partner in fields ranging from economy, defence to healthcare.
"We cannot highlight enough the great strides that India has accomplished in recent years. Your impressive growth, largely fueled by a knowledge economy, is unique and worthy of emulation," said Arroyo. With such lavish praises, the Filipino President pulled no stops in wooing Indian businesses and even Indian film-makers to produce movies in the archipelago, touting the fact that famous Indian film-producer Aditya Raj Kapoor had decided to produce a movie in her country.
"We believe the Philippines offers the best value for Indian investment today. We offer a strategic location in a fast-growing region, our workforce is well educated, productive and English speaking…This is an advantage also as a film location site for the Indian movie industry. The Philippines is not only advantageous but a premier choice for film shooting because of its white sandy beaches, enigmatic and mysterious rainforests, historical heritage sites and sand dunes," she said.
The economic interest between India and ASEAN goes both ways. Like all other great powers in the region, India too looks at Southeast Asia as an opportunity. For example, Indian gem and jewellery dealers are keen to tap into the Southeast Asian market which serve both as an important growing buyers market and also as a supplier of expensive gem stones. India is now the world's largest manufacture of cut and polished diamonds and slowly acquiring the status of a leading international gems and jewellery hub. More than 90 percent of the world's diamonds are processed in India which employs about 1.3 million workers in the entire industry.
"The region is an important market for us. Thailand and Myanmar are exporting good quantity of gem stones," Indian Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) chairman Sanjay Kothari said. "We have strong cooperation and collaboration with Thailand (to manufacture) because of the Free Trade Agreement. Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong are regularly buying our gems stones. We expect a 10 percent growth next year but that depends on China because many of the factories are located in China," he added.
Other than the economy, India and the Philippines also agreed to boost cooperation in fighting terrorism, particularly in the sharing of information and targeting the financing of terrorist acts. (8 October 2007)
Southeast Asia A Glittering Gems Market For India (Bernama, 6 Oct 2007)
Care For Thy Neighbours, Arroyo Tells Rising India (Bernama, 6 Oct 2007)
India, Philippines agree to boost trade, cooperate in fighting terrorism (China Post, 6 Oct 2007)