The Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (CNESPR), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) organized the Fourth Annual Saifuddin Kitchlew Lecture on March 7, 2013 at the India-Arab Cultural Centre, JMI. The theme of the lecture was “Building a New Asia: India, China and ASEAN” and the lecture was delivered by Dr. Surin Abdul Halim bin Ismail Pitsuwan, an accomplished scholar, diplomat, journalist and the former Secretary General of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Speaking on this occasion, Dr. Surin stressed the need for strengthening business, cultural, emotional, scientific, technological and intellectual ties between the East Asian countries especially members of the ASEAN including India and China which have become “a new centre of growth.” We are important, he said, and that’s why “Mr Obama wanted to join our EAS (East Asia Summit). That’s why Mr Putin wanted to join our East Asia Summit.” It was why the EU wanted to sit with us, he said.
He spoke about the need for India’s Look-East-Policy and said, “It (ASEAN) is the only forum that has a region-wise application.” When India grows, we grow with it. When China grows, we growth with it, said the former foreign minister of Thailand.
Dr. Surin, who was first elected Member of Parliament in 1986 and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of The Asia Foundation, underscored the role and importance of China and India in the region and said that everything in South East Asia had elements of the great civilizations of India and China.
While referring to struggles of some prominent leaders of India like Subhash Chandra Bose, he said, “Your struggle has definitely given inspiration to many of us.” In Thailand for example, which is in the middle of all the colonies of France, of the UK and of the Netherlands in South East Asia, their struggle following your inspiration has led to their success in articulating and promoting their interest and offering them their own ideas and vision. Many of them had adopted what I call “diplomacy of the five” which led to the formation of ASEAN in 1967.
India, being the largest democracy could not be ignored; and said, “You have been important to us emotionally, intellectually, historically and now definitely strategically and economically.”
Further he added, we have problems, we have flash points between us and among us. And, ASEAN has been given that role of institution building, region building, system building, forum building and we have done quite well during last forty five years. He also said that there were problems between some of the countries of ASEAN, but they need to be resolved, keeping peace of the region in mind. Many problems need to be addressed collectively like poverty and disease. “Mosquitoes do not need visas to cross borders,” he said in a lighter vein.
Being two major powers in South East Asia, said Dr. Surin, the challenge before us is how to make sure that the two great civilizations (India and China) can work together, accommodate, cooperate and bring down the differences and, try to elevate the commonalties between four major powers in the region; referring to China, India, Japan and Korea.
He further added that the challenge before us is, “How to increase the connectivity, how to increase the integration process” so that we have mutual interdependence among us, so that we could make up our mind that “Peace, stability, and security are in the interest of all of us. The rest we can discuss.” He also raised apprehensions about the dispute over the South China Sea which was increasingly involving several countries.
He suggested to resolve issues keeping in mind the larger interest of peace and security. We hope together we can achieve a more stable and secure East Asia. If the two great civilizations can work together, accommodate each other, appreciate each other, it would be best for three billion people on this side of the globe, he concluded.
Earlier, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Prof. S. M. Rashid welcomed the quests which among others included the Ambassador of Thailand to India, Mr. Pisan Manawapat. The annual lecture incidentally coincides with the 125th birth anniversary and 50th death anniversary of Dr. Kitchlew, he said. A champion of the freedom movement, perhaps he is least acknowledged for his contribution both during and post-independence period, he said. Also, Dr. Kitchlew was one of the few individuals who never agreed for the Partition of India.
Prof. Sanjoy Hazarika, Director of CNESPR presented a biographic note of Dr. Surin. Dr. Wajahat Habibullah, Chairman of National Minorities Commission, chaired the meeting.