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Observing that it had accorded highest priority to the development of all-round ties with its neighbours, India on Wednesday favoured dismantling of 'existing barriers' between South Asian countries.
Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said New Delhi envisioned realisation of the Asian Economic Community as he talked about India's efforts to develop relations with Asian and South East Asian countries, taking advantage of its special geographical location.
Addressing a gathering at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, he said the old mindset of balance of power or conflict of interests between India and China was outdated as the ties between the two big neighbours had acquired a long-term, global and strategic character.
Saran also spoke about the strengthening of India's relations with the US, Russia [Images] and the European Union and strongly pitched New Delhi's case for a permanent seat in the expanded UN Security Council and emphasised its commitment to global nuclear non-proliferation.
"We have committed ourselves to giving the highest priority to closer political, economic and other ties with our neighbours in South Asia. We have a vision of South Asia, unshackled from historical divisions and bound together in collective pursuit of peace and prosperity," he said.
Underlining that South Asia had to potential to emerge as a major powerhouse of economic creativity and enterprise, Saran said, "For that to happen, it is essential that we unlock the potential of South Asia by dismantling the existing barriers that restrict the movement of people, goods and investment within and across the region."
The foreign secretary said it was with this perspective that India extended its hand of friendship and cooperation with all its neighbours and 'pro-actively addressed whatever differences we may have, including with Pakistan."
He said New Delhi looked at the SAARC process as a stimulus to strengthen cross-border economic linkages, through initiatives such as South Asian Free Trade Agreement.
Highlighting the growing perception among India's neighbours in South Asia that a prosperous and economically vibrant India is 'an asset and opportunity' for them, Saran said New Delhi encouraged them to take advantage of its strengths and reap both economic and political benefits as a result.
"It is our belief that India's national security interests are better served if our neighbours evolve as viable states with moderate and stable political and social environment and robust economies," he said.
Talking in the context of Asia to which India's 'destiny is interlinked', Saran said developing relations with Asian countries like China was one of New Delhi's priorities. "Geography imparts a unique position to India in the geo-politics of the Asian continent, with our footprint reaching well beyond South Asia and our interests straddling across different sub-categories of Asia be it East Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia or South East Asia," the foreign secretary said.
"It is this geo-political reality and our conviction that enhanced regional cooperation is mutually advantageous, which sustain our enthusiasm to participate in endeavours for regional integration, ranging from SAARC to East Asian Summit and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation," he said.
Saran said the countries of the region stood to share the opportunities thrown open by its increasing economic integration as also to face the common threats of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, energy shortage, piracy and others.
On Indo-China relations, he said the two countries had taken a number of 'positive measures to improve the quality of our relations across a wide range of areas, without allowing the existing differences to affect the overall development of our ties'.
He said that despite differences between the two countries on the boundary issue, peace and tranquility has been maintained in the border areas, 'which is by no means a minor achievement'.
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