Delhi Dialogue IV

his day was a day of marathon dialogues. Starting from 9:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m., discussions were held on issues affecting the engagement between India and ASEAN member nations in various affairs- from politico-economic, security, social and cultural spheres. 

You can also check out the Delhi Dialogue website for more info on this event.

Since this was a multi-racial forum, each presenter spoke in English but their accents mostly made it difficult for me to understand what they were saying (good thing hard copies of the speeches were eventually handed out).

I admit I’m not quite well-versed with regional economic issues. But I’m glad that I’ve been picking up issues of Time and Newsweek here and there. It was a breeze writing down my stories for our website’s ASEAN section.

I kid. Totally.

I almost had a nosebleed trying to understand what are tariffs and trade barriers, trade values, intra-regional trade shares, free trade agreements, etc. These terms, prior to my visit in India, were Greek to me. 

I felt like a student again, cramming for final exams. Only economics wouldn’t have been a course I would have picked.

But never say never. I have never been one to give up that easy. Especially after my central news desk editor (Sir Rey A) e-mailed me that they are expecting ASEAN stories from me everyday.

Talk about pressure to the nth degree.

By the way, two of the presenters are Filipinos: Rod Severino, former Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines, and Jose "Joecon" Concepcion, chairman and CEO of Filipino food conglomerate RFM Corporation. 

Severino, however, was there to represent the ASEAN as he now heads the ASEAN Studies Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. That's Joecon standing 4th from left in the photo below during the photo op. 

I will not bore you with what the speakers talked about during the dialogues. But the key points I learned are these:
  • India and ASEAN both want a comprehensive engagement with each other on politico-economic, security, social and cultural fronts. Because of this, many trade agreements have been created and signed.
  • The Delhi Dialogue was initiated in 2009 so that key government and business leaders from ASEAN and India can confer and chart the issues and dynamics affecting the Asia Pacific Region.
  • The speakers agree that so much more still needs to be done to improve not only relations between India and ASEAN, but how ASEAN states interact and trade with each other themselves. 
  • That economics, like politics, is a murky, complicated world.
  •  And Indians don’t take snacks, they have “tea breaks.”
A little off-topic observation: how they conducted their open forum was far from what we’re used to here in the Philippines.

After all the presenters delivered their speeches, the moderator would invite those in the audience who have questions to stand up and speak into the microphone, one after another. All the questions from the audience were heard first.

The moderator then opens the floor for the speakers to respond. Each speaker may choose to answer whichever questions they want. This saves a lot of time.

Unlike here, the open forums in formal events are more time consuming. One person from the audience asks, and the speaker responds right after. Then another person asks, and the speaker answers.

But this also ensures a response for every question. The method used during the Delhi Dialogue does not guarantee a response to all the questions since the speakers are not expected to answer every question that was asked.

Courtesy Call on Planning Commission

Our group of 20 ASEAN journalists left in the middle of the Delhi Dialogue after lunch to pay a courtesy call on another high-level state official, India’s Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, Shri Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Our group walking inside the Planning Commission compound.

India’s Planning Commission is a cross between our NationalEconomic Development Authority (NEDA) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

From what I understood of Dev’s explanation (our escort from the EAM that day) the commission holds the knife when it comes to slicing the money pie and dividing it among India’s ministries, or what we in the Philippines refer to as departments.

Mr. Ahluwalia’s office also charts the direction to which the Indian government must set its sails to, formulating the plan on how best to utilise India's resources. 

So I guess Deputy Chairman Ahluwalia is a pretty powerful guy. He holds India’s roadmap on one hand and its purse strings on the other.

Quite surprisingly, he was a joy to interview. His English was clipped but really clear. His accent is the kind that can be expected of one who has received British education (he took his MA and M. Phil degree in economics from Oxford University).

He laughed, joked around, and was very responsive. He made us all feel at ease and forget, for a moment, the power he wields in his country.

He emphasized India’s aggressive efforts in developing rural infrastructure projects through Private Public Partnership (PPP), a strategy that India has been adopting for 3 years now, and quite successfully. 

PPP is a scheme in which the government ties up with the private sector to share the cost needed in the construction or implementation of the needed government projects (such as school buildings or public utilities). 

The Philippine government is still taking baby steps with PPP (the Aquino government launched its PPP programme November of 2010) and we can learn much from India in this territory.

Mr. Ahluwalia also talked about how India is slowly opening up its economy to foreign investors from ASEAN.

You see, India is remarkable in its independence. It is a country that sustains itself.

They manufacture their own medicines.  They design, assemble and develop their own choppers and space rockets. Most of their leading companies, IT and pharmaceuticals, are purely Indian-owned. And the high-end consumer products that I’ve seen being sold in their airports and hotels are solely made in India.

Taj Mahal is not the only thing that makes India incredible, as I’ve found out during this trip.

But more of this in the later posts.

Although this day has been a bit severe and too businesslike, the ASEAN journalists did have a couple of light moments. 

We played a little in between. 

Phaisithong Chandala (of Vientiane Times Newspaper in Lao) waving his hands saying, "No! No!" while I try to steal a shot of him. To his left is Lee Yuet Har of Liahhe Zaobao, a daily newspaper in Singapore. Behind them are: Kamal Kamat of ASEAN Secretariat (with what I presume is a bored expression on his face), Aziz Idris of Berneo Bulletin (sorry for the blurred face Az!), Nguyen Van Luc or just Luc of People's Daily in Vietnam, Khan Sophiraom (or Mr. Toilet as we fondly call him) of Khmer News Agency in Cambodia, and Soe Tint of New Light of Myanmar. 

Up next: Day 5: Brainy Bangalore

This post is part of my 7 Days of Incredible India series. In case you missed the previous posts in this series, click on the following (at your own risk!) :

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1 comment:

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