IT was a double whammy for India at Jakarta this month. New Delhi was elevated as full dialogue partner of ASEAN, and also welcomed as a new member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a two-year-old security organisation. But instead of glasses of champagne, the leaders gently raised tough questions about India not signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
ASEAN changed its mind at the eleventh hour about popping champagne to welcome India, Russia and China into its fold as full dialogue partners. "Why should we have a special ceremony to make their elevation?" an ASEAN official asked. "ASEAN never had any ceremonies in the past when new dialogue partners were brought in."
But with or without champagne, India cemented its ties with ASEAN. Singapore Foreign Minister Professor S. Jayakumar said the issue of India participating in the ASEAN Free Trade Area, or AFTA, is likely to be taken up at the first ASEAN-India Joint Cooperation Committee meet in New Delhi later this year. Also on the anvil is an ASEAN-India Senior Officials meeting.