Manila/New Delhi - As part of its increasing engagements with the countries of Southeast Asia under the Act East Policy, India on August 7 called for expanding the areas of cooperation among the member countries of the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) bloc.
"Let me also reiterate that the cooperation among our countries as part of the MGC framework, aims at restoring and re-invigorating these ancient linkages leading up to the building of an inclusive and prosperous society," Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh said while addressing the Eighth Mekong Ganga Cooperation Ministerial Meeting in Manila.
"It is in pursuance of this aim that we have proposed to add newer areas of cooperation to the traditional areas on tourism, culture, education, transport and communication," Singh said.
"I am happy to note that we are progressing well in the identified areas of cooperation and in the implementation of the Plan of Action 2016-18."
Established in 2000 in Vientiane, Laos, the MGC comprises six member countries through which the Ganga and Mekong rivers flow - India, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Singh also said that India was examining the digital connectivity proposals that have been given by Laos and Cambodia for implementation by utilizing $1-billion line of credit extended by India.
He said that after the successful organisation of the International Buddhist Conclave in Varanasi in October last year where all the MGC countries attended as special guests, India has proposed to make this an annual activity.
"We look forward to closely working with Myanmar for developing the 'Buddhist Trail' and designate points of contact for enhancing tourism cooperation among MGC countries," he stated.
In terms of connectivity among the MGC countries, Singh said that "we have shared the concept notes on formation of task forces on maritime connectivity and extension of (India-Myanmar-Thailand) trilateral highway into Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam".
"The eight-member Indian component to the task force on maritime connectivity has also been announced. We now await nominations from Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member states," he stated.
For mapping the shared civilizational linkages of India and the other MGC member countries, Singh said that two projects have been commissioned.
While the first, called "Sailing to Swarna Bhumi", will chart and research the maritime encounters as reflected in the syncretic cultures of India and Southeast Asia, the second, called "Mapping of Inscriptions along the Mekong" will document inscriptions left by Indian nobles and traders along the Mekong river, which was the main artery of cultural interaction between India and mainland southeast Asia for many centuries.
Singh said that the Nalanda University in India was "well underway on its path towards becoming a leading academic institution focusing on Asian history and Mekong Ganga region".
"We also look forward to the support of all MGC countries towards creation of the Common Archival Resource Centre at Nalanda University," he stated.
He also invited all the MGC countries to utilise 50 new Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) scholarships announced in the areas of culture, tourism, engineering, film directing, sound, lighting and stage management. These are in addition to the 900 scholarships given every year to MGC countries.
"As we agreed last year, these scholarships can also be utilised for upgrade of teachers' education and training of faculty members for the Centres for English Language Training, Entrepreneurship Development Centres and the Vocational Training Centers established by India in the MGC member countries," Singh said.
He also proposed that the tasking of senior officials of the MGC countries to develop a protocol to facilitate mutual recognition of academic qualifications in key fields, "so that our students can reap the true benefits of the education that they gain in other MGC countries".
"This will motivate the youth of our countries to venture out, explore and develop new bonds of friendship, which is our ultimate aim," Singh stated.