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ASEAN meet discusses remarks on the Prophet

The controversy over the derogatory comments about the Prophet of Islam was discussed “informally” during the 24th ASEAN-India ministerial meeting, foreign minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan said on Thursday.

The ten-member Southeast Asian grouping has large countries like Indonesia and Malaysia that have condemned the remarks made by erstwhile BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma and party leader Naveen Kumar Jindal.

“This episode is another stark reminder why we need to be careful and why we need to strongly reject hate speech, incendiary speech, speech which incites or aggravates, or causes insult or division within societies,” said Mr. Balakrishnan, who described the derogatory comments as “a delicate subject”.

Meets Nadda

In an unusual turn, Mr. Balakrishnan met BJP president J.P. Nadda on Wednesday where a wide range of issues were discussed. The visiting Minister mentioned Singapore’s strict laws against hate speech and said the country was “on the right track”.

“And so long as we remember that and treat each other with respect, we can live and let live. In fact, we can live well as a cohesive, multiracial, multi-religious, multilingual society. That’s the key lesson that we need to bear in mind,” Mr. Balakrishnan was quoted as saying by a leading online channel of Singapore.

ASEAN has Indonesia, the largest Muslim majority country in the world, as its member. Malaysia and Brunei are two other Muslim majority members of ASEAN. The rest of the member countries, Singapore included, have minority Muslim population. Singapore’s POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act) has been in the news over the last few years because of the stringent view it takes of hate speech.

Barring Myanmar, all the countries were represented at the level of the Foreign Ministers at the meeting. Myanmar was represented by the embassy officials posted in Delhi.

Ukraine crisis

Addressing the meeting, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said that the Ukraine crisis had added to the post-pandemic uncertainties and contributed to rising prices of a wide range of items like fertilizers and energy. The meeting skipped mention of the Rohingya crisis and the military crackdown in Myanmar, but praised India-ASEAN cooperation to fight transnational crimes.

Dr. Jaishankar praised ASEAN for providing the foundation for Indo-Pacific structures. “ASEAN has always stood tall as a beacon of regionalism, multilateralism, and globalisation. It has successfully carved out a niche for itself in the region and provided the foundation for the evolving strategic and economic architecture in the Indo-Pacific. ASEAN’s role today is perhaps more important than ever before given the geopolitical challenges and uncertainties that the world faces,” he said.

Dr. Jaishankar focused on the post-pandemic recovery of the global economy. The meeting adopted a statement acknowledging the need for greater cooperation in the field of defence and welcomed the upcoming ASEAN-India Defence Ministers’ Informal Meeting in November 2022 and the ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise. The meeting welcomed ASEAN-India cooperation in preventing terrorism and radicalism and sought early finalisation of the Senior Officials’ Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC).

Dr. Jaishankar observed that the Ukraine crisis has had an impact on the world which has been reeling from the effect of the pandemic and disruption of the global supply chains. “Even so, the COVID pandemic has not fully abated, and there is much ground yet to be covered as we walk towards post-pandemic recovery. This path has become even more arduous with geo-political headwinds which we face due to developments in Ukraine and its knock on effects on food and energy security, as well as fertilizer and commodities prices, and logistics and supply chain disruptions.”

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