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Shanmugam flags off Asean-India car rally

Participants will have covered eight Asean states when they reach India.
November 29, 2012
By: Rupali Karekar
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Shanmugam flags off Asean-India car rally Mr Leslie Chang (left), 49, and Dr Tan Poh Heng, 52, were in one of two Singaporean cars leading the convoy at the Asean-India car rally flag-off ceremony yesterday at the F1 Pit Building. -- ST PHOTO: TED CHEN

DRESSED in yellow T-shirts and proudly waving their national flags, rally drivers from India and Asean countries roared away in their SUVs as Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam flagged off the Asean-India car rally from the F1 pit building.

By the time the 31-car entourage with 124 participants enters India through its north-eastern state of Assam next month, in time for the 20th anniversary of the Asean-India partnership, it will have journeyed through eight of 10 Asean countries.

"We are happy that Singapore has been selected as the ceremonial flag-off point," Mr Shanmugam said before the start of the rally yesterday, while wishing the participants a safe journey.

"The event... demonstrates, in a very tangible way, attempts being made to increase connections between India and Asean," Mr Shanmugam said.

Technically starting in Yogyakarta in Indonesia on Monday, the rally journeyed nearly 170km to Surakarta, also known as Solo, before the participants were flown to Singapore for an official flag-off.

From here, the entourage of 31 Mahindra XUV 500s will be on the road for 22 days.

Besides Indonesia and Singapore, it will make its way through mountainous terrain, flatlands, coastal areas and other scenic routes in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, a fast-reforming country which is a key interlink for India and Asean and acts as a landbridge to Indochina and the South-east Asian region.

The rallyists will visit places of iconic and historic importance in some of the countries on their way to New Delhi, and rest in hotels at night.

In Indonesia, they visited the Borobudur temple, where they witnessed the unveiling of a bust of Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

The cars will be flagged down on Dec20 in New Delhi by the leaders of Asean member states and India, a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

A two-day Asean-India Commemorative Summit will also be held in New Delhi. It will be attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his second visit to the country this year.

The rally is part of a number of cultural and business exchanges planned to commemorate the Asean-India partnership.

Asean accounted for bilateral trade of US$79 billion (S$97 billion) with India, or 10 per cent of the Asian giant's total trade in 2011-12. Singapore has been a key interlocutor for India within Asean, having midwifed its entry into the Asean Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit.

"The two regions have tremendous potential... to accelerate integration between them," Mr Shanmugam said.

Yesterday's event was attended by a special representative of India's External Affairs Ministry, Mr P.S. Raghavan, Indian High Commissioner to Singapore T.C.S. Raghavan, and the president of the Confederation of Indian Industries, Mr Adi Godrej.

Nearly 300 other guests, including diplomats, business people and students from the Global Indian International School, also witnessed the event.

Team Singapore is made up of six men and two women and is led by Mr Leslie Chang, 49, general secretary of the Singapore Motor Sports Association.

"The first phase of the rally was an amazing experience," said team member Tan Poh Hen, 52, a general practitioner. "Our team is geared up for the next phase."

rupsk@sph.com.sg

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