A new chapter is going to be written in the history of Indian diplomacy as the country is engaging with ASEAN in a big way. The heads of the 10 ASEAN nations have started arriving in New Delhi today. Leaders from Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei will be in India for the India-ASEAN commemorative summit that will be held tomorrow.
The event will mark 25 years of India's ties with the South East Asian bloc. This is also the first time that head of 10 states have been invited for being chief guests on the occasion of Republic Day. The highest-level of participation at the summit comes in the backdrop of increasing Chinese economic and military assertiveness in the region.
Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Madame Tran Nguyen Thu have already arrived in New Delhi. Both were received by Indian Minister of State for Human Resource Development Satyapal Singh. Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia Samdech Techo Hun Sen India has also arrived in India for the ASEAN India Commemorative Summit. He was warmly received by Indian Minister of State for Textiles Ajay Tamta.
The event is significant as India is desirous on changing its 'Look East Policy' to an 'Act East Policy'.
“The Prime Minister's intention that the Look East Policy should now be the Act East Policy is really taking shape. And, by the very presence of 10 leaders from ASEAN during the Republic Day celebrations, India will definitely showcase its 'Act East Policy',” said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold bilateral meetings with nine of the visiting ASEAN leaders. Prominent among those will be the one with the State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, on Wednesday evening.
In addition to this, Modi will also hold meeting with Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, President of Philippines Rodrigo Roa Duterte today.
The Prime Minister will hold bilateral talks with the leaders of Thailand, Singapore and Brunei on Thursday, ahead of the summit. He will also hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia on Friday.
Trade will be a major focus area at the bilateral meetings and so will greater infrastructural connectivity, regional development in the North Eastern states and regional security.
Though there is a free trade agreement in services and investments, India-ASEAN trade for the year 2016-17 was only USD71 billion, in comparison to the USD470 billion trade with China.
“In the year 2016, India exported textiles and apparel worth USD1,203 million to ASEAN and imported textiles and apparel worth USD546 million from ASEAN. With the ability to produce a diverse range of products, India has the potential to become the one-stop sourcing destination for brands and retailers of ASEAN nations,” said Indian Textiles Minister Smriti Irani.
There will be a leaders' retreat during which the leaders will have a “free and frank” discussion on January 25. The theme of the retreat session is 'maritime cooperation and security'. A plenary session will follow the retreat.