FOCUSING ON “maritime cooperation and security”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host the 10 visiting ASEAN leaders at Rashtrapati Bhavan for a “retreat” on Thursday, where they are expected to discuss challenges faced by the region. This is a clear signal to Beijing, whose assertive maritime activities have impinged on the security of almost every country in the ASEAN grouping.
While President Ram Nath Kovind will host the visiting leaders for lunch, a two-hour time slot, from 2 pm, has been been kept aside for the retreat in the schedule for Thursday afternoon, which will include a walk in the Mughal Gardens at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
“Politico-security relations between India and ASEAN is one of the crucial pillars of engagement… that is the reason, they will discuss maritime cooperation and security during the post-lunch session,” a government source told The Indian Express on Wednesday.
Since South China Sea has emerged as a major dispute between China and several ASEAN countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia, the discussions will also dwell on the issue that has divided ASEAN down the middle. As there is no unanimity on how to deal with China on this issue, and India is concerned because over 40 per cent of its trade passes through the South China Sea, officials said the retreat will provide an opportunity to hold discussions on the issue.
Sources said Modi is likely to articulate the fact that India’s Act East Policy is shaped around the ASEAN, and its centrality in the regional security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region. With India’s strategic interests in Southeast and East Asia increasing, New Delhi — during the India-ASEAN commemorative summit on Thursday — is expected to assure the ASEAN countries of its “steady and strong” support towards achieving a “rules-based regional security architecture”, which takes care of the region’s interests and its peaceful development, sources said.
Officials said New Delhi will emphasise on the stakes involved, since India has strong maritime links with ASEAN countries that enable trade relations. As at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Modi will again make a pitch for jointly addressing the challenge of “fighting terrorism and violent extremism”, sources said. This assumes significance, since some of the countries — Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia — have been affected by terrorist attacks.
Besides the summit on January 25-26, Modi will hold nine bilateral meetings — the focus of these meetings will be on connectivity, commerce and culture. While he met Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippines President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday, he will hold bilateral talks with the leaders of Thailand, Singapore and Brunei on Thursday, ahead of the summit. Modi will also hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia on Friday.
And after Republic Day, India will host Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for a state visit on January 27. Meanwhile, India signed pacts on space and information and broadcasting with Vietnam, and on investment promotion with Philippines.