Boosting trade and connectivity will be among the key priorities as Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins a three-day visit to the Philippines on Sunday that will see him attend the 15th Asean-India Summit and the 12th East Asia Summit.
Boosting trade and connectivity will be among the key priorities as Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins a three-day visit to the Philippines on Sunday that will see him attend the 15th Asean-India Summit and the 12th East Asia Summit. Meetings with world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who are attending the EAS, are likely on its sidelines. Trump on Friday praised India for achieving “astounding” growth since opening its economy and heaped praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he has been working to bring the country and its people together.
Modi, who is making his first official visit to the Southeast Asian nation, will also hold a bilateral meeting with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte on November 13 in Manila ahead of the two summits on November 14. Modi’s visit is all the more significant because this year marks the 25th anniversary of the India-Asean dialogue partnership and the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Asean. The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
India’s relationship with the regional bloc has emerged as a key cornerstone of New Delhi’s foreign policy after then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao launched the Look East Policy in 1992. The relationship was elevated to that of a strategic partnership in 2012 and the Look East Policy was turned into the Act East Policy under the present NDA dispensation. With the initiation of economic reforms in India in 1991, New Delhi has been increasing its engagements with the economically vibrant Southeast Asian region.
Given China’s belligerence in the South China Sea, the regional bloc also sees in India a rising force that can act as a balancing power in the region, with its stress on maritime security and in ensuring freedom of navigation through one of the world’s busiest trading routes. According to figures released by the Ministry of External Affairs, trade between India and Asean stood at $71 billion in 2016-17 and comprised 10.85 per cent of India’s total trade with the world. Asean and India together comprise a population of 1.85 billion, one-fourth of the global population, and a combined GDP of $3.8 trillion.
Investments in India from Asean countries in the last 17 years had been over $70 billion, accounting for 17 per cent of FDI. Indian investments in Asean is over $40 billion. Talks on a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement will further boost India’s trade and investment ties with the region. RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between the 10 Asean member states and the six states with which the grouping has free trade pacts – Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
During the course of his visit, Modi, apart from attending the summits, will also participate in a meeting of the leaders of the countries of the proposed RCEP and an Asean Business and Investment Summit. In a special media briefing here ahead of the visit, Priti Saran, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs, said Modi’s participation in the two summits “provides a very important opportunity to reiterate our commitment to the partnership”.
India also has 30 sectoral dialogue mechanisms and seven ministerial-level interactions with Asean. Saran said India supported Asean’s centrality in the regional security architecture, and enhancing physical, digital, economic, cultural and people-to-people connectivity was a key focus in the relationship. New Delhi also attaches the greatest importance to the annual East Asia Summit, of which India is a founding member. The East Asia Summit is held by leaders of the Asean countries and those of Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the US.
Saran said this forum provided an important opportunity for the leaders of the region to exchange views and assess international issues of concern, including traditional and non-traditional security threats, primarily terrorism, maritime cooperation, maritime security and non-proliferation. Regarding the Modi-Duterte meeting, she said that the two leaders were expected “to set up the stage for a quantitative change in our bilateral relations with the Philippines”. “As a key country of the region with a large, educated and young population and a fast growing economy, Philippines is an important partner of India’s Act East Policy,” Saran stated, adding that there was immense potential to enhance bilateral economic ties.