Prime Minister Narendra Modi departed for Indonesia on Wednesday to attend the 20th Asean-India summit and 18th East Asia Summit. Indonesia is hosting these summits in its capacity as the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Indonesia has made adjustments to the ASEAN meeting schedule to accommodate Prime Minister Modi’s program and facilitate his early return to New Delhi on 7 September ahead of the G20 summit.
Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East) at the Ministry of External Affairs, stated, “The prime minister will depart from Delhi on the night of 6 September and return late in the evening of 7 September. Given that the G20 summit follows shortly after the Asean summit, it will be a brief visit.” He added that there would not be any bilateral meetings during the visit.
“During the summit, the prime minister will review the progress in Asean-India relations and provide further direction. India’s relations with Asean are a central pillar of our Act East policy, as well as India’s vision of the wider Indo-Pacific,” Kumar said.
Asean consists of 10 member countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia, and is considered one of the most influential groupings in the region.
According to reports, a new initiative to boost Asean-India maritime security cooperation is likely to be unveiled after the summit talks in Jakarta on Thursday. PM Modi’s engagement with leaders of the bloc will focus on further improving trade and security ties with the grouping.
India and Asean countries have significantly strengthened their ties in recent years. The India-Asean trade volume in 2022-23 was $131.5 billion, accounting for over 11 percent of India’s total trade for the year and ranking as the second highest after India-EU trade.
The upcoming summit will be the first since the elevation of the India-ASEAN relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership, signed last year. The grouping is also in talks with India for a trade agreement. During the Asean-India economic ministers’ meeting in August, both sides began the review of the Asean-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA) with the goal of completing it by 2025. The objective of the review is to make AITIGA more trade-friendly and facilitative while enhancing and diversifying trade and addressing current asymmetries, Kumar said.
There has also been an upswing in security and defense ties between India and Asean.
Regarding the question of whether China’s latest “standard map” would be discussed in the summit talks, Kumar stated, “It is difficult to anticipate what would be discussed when the leaders meet. However, issues of mutual concern, both regional and international, would likely come up during their discussions. Whether a consensus would be reached or not is uncertain.”
On 28 August, Beijing released the 2023 edition of the “standard map of China,” which includes Taiwan, the South China Sea, Arunachal Pradesh, and Aksai Chin as Chinese territories. Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines have already rejected China’s claims over the South China Sea, while India lodged a strong protest with Beijing over it.
The East Asia Summit brings together ASEAN members and eight dialogue partners, including Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States.
“The East Asia Summit is the foremost of the ASEAN-centered mechanisms in the Indo-Pacific. Since its inception in 2005, it has played a significant role in providing a platform for dialogue and discussion on matters of strategic importance to the region. India, as the founding member of the East Asia Summit, has been committed to strengthening the mechanism and making it more effective in addressing contemporary challenges,” Kumar said.
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