Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday made it clear that ASEAN is the pivot to India’s Act East Policy. Although he made no mention of the South China Sea issue, it’s learnt that the PM may take up the matter with ASEAN leaders in his personal interactions with them.
Speaking at the 14th ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos, where he arrived on Wednesday to attend the ASEAN-India and the East Asia Summits to strengthen India’s trade and security ties with the strategic Southeast Asian region, he said: “Our ties are a source of balance and harmony in the region. The substance of our strategic partnership covers economic, security, socio-culture…ASEAN-India Plan of Action (2016-20) has served us well in fulfilling our objectives. We have already implemented 54 out of 130 activities.”
NaMo pointed out that improving, upgrading and enhancing the connectivity – physical, digital, economy, institutional and cultural – was the core of India’s strategic partnership with ASEAN. “In the face of growing traditional and nontraditional challenges, political security co-operation is a key emergent pillar of our relationships,” he added.
Referring to the curse of global terrorism and its continuous expansion, emphasized that “the export of terror, growing radicalisation & spread of extreme violence are common security threats to our societies.”
ASEAN has been a strategic partner of India since 2012. India and ASEAN have 30 dialogue mechanisms which meet regularly. Trade between India and ASEAN stood at USD 65.04 billion in 2015-16 and comprises 10.12 percent of India’s total trade with the world. The ASEAN-India economic integration process has been boosted by the creation of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area in July 2015, following the entry into force of the ASEAN-India Trade in Services and Investment Agreements.
Apart from the 10 ASEAN Member states, East Asia Summit includes India, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, United States and Russia.
My it be noted that the East Asia summit is taking place under the shadow of an increasingly assertive China in the South China Sea (SCS). Although Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said during the summit that China wants to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to “dispel interference” in the disputed South China Sea, the Philippines said on Wednesday it was “gravely concerned” that Chinese boats were preparing to build structures at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, shattering an appearance of cordiality at the summit.
China claims much of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims.
Officials said talks between Southeast Asian leaders and Li went smoothly, but there was no reference to a July court ruling in The Hague that declared illegal some of China’s artificial islands and invalidated its claims to almost the entire waterway.
Following the Hague verdict, India has stepped up its cooperation with the ASEAN and East Asian nations to ensure the freedom of navigation rights. About 55 percent of India’s global trade passes through the SCS.