India-ASEAN summit to focus on Indo-Pacific strategic connect

India is set to co-chair the 17th Summit with the 10-nation ASEAN with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on November 12. Vietnam currently holds the chair of ASEAN for 2020 and is the non-permanent member of the UNSC for 2020-2021. The summit will witness India and the ten member countries coming together to review the status of ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership and take stock of progress made in key areas such as connectivity, maritime cooperation, trade and commerce, education and capacity building.

India is expected to seek ASEAN’s support to renew a joint call for respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity. The summit comes at a time when India is embroiled in a protracted border standoff and some ASEAN are concerned about Beijing’s creation of two new administrative districts in disputed areas.  Proactive cooperation in maintaining rules-based order will figure high on the agenda.

Earlier this year, at the 36th ASEAN summit member states discussed the escalating tensions in the South China Sea. “The leaders will discuss COVID-19, post pandemic economic recovery and important regional and international developments” a statement by India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.

“This year, the two sides will focus on expanding the arc of convergence and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. India has repeatedly underlined the centrality of ASEAN in shaping an inclusive, free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network and India and the World.

Deepening Ties

ASEAN and India graduated from Sectoral Partners in 1992 to Dialogue Partners in 1996, to Summit-level Partners in 2002, to finally become Strategic Partners in 2012. ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership stands on a strong foundation of shared geographical, historical and civilisational ties.

India’s Act East Policy, underlining ASEAN centrality, reflects the importance, India attaches to engagement with ASEAN,” said government sources. Indeed, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India and ASEAN expanded their multi sectoral engagement, particularly cooperation in the maritime sphere as well as in areas of agriculture, engineering, digital technology and scientific research. The upcoming summit will be the eighth summit attended by PM Modi.

India’s Act East Policy recognizes connectivity — understood in its broadest sense as inclusive of physical, economic, political and people-to-people connectivity — as the key to take forward the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership. In 2018, India had offered a USD 1 billion Line of Credit to ASEAN countries for connectivity and infrastructure projects. On the economic front, ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner and in 2019-20 ASEAN-India trade stood at USD 86.9 billion. Out of the 14 FTA’s India is party to, the one with ASEAN spans goods, services and investment. Furthermore, Southeast Asia and India share long- standing civilizational ties, the languages of the two regions are intricately connected and share a lot of common words. The traditional medicinal systems of ASEAN countries share many commonalities with Indian Ayurveda.

Built on this solid foundation, it is expected that this partnership will only reach new heights at the November 12 summit. The frequent high-level visits are testament to the commitment on both sides to improve and expand relations. The adoption of ASEAN-India Plan of Action (2021-2025) is expected to further institutionalize growing cooperation in key areas of economic and strategic partnership.

(Rushali Saha contributed inputs for this article)

 

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