Asean leaders begin arriving in Delhi for summit

24 Jan 2018


The countdown to the commemorative summit marking 25 years of India's ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has begun with the leaders of all 10 Asean nations arriving in New Delhi.

The theme of the commemorative summit that is to start in New Delhi on Thursday is 'Shared Values, Common Destiny', highlighting the commonalities between Asia's third largest economy and the economically vibrant bloc of Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The first to arrive today was Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, followed by Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Myanmar state counsellor Aung Saan Suu Kyi, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong, Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Brunei Sultan Hassan al Bolkiah, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak and Laos Prime Minister Thongluin Sisolith.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo will be the last to arrive.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is hosting all 10 Asean leaders for the commemorative summit on Thursday. But he will start bilateral meetings with all the visiting leaders starting today, as he returns from the World Economic Forum at Davos.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Textiles Minister Smriti Irani got the ball rolling. Irani told a conference on Tuesday India has potential to become the one-stop sourcing destination for brands and retailers from Asean as opportunities exist for textile manufacturers from the 10-nation bloc to invest here and cater to the domestic market as well as exports.

Swaraj said the cultural bonds between India and Asean countries were centuries old and the "onus was on us to propagate this special relationship amongst the youth in both the regions".

There are mainly two things that connect India with ASEAN, one is Buddhism and the other is Ramayana, Swaraj said.

It was in 1992 that India first began its engagement with Asean as a sector partner as it launched its ''Look East Policy''.

Since 2014, India has upgraded this policy to ''Act East Policy''. This year, India is also marking 15 years of summit-level engagement with Asean and five years of strategic partnership with the bloc. Significantly, Asean is marking 50 years of its establishment in 2017.

India views the Asean region as an economic partner, given its high growth rates as well as its approximately 600 million people as a market.

Plans to consolidate India-Asean ties come as China stakes its claims to larger sections of the South China Sea bringing it in dispute with many South-East Asian nations. India, in contrast, is seen as a benign power and a foil to China.

On Thursday, the Asean leaders will first be hosted by Indian President Ram Nath Kovind to a luncheon banquet. This will be followed by a leaders' retreat and then the plenary session of the India-Asean commemorative summit. At the end of the day, Modi will host a dinner for the visiting leaders.

On Friday, all 10 Asean leaders will be chief guests at India's 69th Republic Day celebrations - an unprecedented break with tradition for India, which usually invites the head of government of a single country as the Republic Day chief guest each year.

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