Our special correspondent in India, Yi Jian; our correspondent Chen Xin
On the 10th, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India announced that Prime Minister Modi will hold a commemorative Summit meeting with leaders of ten ASEAN countries on January 25th to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Dialogue Partnership between India and ASEAN. January 26th is India’s Republic Day. Usually India invites a foreign dignitary as the Chief Guest to watch the celebratory parade but this year, Modi has invited the leaders of the ten ASEAN countries. On the 10th, Saran, a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India, said, “we feel very happy and honored that the leaders of the ASEAN group have jointly confirmed their presence”.
The website of the India TNN TV reported on the 11th that before the commemorative Summit, senior officials of both sides will hold preparatory meetings on the 23rd, and India and ASEAN business circles will also meet. In addition, India’s Foreign Minister Swaraj, will award the ASEAN India Youth Prize. 500 students from ASEAN will be invited by the Indian Government to visit New Delhi, Mumbai and other places to experience Indian society. Saran said that the two sides had organised 36 different commemorative activities in order to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Partnership. 16 major events are to be held in ASEAN and India before the Summit.
What is there for India to be so concerned about this event? Amongst the answers given by many media outlets, “China” is one of the key words. The Agence France-Presse said India was looking for ways to secure an advantage over China in ASEAN (region) and diluting its (China’s) influence in Southeast Asia. Modi has been projecting that India is a country that can take the place of China. He (re)formulated the strategy of (“Look East” to) “Act East”, and sought to deepen trade and cultural ties with ASEAN countries, with a view to counterbalancing the influence of regional rivals in Southeast Asia. Ural Sengupta, Senior Researcher at the India Observer Foundation, told Agence France-Presse that India is augmenting its status as a potential replacement for China and a destination for investment.
India’s Economic Times of the 11th said that in addition to demonstrating India’s capacity to become an alternative to China to ASEAN, Modi will also emphasize New Delhi’s acknowledgement and appreciation of ASEAN’s way of doing things and ASEAN’s neutrality principles at the commemoration Summit. Government sources say it is important to emphasize these principles at a time when China’s tough posture seems to be weakening ASEAN. “We have maritime and land borders with Burma and other ASEAN countries. We have strong historical and cultural ties. The prevalence of Buddhism in many East Asian countries is a clear example. According to anonymous Indian officials, Modi will have a free and frank dialogue with ASEAN leaders, and regional maritime security will be an important topic on the agenda. It is not clear whether India and the ASEAN Summit will discuss China’s construction activity in the South China Sea islands and reefs.
India’s “Business Online” reported that leaders of the ten ASEAN countries will witness India’s display of its weapons and equipment. Modi is also expected to present a detailed plan for connectivity and maritime safety. It reported that this had been brewing for a long time, including the India-Thailand-Burma trilateral highway from Manipur in India to Bangkok in Thailand, which is expected to be completed by 2020. The road is expected to be extended to Laos and Kampuchea, and then further to Vietnam. It will play a leading role in fostering transport connectivity. “Business Online” commented that the main idea in India promising large-scale connectivity with the ASEAN ten is to catch up with China’s speed and strength, so that the ASEAN countries get a real feel for India’s plans for regional connectivity similar to their sense of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”.