Prime Minister Narendra Modi will reach Laos capital Vientiane today afternoon to attend the 14th ASEAN-India Summit and the 11th East Asia Summit.
Maritime security, terrorism, economic and socio-cultural cooperation will be on the agenda of the Prime Minister at the two Summits which will be attended by Heads of State/Government of the 10 ASEAN countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand) and 18 East Asia Summit participating countries (10 ASEAN nations and those of India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, US and Russia).
Bilateral meetings with fellow world leaders to discuss key issues are also included in the schedule of Prime Minister.
Ahead of his visit, the Indian Prime Minister said that southeast Asia is the key to the development of country’s northeastern region.
“ASEAN is a key partner for our Act East Policy, which is vital for the economic development of our Northeastern region," Modi said in a pre-departure statement posted on his Facebook page.
"Our strategic partnership with ASEAN is also important for safeguarding and promoting our security interests and countering traditional and non-traditional security challenges in the region," his statement reads.
"East Asia Summit is the premier forum for discussions on the challenges and opportunities before the Asia Pacific region," the statement added.
His statement assumes significance in the wake of his visit to Vietnam, India's country coordinator for the ASEAN, on Friday and Saturday. New Delhi elevated its relationship with Hanoi from Strategic Partnership to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership while announcing over Rs 3000 crore defence credit line to the southeast Asian nation.
"Our ties with the countries of South East Asia are truly historic. Our engagement and approach can be best encapsulated in just one word - connectivity," he said.
After the NDA government turned the UPA government's Look East Policy into Act East Policy, New Delhi has been working on a number of projects to improve connectivity with southeast Asia, the key projects being the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the Kaladan multi-modal transport project connecting the Sittwe port in Myanmar with Mizoram in northeast India.
"We wish to enhance our physical and digital connectivity; to see greater people to people links; to strengthen our institutional linkages; and, to leverage the modern interconnected world for the mutual benefit of all our people," Modi said.
"During the visit, I will also have the opportunity to interact with the leaders of participating countries to discuss bilateral issues of mutual concern," Modi added.
The Summit comes at a time when China is flexing its muscle to tighten its grip over the disputed South China Sea (SCS). China is involved in a raging dispute with the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei over ownership of territory in the SCS, a busy waterway through which India’s 50 per cent trade passes.
China has also objected in the past to India’s Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) undertaking exploration at the invitation of Vietnam in the SCS, which is believed to be rich in undersea deposits of oil and gas.
India and the US have been calling for freedom of passage in the international waters, much to the discomfort to Beijing, whose claim over SCS was recently struck down by an international tribunal in favour of the Philippines.
According to reports, during the summits, PM Modi is expected to make India's stand clear on the issue.
2017 also mark 25 years of India’s dialogue partnership with ASEAN, and several commemorative activities will also be announced by Modi to celebrate the occasion. ASEAN is a strategic partner of India since 2012.
India and ASEAN have 30 dialogue mechanisms which meet regularly, including a Summit and 7 Ministerial meetings in Foreign Affairs, Commerce, Tourism, Agriculture, Environment, Renewable Energy and Telecommunications. Trade between India and ASEAN stood at USD 65.04 billion in 2015-16 and comprises 10.12 per cent of India’s total trade with the world.
The ASEAN-India economic integration process has got a fillip with the creation of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area in July 2015, following the entry of the ASEAN-India Trade in Services and Investment Agreements.
The East Asia Summit is an exclusive club of leaders-led forum in the Asia-Pacific. Since its inception in 2005, it has played a significant role in the strategic, geopolitical and economic evolution of East Asia.
India is a founding member of the East Asia Summit.