Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the 14th Asean-India Summit and 11th East Asia Summit in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, on Thursday.
These summits are important for both Asean members and India because issues like maritime security, terrorism and other matters of regional and international interests will be discussed at a time when China is involved in a raging dispute with the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei over ownership of territory in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is a busy waterway through which half of India's 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. However, the oil and gas blocks to which Vietnam has given India access are less likely to be used to actually drill for fossil fuel than to score points over China.
Statements made at the summits will likely not have any immediate impact, but could be significant as a roadmap for India's relations with the South East Asian countries.
History of Asean and its ties with India
The Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) comprises Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Asean is India's fourth largest trading partner and India is, in turn, Asean's sixth largest trading partner.
India and Asean have 30 dialogue mechanisms which meet regularly, including a Summit and seven Ministerial meetings in Foreign Affairs, Commerce, Tourism, Agriculture, Environment, Renewable Energy and Telecommunications.
Trade between India and Asean stood at $65.04 billion in 2015-16 and comprises 10.12 percent of India's total trade with the world.
Since 2002, India has had annual summits with Asean along with China, Japan and Korea. India's engagement with the Asean and wider Asia-Pacific region has acquired further momentum following the enunciation of the Act-East Policy by Modi at the 12th Asean-India Summit and 9th East Asia Summit in Myanmar in November 2014.
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.
Apart from the 10 Asean member states, East Asia Summit includes India, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Russia.
India is a founding member of the East Asia Summit.
What will happen in the summits?
Maritime security, terrorism, economic and socio-cultural cooperation will be on the agenda of Modi at both the summits. Bilateral meetings with fellow world leaders to discuss key issues are also included in the schedule.
The summits will be attended by Heads of State/Government of the 10 Asean and 18 East Asia Summit Participating Countries respectively.
At the East Asia Summit, leaders will discuss matters of regional and international interests including maritime security, terrorism, non-proliferation and migration.
The summit comes at a time when China is flexing its muscle to tighten its grip over the disputed South China Sea.
India and the US have been calling for freedom of passage in the international waters, much to the discomfort to Beijing, whose claim over South China Sea was recently struck down by an international tribunal in favour of the Philippines.
2017 will mark 25 years of India's dialogue partnership with Asean, and several commemorative activities will also be announced by Modi to celebrate the occasion.
A report in The Hindu had said that Modi had made a passing reference to the South China Sea dispute in his address in 2015 at the 13th Asean-India Summit too. "India hopes that all parties to the disputes in the South China Sea will abide by the guidelines on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and redouble efforts for early adoption of a Code of Conduct on the basis of consensus," the report had quoted the prime minister as saying.
With inputs from PTI