Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US president Donald Trump, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and several other world leaders will descend in Manila on Monday for the ASEAN summit which is set to deliberate extensively on evolving security challenges facing South East Asia.
The annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), a grouping of 10 influential countries, is taking place amid China's aggressive behaviour in the disputed South China Sea and North Korea's nuclear missile tests and both these issues are likely to figure prominently during discussions among the leaders, a senior diplomat told PTI in Manila. The ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
In a statement ahead of his departure on Sunday, Modi on Saturday said that his visit to the Philippines for the 15th India-ASEAN Summit, the 12th East Asia Summit and his bilateral meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, symbolises India's commitment to continue deepening its ties with Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.
Besides the two summits, Modi would also participate in special celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the formation of ASEAN, the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Leaders' Meeting and an ASEAN Business and Investment Summit. RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between the 10 ASEAN member states and the six states with which the grouping has free trade pacts — Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
The ASEAN region along with India together comprises a combined population of 1.85 billion, which is one-fourth of the global population and their combined GDP has been estimated to be over $3.8 trillion.
The ties between India and ASEAN have been on an upswing in the last few years with the focus being on ramping up cooperation in the areas of trade and investment as well as security and defence.
"Every single country in the ASEAN region wants India to be more engaged in the region in every possible way. That is the real synergy we have with ASEAN," Indian Ambassador to Philippines Jaideep Mazumdar told PTI.
The US, France, and Japan have been pitching for a larger role by India in the strategically key Indo-Pacific region where China has been trying to increase its military presence.
Issues expected to be discussed at the summit
Majumdar said terrorism is going to be one of the issues that will be discussed not only during the ASEAN summit but also at the East Asia summit. He said several documents are going to be adopted with an aim to contain terrorism, including one on stopping money laundering for the purpose of terrorism.
India's proposal to host an international conference on countering radicalisation may also be discussed during the deliberations at Manila as New Delhi is now looking at finalising the dates for the conclave.
In the ASEAN-India summit, both sides are expected to explore ways to further enhance trade and investment ties. Investment from ASEAN to India has been over $70 billion in the last 17 years, accounting for more than 17 percent of India's total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). India's investment in ASEAN during the same period has been more than $40 billion.
While ASEAN summit is likely to focus more on trade and investment-related issues, leaders at the East Asia Summit are expected to delve deep into issues relating to maritime security, terrorism, non-proliferation and migration.
Narendra Modi to hold separate talks with each quadrilateral
Official sources said the meeting between Modi and US president Donald Trump is likely to take place on Monday. It will be the first meeting between the two leaders following a proposal to have a quadrilateral alliance among India, the US, Japan, and Australia. In their meeting, Modi and Trump are likely to discuss a host of key issues of mutual interest including the security scenario in the region.
Trump on Friday praised India's "astounding" growth after it opened up its economy and also lauded Modi, saying he has been working successfully to bring the vast country and its people together.
Speaking at a gathering of CEOs on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Vietnamese city of Danang, Trump cited India as one of the countries in the Indo-Pacific region making strides. He praised India as a sovereign democracy with a population of over 1 billion as well as the largest democracy in the world.
According to The Indian Express, the first quadrilateral level talks will be delegation-level talks between the four countries followed by Modi meeting the leaders of the three nations separately — Donald Trump, Shinzo Abe and Malcolm Turnbull.
"The idea is to generate a sense of solidarity among the quadrilateral leaders. The idea of a leaders-level meeting was knocked off keeping in mind Beijing’s concerns, but it was considered important that they should meet each other to convey their views separately," a source told The Indian Express.
Japan last month had indicated that it would propose a top-level dialogue with the US, India, and Australia. Sources said officials of the four countries may meet on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Manila. Reacting to the Japanese move, India had said that it was open to working with like-minded countries on issues that advance its interests. The US had said it was looking at a "working-level" quadrilateral meeting in the near term with India, Japan, and Australia.
Japan's foreign minister Taro Kono last month had said that Tokyo favours a dialogue between Japan, the US, India, and Australia to further boost strategic partnership among the four countries.
The move to set up the quadrilateral comes in the backdrop of growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. The US has been favouring a larger role for India in the strategically key Indo-Pacific region. The use of the term "Indo-Pacific" by Trump has led to the speculation that it may have something to do with Washington preparing the ground for a revival of the so-called "quadrilateral strategic alliance" between the US, Japan, Australia, and India to counter China's rise.
In his maiden visit to the Philippines as prime minister, Modi will also meet Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte.
"During my first visit to the Philippines, I look forward to having a bilateral meeting with the President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. I will also have interactions with other Asean and East Asia Summit leaders," Modi said in a statement.
Modi is also set to attend a reception by the Indian community and visit the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Mahavir Philippines Foundation.
With inputs from PTI and IANS
Updated Date: Nov 12, 2017 12:45 PM