Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for Manila Sunday on a three-day visit to attend the India-ASEAN and the East Asia summits. The summit with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations—seen as a key element in India’s Act East policy—will focus on trade, investment and connectivity. India-ASEAN trade stood at $65.04 billion in 2015-16, 10.12 per cent of India’s total trade with the world. The East Asia Summit, which includes the ASEAN nations and India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Russia, will discuss maritime security, terrorism, non-proliferation and mass migration.
US President Donald Trump is expected to attend this summit, and Indian officials did not rule out a possible meeting between him and Modi, who is expected to hold bilateral meets with several other leaders during his trip, including Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Critics of the ASEAN point out that the consensus-based decision making process and the policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states cripple the forum’s ability to take hard decisions; so the Rohingya crisis and the South China Sea issue are likely to be quietly sidelined, with different states having different positions on it.
And while ways to deal with the intransigent North Koreans might take up a lot of time, tangible measures are unlikely. Ways to tackle rising extremism, piracy and drug running (Duterte’s pet peeve) are also likely to be on the agenda. Cybercrime and the malicious use of social media by nations and extremists are also likely to be raised.
As far as India’s Act East policy goes, one of its main drivers, the 1,700 km Trilateral Highway connecting India with Myanmar, Thailand and then onwards to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and beyond, is way beyond its scheduled completion date of 2016—and is now estimated to be finished only by 2020. India has to act quickly on this highway before other nations start considering China’s heavily funded Belt and Road Initiative as another possible option.