ASEAN-India relationship has evolved significantly: Singapore Prime Minister
NEW DELHI: Committed to deepening ASEAN-India ties, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “Major global trends are reshaping the strategic outlook, presenting both challenges and opportunities…the consensus on globalisation and free trade is fraying, but the Asian story continues to be a positive one.”
In an Oped in a major Indian daily, which echoed PM Narendra Modi’s plenary address at the World Economic Forum at Davos on Tuesday, Lee also argued: “This geopolitical uncertainty gives new impetus to ASEAN’s cooperation with key partners like India. We must also be resolute in dealing with emerging transboundary challenges, including terrorism, cybercrime and climate change.”
Lee is in New Delhi to attend the ASEAN India commemorative summit. Heads of all 10 ASEAN member states are chief guests at the Republic Day parade. The 10-member ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) includes Brunei, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, and Laos.
Modi, who returned from Davos on Wednesday, has already held bilateral meetings with six of the 10 heads of state, and is expected to meet them all by the end of the summit. In a hurriedly-called press meet on Thursday, Preeti Saran, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, said that apart from the significance of marking 25 years of India-ASEAN relations, “what makes it absolutely historic is that we would have all 10 leaders as chief guests for our R-Day. This is unprecedented, and has never happened before.”
“While the intentions are no doubt noble, it must be a logistical as well as a protocol nightmare for the organisers,” said a senior diplomat, adding, “It would be interesting to see who arrives first, who gets to sit on Modi’s right or left at the parade, and to observe the body language of the others seated on the fringe.”
On Thursday, the formal programme began with a welcome banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind, followed by a retreat session with Modi at Rashtrapati Bhavan, where the theme was maritime cooperation and security.
Addressing the gathering, Modi stressed that ASEAN stands right at the centre “of India’s Act East Policy and that the ASEAN-India relationship has evolved significantly, and trade has grown 25 times in 25 years”. This was followed by a walk through the Mughal Gardens and the traditional group photo.
In the evening, the chief guests attended the release of 11 commemorative stamps before attending a plenary session themed “Shared Values, Common Destiny’. Then, after a tour of 20 paintings depicting India-ASEAN ties, they attended a cultural programme and a banquet.