PM Modi underlines centrality of Asean in India’s Act East policy

India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Thursday emphasised the need to build on convergences and synergy to maintain peace and security in the Indo-Pacific, against the backdrop of China’s growing assertiveness across the region.

The situation in the South China Sea, where China is engaged in disputes with several Asean members, and all regional issues of concern figured in the discussions during the Asean-India Summit that was co-chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Vietnam is the current chair of Asean.

“India and Asean share a vast maritime space in the Indo-Pacific and Asean is at the centre of this space. There is great convergence and synergy between our visions of the Indo-Pacific as articulated in the Asean outlook for the Indo-Pacific and India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative,” said secretary (East) Riva Ganguly Das of the external affairs ministry.

“We seek to build on this convergence for maintaining peace, security and sustainable development of the Indo-Pacific and ensuring security and growth for all in the region,” she told a news briefing after the summit.

While addressing the summit, Modi underlined the centrality of Asean in India’s “Act East” policy and said a cohesive and prosperous Asean is also central to India’s Indo-Pacific vision. He called for strengthening convergence between India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and Asean’s outlook on Indo-Pacific to “ensure a free, open, inclusive and rules-based” region.

PM Modi announced a contribution of $1 million to the Covid-19 Asean Response Fund and reiterated New Delhi’s offer of a $1-billion line of credit to support connectivity between Asean states. He also called for an early review of the Asean-India Trade in Goods Agreement.

Asked specifically if China’s aggressive actions, which have affected both India and Asean states, had figured in the summit, Ganguly Das said all regional issues of concern were discussed, including the situation in the South China Sea.

“Both Asean and India agreed on the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability and security in the South China Sea, and reaffirmed the importance of upholding international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) while ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight above South China Sea and ensuring unimpeded lawful commerce,” she said.

The Asean leaders acknowledged India as a long-term friend and partner and the country’s contributions towards promoting regional peace and stability. In the field of digital and physical connectivity, the two sides agreed to consider a report by Jakarta-based think tank Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA) on extending the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway to more countries.

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