New Delhi: India is all set to welcome two key visitors—King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Tran Dai Quang of Vietnam this week—underlining the importance of two countries seen as part of India’s extended neighbourhood to its west and east.

The two visits also emphasize a continuity in India’s engagement with West Asia and South-East Asia, given a new momentum created by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Gulf Arab states of Jordan, Palestine, the United Arab Emirates and Oman on the one hand earlier this month and India hosting all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations or Asean leaders in January for its 69th Republic Day celebrations, on the other.

Jordan is seen as traditionally closer to Pakistan, according to people familiar with the development in New Delhi, and India will be looking to forge a new partnership with Amman during the visit of King Abdullah II starting on 27 February. Discussions between the Jordanian monarch and Indian leaders in New Delhi are expected to centre around boosting economic ties besides defence and security.

Modi had used a stopover in Amman in February to exchange views with Abdullah ahead of a visit to Palestine on 10 February. It was from Amman that Modi flew into Ramallah in a special Jordanian military helicopter to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Like India, Jordan has special ties with both Israel and Palestine. King Abdullah is the custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem, especially the Al-Aqsa mosque. His country is also home to a significant number of Palestinian refugees—more than two million.

“Historically, geo-political compulsions and regional rivalry resulted in the Hashemites viewing Israel as a benign and friendlier power," says a paper posted on the website of the Indian government- funded think tank Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses. “Since the late 1940s, there were clandestine but close relations between the two leaderships (Jordan and Israel). The June War of 1967, when Jordan lost the West Bank to Israel, was a notable exception to that bonhomie even though formal relations had to wait until the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization headed by Yasser Arafat. The Israel-Jordan peace treaty concluded in 1994 grants the Hashemites special status over Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem," the paper notes.

One of the highlights of Abdullah’s visit to India will be a speech on de-radicalization and counter-terrorism. A key focus of Modi’s visits to the Gulf region has been counter-terrorism with India’s joint statements with the UAE during an August 2015 visit; Saudi Arabia in April 2016; and Oman last month calling for zero tolerance towards terrorism and urging countries to pool their efforts to defeat radicalisation of the youth. A common thread in the joint statements has also been the highlighting of the misuse of religion for inciting hatred and justifying terrorism.

Almost coinciding with King Abdullah’s visit is the one by the president of Vietnam Tran Dai Quang.

Vietnam is one of India’s closest strategic partners within the 10 member economically vibrant Asean grouping. In the past three years, there has been an intensification of ties with Vietnam with an increasing frequency of visits to and fro and a growing defence partnership. India extended a $100 million line of credit to the country for defence hardware in 2014 and last year there were reports that New Delhi had sold the under-300-km range cruise missile Brahmos to Hanoi.

“India wants to build relations with states like Vietnam that can act as pressure points against China. With this in mind, New Delhi has been helping Hanoi beef up its naval and air capabilities," said Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at the London-based King’s College.

Vietnam is one of the few countries in South-East Asia that is raising its voice against China flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. Others like the Philippines seem to have tempered down their protests over Chinese claims despite Manila winning a case in an international court in 2016.

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