New Delhi: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will depart on Thursday on a five-day visit to three South-East Asian nations—Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.
The visit, in line with India’s ‘Act East’ policy, comes ahead of India’s Republic Day celebrations on 26 January when leaders of all 10 Asean countries arrive in India as chief guests.
Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is a multilateral body and the three nations that Swaraj is visiting are founding members of the body. Apart from them, other members of Asean are Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
In a statement, the external affairs ministry said, “Within the framework of India’s Act East Policy, there have been intensive bilateral interactions in various sectors with the countries of South-East Asian region in recent years" and “to give these interactions a further boost" Swaraj is undertaking the visit.
Swaraj will be in Thailand on 4-5 January where she will meet the country’s foreign affairs minister Don Pramudwinai.
“All aspects of bilateral relations with Thailand will be discussed with particular focus on political, defence and economic ties and on further enhancing India’s engagement with Asean countries," said the statement, while adding that Thailand will assume the role of coordinator country for India-Asean relations in the middle of 2018.
Following Thailand, Swaraj will visit Indonesia on 5-6 January and co-chair the 5th meeting of India-Indonesia Joint Commission with her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi.
“The ministers will also inaugurate the second meeting of Asean-India Network of think tanks," the statement added.
She will also meet President of Indonesia Joko Widodo and have an interaction with representatives of the Indian community.
“She will also meet the new secretary general of Asean Lim Jock Hoi. As the biggest country in the Asean region with the largest economy, Indonesia is an important partner for India including in trade and strategic matters. In recent times, there has been intensive engagement between the two countries bilaterally, as well as plurilaterally. The joint commission meeting and other engagements of EAM (external affairs minister) will enable the two countries to chart out the course of partnership during the year 2018," the MEA statement said.
In the last leg of her visit, in Singapore (6-8 January), Swaraj will inaugurate the regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) of Asean countries on 7 January, whose theme is “Ancient Route, New Journey: Diaspora in the Dynamic Asean-India Partnership".
She will also have bilateral meetings with the leaders in Singapore and interactions with PIO (Persons of Indian Origin) delegations from Asean countries, who are participating in the PBD. The regional PBD is a large-scale event covering a wide range of sectors including political relations, economic and investment, tourism and culture, connectivity, start-ups, science and technology.
“PIO delegations from all Asean countries, including ministers, eminent personalities, business and socio-political leaders are participating in the event," the statement said.
“On all three legs of her visit, EAM will share with her interlocutors relevant information about the forthcoming Asean-India Commemorative Summit later this month in Delhi which marks 25 years since the establishment of Dialogue Partnership between Indian and Asean," the statement added.
Relationship with Asean is an important part of India’s foreign policy. India became Asean’s sectoral partner in 1992, a dialogue partner in 1996, a summit-level partner in 2002 and a strategic partner in 2012. The importance of India-Asean strategic partnership acquired a new momentum with India announcing the Act East policy from the previous Look East policy to scale up its engagement with Asean member states. In his latest radio address Mann Ki Baat on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said 26 January is a historic festival for all of us but “26th January 2018 will especially be remembered through the ages."
“The Republic Day will be celebrated with leaders of all 10 Asean countries coming to India as chief guests...This is unprecedented in India’s history. The year 2017 has been special for both Asean and India. Asean completed its 50 years of formation in 2017 and in 2017, 25 years of India’s partnership with Asean were completed. On 26th January, the arrival of great leaders of 10 nations of the world as a unit is a matter of pride for all Indians," Modi had said in his address.
Asean nations are also important trade partners for India. Asean-India trade in 2016-17 was $70 billion. Foreign direct investment (FDI) into India from Asean between April 2000 and December 2016 was $54.97 billion, representing 16.81% of the cumulative inflows received by India, and cumulative FDI outflows from India to Asean countries, from April 2007 to March 2015, was about $38.67 billion.