New Delhi: Indian diplomacy will focus on distant South and Central America as well as the country’s immediate periphery this week with vice-president Venkaiah Naidu embarking on a visit to Gautemala, Panama and Peru, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj make quick trips to Nepal and Myanmar, respectively, to consolidate ties.

Naidu’s 6-12 May visit to South and Central America is his first trip abroad after taking office as vice-president in August.

“Africa and South and Central America were regions where India was under-represented," said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. “While our neglect of Africa has now been rectified, we still need to make this effort with Latin America," Mansingh said, noting that, with increasing globalization, problems related to connectivity have become reduced.

The Modi government’s policy is a departure from the past, which saw some countries as critical for India’s economic growth and energy being focused on developing strategic partnerships with them, Mansingh said. “Now the idea is that all countries are important. Hence, the outreach to small island nations in the Asia-Pacific, as well as in the Commonwealth, besides others," he said.

Naidu will arrive in Guatemala on 6 May, on the first leg of his visit. He will reach Panama on 8 May and Peru on 10 May. Panama is seen as a springboard for trade with countries in the neighbourhood, which is one of the reasons for a strong Indian diaspora presence of 15,000 people there.

“Trade and investment are one of the main drivers of our relationship. Bilateral trade with the region has grown steadily. There is potential for further increase," a statement from the Indian foreign ministry said.

“The official discussions will review the entire spectrum of bilateral relations, including strengthening institutional mechanisms for political interactions, multilateral matters, trade and commerce, investments, information technology, capacity building, traditional medicines, space, defence and culture," the statement added.

In one of the other two trips of Indian leaders to other countries this week, Modi will visit Nepal on 11-12 May, just a month after a visit to New Delhi by K. P. Sharma Oli, who took over as the prime minister of Nepal in February. Modi’s visit to Nepal will be his third in the last four years and the first since Oli’s government was sworn in.

“The state visit is in keeping with the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between India and Nepal, and will enable leaders to discuss matters of mutual interest to strengthen cooperation in all areas of the age-old, multi-faceted and expanding partnership between the two countries," a separate Indian foreign ministry statement said.

Swaraj’s visit to Myanmar will take place on 10-11 May, during which time she is expected to announce an increase in Indian assistance to the country.

“There is a realisation that India has been lagging in making investments and completing projects in its neighbourhood in countries like Myanmar and Nepal, allowing China to make deep inroads into India’s periphery," Mansingh said, adding that he hoped the visits by Modi and Swaraj would help address this situation.

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