New Delhi: India’s ancient maritime connect with South-East Asia and ways to reinforce and adapt the old linkages to boost commercial and security engagement will be the main focus of an upcoming dialogue between India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) next week.

Titled Delhi Dialogue 10, the 19-20 July event will also see experts from India and South-East Asia deliberate on a series of themes—from “India-Asean partnership and the emerging global order" to “Asean-India trade, investment and technology" partnership and development cooperation.

Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. India’s past links with the Asean region are seen in the large ethnic Indian communities in countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, besides cultural and religious ties.

In modern times, many Indian companies have set up bases in the Asean region to exploit the economic opportunities presented by some of the fastest growing economies in the world.

The Delhi Dialogue—organized by India’s external affairs ministry and the independent New Delhi-based think tank, Research and Information System for Developing Countries—will feature a special session that will be attended by the chief ministers of India’s eight northeastern states. This is seen as an initiative of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who will deliver the keynote address at the Dialogue. Swaraj, who began the year with visits to Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, has been keen to build closer ties between India’s North-East and Asean. She had also hosted all eight chief ministers from India’s North-East in May to ensure close alignment of India’s “Act East Policy" with India’s domestic goal of ensuring the development of its North-East. This is seen as a key policy objective of the Narendra Modi government, which hosted all 10 Asean heads of state and government for its Republic Day celebrations on 26 January to mark 25 years of India-Asean dialogue partnership.

Bilateral trade between India and Asean touched $ 76 billion in 2017-18 from about $53 billion in 2009-10, the year when the two sides signed the Asean-India free trade agreement. Both sides are looking at closing an India-Asean free trade pact on services and investment, negotiations for which closed in December 2012.

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