New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left on Thursday on a four-day visit to Indonesia and Singapore, aiming to strengthen economic and political ties with east Asia against the backdrop of the emergence of an assertive China and the economic slowdown in the West.

Regional cooperation: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia on Thursday. Photo: PTI.

“Partnership with Asean is an essential component of our ‘Look East’ policy," the Prime Minister said in his departure statement, referring to India’s efforts to forge closer linkages with the economically dynamic region that has a combined population of around 600 million people and is rich in raw materials and energy that India badly needs for its development. Bilateral trade is around $58 billion.

Singh noted that India’s engagement with the Asean as a group and with individual Asean member-states has gone up qualitatively in the past few years. “This is reflected in the areas of trade and investment, connectivity," Singh said, adding that in 2012, India would host the India-Asean Summit for the first time to mark two decades of their partnership.

On the East Asia Summit, Singh said it was “the principal forum to devise an open and inclusive architecture of regional cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. As a founding member, India is part of several initiatives taken by the East Asia Summit to create an economic community in the region such as the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia," he said.

Russia and the US will formally join the East Asia Summit—seen as a forum for dialogue among Asean and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

On the sidelines of these summits, Singh will have bilateral meetings with US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Before returning home, Singh will stop over in Singapore—India’s largest trading partner in Asean—on Sunday.