03:40 GMT +322 March 2018
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    Enhanced India-ASEAN Collaboration an Attempt to Checkmate China - Diplomat

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    Leaders from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos & Brunei will attend the 25th India-ASEAN commemorative summit in New Delhi. They will also participate as Chief Guests in India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26.

    New Delhi (Sputnik) — As New Delhi readies to host leaders of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) on January 25 in a summit that will mark 25 years of the coming together, experts opine that the meet can be an opportunity for India to present itself as a powerful ally to these countries in the strategic areas of defense, trade and connectivity.

    "The partnership between India and ASEAN nations is crucial in the changing geopolitical situation where China is trying to increase its influence in the region, much to the displeasure of several South East Asian countries. A strong partnership is the need of the hour. There are several areas such as trade, energy, maritime security etc. where cooperation is to be strengthened. Defense cooperation in capacity building and defense ties is one of the important areas of cooperation where India can be a net security provider in the region. Connectivity is another area where India can increase people to people contact. Further, cultural diplomacy is yet another area which will bring South East Asian countries much closer to India due to cultural similarities," Ashok Sajjanhar, former Indian Ambassador to Sweden told Sputnik.

    READ MORE: With ASEAN on Board, India's Enhanced 'Act East' Policy Soars to New Heights

    Strengthening cooperation in maritime security has been a top priority of the ASEAN, which has sought India's greater involvement in the region. "We expect India to highlight maritime security (in the Summit). This meeting is important and we hope that there will be serious discussions on maritime security, including freedom of navigation, piracy, keeping sea trading lanes clear. India attaches a lot of importance to maritime security and ASEAN countries are preparing for an intense discussion on that," ambassador of Thailand Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi told the Hindu.

    Gongsakdi's statement is significant, as Thailand will be the coordinating country in charge of ASEAN-India ties from the middle of 2018.

    The summit is also likely to witness serious discussions on advancing and expanding the ongoing connectivity projects for facilitating trade and transport. The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, and its extension into Laos and Cambodia, and later to Vietnam, realizing the East-West link, the ASEAN-India air services agreement, the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Corridor connecting Myanmar's Sittwe Port with Kolkata port, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM), are some of the mega projects that are either nearing completion or are in the expansion phase. It is pertinent for India to ensure timely completion of these projects given its aversion to China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which will enable China to bypass the Strait of Malacca in the Indian Ocean to reach ASEAN.

    India is also eyeing a larger share in South East Asia's energy sector.

    "Many of the ASEAN countries are rich in fossil fuels. Brunei has lots of gas. In Vietnam, the ONGC Videsh already has a presence in productive blocks. When Prime Minister of Vietnam visited in 2014 it was agreed that more productive oil blocks will be offered to India. So we look forward to such oil blocks. Indian companies that are already present will be happy to participate both in upstream, midstream and downstream projects. Not in Vietnam but in other countries as well. With Indonesia, coal is an important component for collaboration," External Affairs Ministry Secretary Preeti Saran said.

    The views and opinions expressed by Ashok Sajjanhar are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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