The VIP enclosure at the Republic Day parade next year promises to be a sight to behold as it will showcase perhaps India’s biggest Act East outreach ever. Government sources confirmed to TOI that prime ministers of both Vietnam and Singapore have confirmed their participation in the event which rolls out India’s military might and also colourful tableaux from Indian states.
Vietnam PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc and his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong are among the first to confirm their participation in R-Day celebrations. Malaysian PM Najib Razak too is expected to attend, a source said.
India is expecting confirmation from other ASEAN leaders in the next couple of weeks. This will be the first time that so many heads of government and state will together attend the R-Day parade. In fact, only in 1968 and again in 1974, the R-Day parade saw more than 1 guest. While it was then Yugoslavia President Josip Broz Tito and Soviet Union Premier Alexei Kosygin in 1968, it was Tito again in 1974 along with Sri Lankan PM Sirima Bandarnaike.
ASEAN remains central to India’s Act East Policy and both Singapore and Vietnam are key pillars of that policy. As TOI had reported on July 8, aiming for an assertive exposition of its Act East outreach, the government had invited leaders from all 10 ASEAN nations for the R-Day parade.
The leaders will also participate in an India-ASEAN friendship summit which will mark the completion of 25 years of their relationship as Dialogue Partners, 15 years of Summit Level interaction and 5 years of Strategic Partnership.
In the recent past, India has focused on strengthening security and defence ties with countries in the region and nowhere has this been more obvious than in the expanding defence partnership with Vietnam, a victim of Chinese territorial aggression. Among them, defence-security cooperation is the most intensive and effective pillar between Vietnam and India.
In a rare interview in September this year, Vietnam ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh had told TOI that defence-security cooperation was the most intensive and effective pillar of India’s relations with Vietnam. India has announced a $ 500 million Line of Credit for Vietnam to allow Hanoi to purchase defence equipment from India and, as the ambassador had said, not only Vietnamese naval officers but also air force personnel were being trained in India.
Even otherwise, as MEA says in an official document, faced with growing traditional and non-traditional challenges, politico-security cooperation is a key and an emerging pillar of India’s relationship with ASEAN. “Rising export of terror, growing radicalization through ideology of hatred, and spread of extreme violence define the landscape of common security threats to our societies. Our partnership with ASEAN seeks to craft a response that relies on coordination, cooperation and sharing of experiences at multiple levels,” says the document.
As foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has said in the past, India and ASEAN share a common geographical space where they face common traditional and non-traditional security challenges and that freedom of navigation and respect for international law is imperative in this context.
India’s trade with ASEAN is also growing, albeit slowly, with ASEAN being India’s fourth largest trading partner. India’s trade with ASEAN increased to $ 70 billion in 2016-17 from $ 65 billion in 2015-16.