Leaders celebrate 25 years of Asean-India relations

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Indian PM Narendra Modi welcomes 10 Asean leaders to mark 25 years of Asean-India relations

India rolled out the red carpet for the 10 Asean leaders yesterday as they gathered in New Delhi to mark 25 years of Asean-India relations.

At a commemorative summit, the leaders renewed their commitment to enhance the multi-faceted ties between the South-east Asian bloc and its neighbouring South Asian giant. The summit was co-chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, which chairs Asean this year, and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The two leaders expressed hopes for Asean and India to draw closer to each other. They also identified areas of mutual concern.

Mr Lee said: "We believe that India makes a major contribution to regional affairs, helping to keep the regional architecture open, balanced and inclusive."

Noting the regional grouping's deep cultural and historical ties to India, he called for an enhancement in trade, investments and connectivity.

He cited two projects to take relations forward. First, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership - a trade pact Asean and six countries, including India, are negotiating. He hopes talks can conclude this year, he said.

The second is the Asean-India Air Transport Agreement, which he said can enhance people flows, bringing benefits to both sides.

Mr Modi said India hopes to enhance cooperation with Asean in their shared maritime domain. Disaster relief efforts, security cooperation and freedom of navigation will be key focus areas for this maritime tie-up.

He added: "India shares Asean's vision for peace and prosperity through a rules-based order for the oceans and seas. Respect for international law... is critical for this."

The summit takes place at a time of geopolitical change and as Asean's key partners - including China, India, Japan and Australia - seek to deepen their engagement with the grouping.

Asean-India relations have grown considerably over the past few decades. India viewed the regional grouping with suspicion during the Cold War. But relations took off in the 1990s, with then-prime minister P. V. Narasimha Rao's "Look East" policy.

Relations have since extended beyond economics to cover security and other issues. The two sides became "strategic partners" in 2012.

After Mr Modi took office in 2014, the "Look East" policy was renamed the "Act East" policy.

Celebrations will reach a climax today at the Republic Day Parade. Asean leaders will attend as chief guests - the first time India has hosted more than one chief guest at the event to mark the day its constitution took effect.

Asean is deeply honoured by the invitation, said Mr Lee.