Amid Tension With China, Will India Host ASEAN Leaders Next R-Day?
India-China tensions have escalated over the past few days. (Photo: Rhythm Seth/<b>The Quint</b>)
India-China tensions have escalated over the past few days. (Photo: Rhythm Seth/The Quint)

Amid Tension With China, Will India Host ASEAN Leaders Next R-Day?

Amid the border standoff between India and China at Sikkim, reports have emerged that suggest New Delhi is all set to host at least 10 ASEAN nations on 26 January 2018 – the 69th Republic Day.

As things stand, a formal announcement in this regard is bound to make the current situation with Beijing even more fragile, considering that the South East Asian region is often perceived as China’s “backyard”.

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“New Delhi has already started reaching out to the leaders of the Association of South East Asia Nations (or ASEAN) – Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Once the successor of President Pranab Mukherjee is elected by the end of this month, the Rashtrapati Bhavan will start the process of sending out the formal invitations to all the ASEAN leaders,” Deccan Chronicle quoted sources as saying.

A Move That Could Send a Strong Signal to China

Weighing in on the subject, Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, senior fellow and head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), told The Quint that the move would be of great strategic interest.

India has increasingly been approaching international issues strategically. Calling Obama or the French President for the parade was done keeping our strategic interests in mind. Calling 10 leaders will not only be a departure from the norm, but also a strong signal to China and a boost to the implementation of our ‘Act East’ policy.
Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, Senior fellow and head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation

Given the escalating Sino-Indian border tensions, the move, according to Rajagopalan, would also be a way of telling China that India will not back down.

India’s economic transactions with China have increased drastically over the past few years. There have been many commentators who said that this is a way of improving relations with them, but has it appeased the Chinese? It certainly hasn’t.

Our posturing right now is extremely critical given the fact that several smaller Asian nations look up to us, Rajagopalan told The Quint. “Our actions with respect to China will have long term effects. If other Asian nations watch us backing off, it would send a wrong signal to them”.

Is it Practical To Invite 10 Heads of States for Republic Day?

While talks of inviting heads of the Southeast Asian nations for the ceremony began to make the rounds in April, some diplomats are skeptical about the practical implementation of it.

“It would be quite unusual to have 10 heads of states for the Republic Day, but then Mr Modi is an unusual figure, ” Rajiv Sikri, former secretary, Ministry of External Affairs said.

But what if it works out? “If it does, it would be a strong signal to say that we have strong relations with ASEAN and that we endorse ASEAN unity, something that China has been making attempts to break up,” Sikri told The Quint.

Director of Society for Policy Studies, Retired Commodore Uday Bhaskar, said:

The possibility of getting 10 leaders seems like a daunting diplomatic task to me. If it happens, it would be unprecedented. It would be a strong signal but I’m really not sure how 10 heads of states would take the salute on 26 January. Also, countries like Philippines, Lhaos and Cambodia would not be willing to take a polarised stance. I think they will be really careful.

India Wants to Enhance Connectivity With ASEAN: MEA

Chatter around the invitations spiked after an event in New Delhi on 'Charting the Course for India-ASEAN relations for the next 25 Years’. During the 4 July event, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj conceded that the country is making efforts to enhance “physical and digital” connectivity between the nations.

The Economics Times quoted Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Vietnam as saying at the event:

“ASEAN supports India to play a greater role in the political and security domain, and create a regional rules-based region. We hope India will continue to partner our efforts for strategic security and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea on the basis of international law and legal convention.”

There are also plans to organise a regional ‘Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas’ with the Indian diaspora in the ASEAN countries sometime this year.

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