The South China Sea and Beijing&’s claim over most of it would be in focus at an annual dialogue between India and the 10-member Asean from February 17-19 here that will also see other key issues like boosting trade, connectivity and people-to-people ties discussed.
The eighth edition of the Delhi Dialogue, an annual track 1.5 event to discuss various bilateral issues, also comes as the US is holding a summit with all the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members in California to emphasise on the US’ rebalance towards Asia.
The Delhi Dialogue, with the theme, ‘Asean-India Relations: A New Paradigm’, would comprise a Business Session on February 17, a ministerial session the following day and an academic session on the final day, said Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East) in the ministry of external affairs, at a briefing here.
China&’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea and its reclamation activities on reefs in the waters have upset its neighbours, including the Philippines.
Building closer connectivity with the 10 countries of the bloc would figure high on the agenda, especially the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, a 3,200 km highway that will connect India with the Asean. The highway to link Moreh in Manipur state via Mandalay city (Myanmar) to Mae Sot in Thailand, is to be ready by 2018.
The Delhi Dialogue would discuss how to utilise the $1 billion announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to boost physical and digital connectivity between both sides during the India-Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur in November last year, said the official.
The Asean grouping includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Also on the agenda of talks will be the Rs.500 crore project development fund announced by India to start investments in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (also known as CLMV countries). The CLMV countries cover 32 per cent of the geographical area of the Asean region and account for about 9 per cent of Asean&’s GDP.
In order to make the Trilateral Highway a “live highway and economically sustainable,” both the sides would also discuss the “soft infrastructure” required, including customs and tariffs, Wadhwa said.
“We want the highway to be a busy one, so that trade to Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia keeps increasing. We need economic activity on the highway to sustain it, for trucks to go through,” said the official.
Two chief ministers from the Northeast would also be attending — Nagaland&’s TR Zeliang and Mizoram&’s Lal Thanhawla.
India&’s northeast is the gateway to the Southeast Asian region.
India is the sixth largest trading partner of the Asean, which has 622 million people and a collective GDP that is the fourth largest in the world,
Trade between India and Asean stood at $76.52 billion in 2014-15.