Amid growing challenge from China on regional issues, India is pulling out all the stops to accord an unprecedented welcome to leaders of ten ASEAN nations who will be the chief guests at the Republic Day parade on 26 January.

Commerce, culture and connectivity will be three ‘C’s’ of the India-ASEAN relationship during the high-profile India-ASEAN commemorative summit to be held a day before Republic Day, highly-placed sources said here on Wednesday.

The Republic Day celebrations will see the leaders of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei descending on the Indian capital in what will be a landmark event that will give a new impetus to India’s ‘Act East’ policy. ”All the ASEAN leaders have accepted India’s invitation to attend the event,” sources said.

They said India and ASEAN countries were currently discussing in Jakarta the joint declaration to be issued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ASEAN leaders at the end of their day-long summit. The fight against terrorism would be an important component of the declaration.

The focus would also be on connectivity and economic cooperation in the joint declaration, given the fact that both India and ASEAN countries are looking at giving a thrust to their strategic relationship.

Sources said New Delhi was hopeful of completing the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project to connect the seaport of Kolkata with Sittwe seaport in Myanmar by sea by the end of 2019.

India was also looking at providing the much-needed stability in the South China Sea, where some of the ASEAN countries are locked in territorial disputes with Beijing. While not directly questioning China’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, New Delhi has repeatedly stressed the need for freedom of navigation in international waters.

India would also lay emphasis on the role of the youth by hosting nearly 500 children from ASEAN countries during the Republic Day celebrations and exposing them to the Indian way of life. At the religious-cultural level, India has asked all ten ASEAN countries to send their ‘Ramayana’ troupes to perform during the Republic Day celebrations.  “Ramayana is an important link between India and each of the ten ASEAN nations,” said sources.

They denied that there was friction between India and ASEAN over the quadrilateral set-up by India, Australia, Japan and the US, which held its first meeting in the Philippines on the margins of the ASEAN Summit last month. All ASEAN nations wanted India to play its rightful role in the regional security architecture, they added.