Economy, terrorism, South China Sea on PM’s Southeast Asia agenda

New Delhi, Nov 20 (IANS) Business and economy, counter-terrorism and South China Sea issues will figure prominently during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s multilateral and bilateral engagements in Malaysia and Singapore from November 21 to 24.

Modi, scheduled to land in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday morning, will first attend the 13th Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-India Summit and then the 10th East Asia Summit on Sunday.

“Asean lies at the centre of most of the regional dialogue mechanisms and processes such as the Asean Regional Forum, the Asean Defence Ministers Meeting Plus, and the East Asia Summit, adding a special significance to our summit interaction,” Anil Wadhwa, secretary (east) in the ministry of external affairs, said in a pre-departure media briefing.

“India and Asean today have 30 dialogue mechanisms. That includes a summit and seven ministerial meetings: in external affairs, commerce, tourism, agriculture, environment, renewable energy, and also telecommunications,” he stated.

Wadhwa said the core of the Asean-India Partnership was economic.

He said Asean is India’s fourth largest trading partner today and India in turn is the sixth largest trading partner for Asean. “There is a GDP of $2.57 trillion combined, a population of over 623 million, and a GDP growth rate of about 5 percent in Asean, and it is the seventh largest economy if you combine the Asean together in the world.”

At the East Asia Summit, the leaders are expected to discuss matters of international concern.

“That includes terrorism, irregular migration, the South China Sea, Korean Peninsula, the Middle East situation, etc. And about seven statements and declarations are expected to be adopted to enforce the leaders’ commitment to specific issues,” Wadhwa said.

On the sidelines of the the two summits, Modi is expected to hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of Japan, China and Malaysia and possibly those of Vietnam and Myanmar.

The bilateral phase of the prime minister’s visit to Malaysia and Singapore will see him interacting with his counterparts from those two countries.

In a series of Facebook posts ahead of his visit, Modi stated Malaysia was “at the core of our ‘Act East Policy'”.

“Since 2010, India has a strategic partnership with Malaysia. Malaysia investments, including in various infrastructure projects are strong in India. India’s trade with Malaysia is also vibrant, particularly in commodities sector,” the prime minister stated.

“During my Malaysia visit, I will meet Prime Minister Najib Razak and discuss bilateral ties with him,” he said, adding he would also interact with Corporate Malaysia.

Modi said his visit to Singapore from November 23 would come at a special moment with both countries marking 50 years of strong India-Singapore relations.

“The importance India attaches to ties with Singapore is immense. Singapore is a leading investor in India and several Indian companies are expanding their operations to Singapore.

“Singapore’s success is indeed noteworthy. Their achievements in urban development, urban transport, waste management, development of ports and skill development are well known,” he said.

“There will be talks with President Tony Tan Keng Yam, PM Lee Hsien Loong, and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.”

Bilateral trade between India and Singapore stood at $17 billion in 2014-15, Wadhwa said.

As has been the practice, Modi will also interact with the Indian diaspora in both Malaysia and Singapore.

Of Malaysia’s total population of around 30 million, two million people trace their origin to India. Apart from the general interaction with the diaspora on November 22, Modi will also meet Malaysian political leaders of Indian-origin.

Of Singapore’s 5.5 million population, 350,000 are of Indian origin. Modi will have the diaspora interaction in the city state on November 24 evening following which he will return to India.

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