Speaking to The Hindu, ambassador of Thailand Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi said that ASEAN expects India to highlight maritime security during the summit, even as the Ministry of External Affairs said that discussion on a “very important” MoU on maritime cooperation is ongoing alongside plans for enhancement of air connectivity.
“We expect India to highlight maritime security (in the Commemorative Summit). This meeting is important and we hope that there will be serious discussions on maritime security, including freedom of navigation, piracy, keeping sea trading lanes clear. India attaches a lot of importance to maritime security and ASEAN countries are preparing for an intense discussion on that,” said Mr. Gongsakdi.
The envoy’s comment is significant as Thailand will be the coordinating country in charge of ASEAN-India ties from the middle of the year. In view of Thailand’s importance, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited the country last week. Secretary in-charge of eastern affairs in the MEA Preeti Saran said that connectivity and maritime cooperation will form the backdrop for the summit.
“We are discussing a very important agreement on how to enhance maritime connectivity with the ASEAN countries. We will also hold Working Group Meeting of the civil aviation ministries before the summit to discuss air connectivity,” said Ms. Saran in a special briefing on India’s plans for the Commemorative Summit-related celebrations on January 25 and 26.
Ms. Saran described the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit of 25 January as ‘unprecedented’ and ‘landmark’ and said that all the ten heads of states of the ASEAN countries will be hosted as Guests of Honour for the Republic Day parade. The ASEAN leaders will also hold bilateral discussion with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other dignitaries.
“We expect the ASEAN leaders will start arriving by January 24. The Summit itself will begin with a banquet to be hosted by President Kovind followed by the Leaders’ Retreat for which our Prime Minister has invited all leaders. Thereafter the leaders will move on to the plenary of the Commemorative Summit followed by a gala dinner to be hosted by our Prime Minister,” Ms Saran said.
The summit comes days after Ms Swaraj returned from a three-nation trip to Southeast Asia where she took stock of the ties and connectivity projects between India and the ASEAN region.