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NEW DELHI: All 10 Asean leaders want India to play a more assertive role in the strategically important Indo-Pacific while recognising New Delhi’s growing stature in ensuring regional peace and stability.
“All the leaders conveyed their desire for a greater participation of India (in the Indo-Pacific region),” said Preeti Saran, secretary, East, in the ministry of external affairs at a media briefing.
She was asked if the leaders of the powerful ASEAN grouping favoured a more assertive role for India in the Indo-Pacific where China has been ramping up its military presence.
“India-Asean relationship stands on its own,” she said responding to the queries.
The desire by the Asean for a greater role by India in the Indo-Pacific region assumes significance in the wake of rising tensions between China and a number of countries of the grouping over the South China Sea dispute.
Leaders of all the 10 Asean member countries were here to participate at a summit meeting to mark 25 years of India- Asean ties and to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations.
Indo-Pacific broadly refers to the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean regions, which also include the disputed South China Sea where Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei question China’s claims over almost the entire waterway.
The US has also been pitching for greater Indo-US cooperation in the strategically key Indo-Pacific.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) comprises Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.
Saran said all the Asean leaders appreciated India’s positive role in the Indo-Pacific region.
A number of pressing issues including the situation in the Indo-Pacific region and ways to tackle threat of terrorism figured during the summit meeting as well as in bilateral talks Prime Minister Narendra Modi had with the Asean leaders.
Referring to the challenge of terrorism, Saran said that Asean leaders emphasised on the need for concerted global efforts to contain the menace.
“Terrorism does not know any boundaries. You know what is cross-border terrorism, you cannot be selective in tackling terrorism … They (Asean leaders) recognised the need for the menace to be fought collectively,” said Saran.
She said India will host a conference on ways to counter radicalisation.
Referring to the deliberations at the Plenary session at the summit, Saran said Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered India’s digital expertise and expressed readiness to set up digital villages in some of the countries as part of a pilot project.
He also said that India will host an Asean-India start up festival this year.
She said next year will be celebrated as the year of India-Asean tourism by both the sides.
India also offered 1,000 scholarships in IIT for PhD students from Asean.
Saran and several other officials of the MEA also talked about the meticulous planning that went into hosting the Asean leaders including choosing fabric for pillow covers and arranging for various recepies considering the food habits of the leaders.
They also talked about how external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was involved in minute details for successful hosting of leaders.