India-ASEAN Foreign Ministers meet was held on Wednesday. Both India and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) face the threat of China and are taking steps to resist Beijing. Consequently, this meet held high diplomatic importance.
At the meeting, the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar called on ASEAN member nations to speed up regional connectivity projects. He specifically mentioned the ‘India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway’ and the $484 million ‘Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project’.
Connectivity projects with ASEAN
The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, also called the ‘Friendship Highway’, will connect Moreh in the Indian state of Manipur with Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar. Moreover, India has proposed to extend it to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Also, the $484 million ‘Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project’ will link the Indian port of Kolkata with the Sittwe seaport in the Rakhine State of Myanmar.
China is opposed to these projects as they will allow India access to markets across the ASEAN nations and boost people-to-people ties. It is thus using insurgent groups to stop them.
Trade in Goods Agreement
Besides, India also said that it was looking to an early review of the Trade in Goods Agreement with ASEAN. Under it, India-ASEAN have agreed to open their markets gradually by reducing and eliminating duties on 76% of goods.
East Asia Summit
Later, the Indian External Affairs Minister also addressed the virtual East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ meeting featuring Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, the US and the 10 ASEAN members. Hinting at China, Dr. Jaishankar stressed upon the ‘Code of Conduct’ on the South China Sea to be consistent with the UN convention.
Indian Navy’s task force in China’s backyard
Meanwhile, the Indian Navy has sent a task force to South East Asia, the South China Sea and the Western Pacific Ocean. Indian Naval vessels which are part of the deployment will hold joint bilateral exercises with South China Sea nations, including Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. Also, they will participate in the Malabar 2021 naval exercises with the US, Japan and Australia.
Overall, India’s ‘Act East Policy’ appears to have gone full-throttle to take on Chinese aggression strategically and economically.