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ASEAN and India ‘Republic Day’ Summit that was’nt

When 11 heads of states meet at a common venue, one expects lengthy diplomatic tango which precede the event culminating in a joint statement. A successful event is one where these head of states get back home with substantial business and diplomatic deals.

Yet when heads of states from Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, Laos and Brunei landed in New Delhi to mark India’s 69th Repbublic Day celebrations no such initiative was taken.

While event was high on symbolism, it lacked any meat what so ever. The speeches regarding shared history and culture between the Asian neighbors hardly cut across their populations or even businesses.

Indian trade with ASEAN is just $71 Billion (in 2017) as compared to Chinese trade interests that are above $450 billion. The people to people exchanges, barring the low-cost tourism destinations of Thailand, are only a fraction of their potential. Even something as mundane as student exchange programs are mostly nonexistent.

While the move needs an appreciation of the fact that finally India seem to be taking its own look east policy (envisaged in 1991) a little more seriously, a summit meeting like this could have been better utilized with a larger participation from Industry, Think Tanks and Strategic advisors on all sides. The nascent strategic partnerships with Singapore and Vietnam could have been better covered with business lead memoranda of understandings. A joint statement the long pending road to Thailand via Myanmar may also have been a good idea.

At the end the gathering just turned out to be fun, frolic and grandeur of Indian Republic Day celebrations. Hopefully Singapore too will buy some Akash Missile systems and Modi may have something real to boast aside from his hugs.

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