India-ASEAN summit to focus on economic cooperation

NEW DELHI Oct. 31. The first-ever India-ASEAN summit, to be held in Phnom Penh on November 5, will focus on economic cooperation and terrorism, R.M. Abhayankar, Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, said today.

The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who will leave for Cambodia on November 4, is scheduled to begin a two-day bilateral visit to Laos on November 6.

Other than a bilateral meeting with the Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, there were no plans for separate sessions with the Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji, or the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, Mr. Abhayankar said.

Heads of Government/State of the ASEAN-10 will meet in a separate session before having separate interactions with Japan, China and South Korea and India at the summit-level. India, however, will not be part of the ASEAN+3 session where the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea will be present. The ASEAN summit and the "plus three" meetings usually provide considerable diplomatic space for bilateral interaction.

Apart from the ASEAN+3 meeting, Japanese, South Korean and Chinese leaders have been holding a separate session on the sidelines. According to Mr. Abhayankar, at a meeting in Brunei, the ASEAN and Indian Commerce Ministers had agreed to set up a task force on economic linkages leading to a regional trade and investment area. He said that a statement on the task force was expected from the ASEAN-India summit interaction. This group was to submit its report in time for the next ASEAN-India summit in 2003.

WhileIndia has definitely advanced its diplomatic profile in South-East and East Asia through the November 5 summit, New Delhi needs to take its engagement with the region seriously.

South-East Asian nations are serious and focused on issues — especially those relating to economic diplomacy. If India is to have continuing relevance for South-East Asia, then New Delhi needs to be focused on details — or else the initiative will mean little more than profile advancement.

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