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HindustanTimes Wed,24 Sep 2014

AK Antony pulls out of Asean meet

Shishir Gupta and Pramit Pal Chaudhuri , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, August 26, 2013
First Published: 00:13 IST(26/8/2013) | Last Updated: 09:38 IST(26/8/2013)

In a sudden decision, defence minister AK Antony has pulled out of the Asean Defence Ministers Meeting (ADDM) to be held on August 27-29 in Brunei. New Delhi sources say it is driven by domestic political considerations and that the minister of state Jitender Singh will go in his place.

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Geopolitically, however, it will be perceived as further evidence of India's unwillingness to be seen as part of an anti-China alliance.

With an extended monsoon session of Parliament likely to pass the electorally crucial food security bill and the Telengana statehood issue still on the boil, the Congress party concluded Antony could not afford to go overseas.

Antony is the second-most senior member of the Cabinet and heads the committee deliberating on Telengana statehood.

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However, given that the main topic at this year's ADDM, the highest level pan-Asian defence meeting, will be China's territorial assertiveness, Antony's absence will be taken poorly by the other Asian states. The abruptness of the decision will not help: even a fortnight ago, Antony was still scheduled to go to Brunei.

Taking place a month before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be meeting US President Barack Obama it will underline a sense of a strategically-diminished India consumed by its domestic problems.

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel is visiting four Southeast Asian countries before reaching Brunei and it is understood China's South China Sea claims will be top his agenda in all of them.

India recently declined to join trilateral naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean with Japan and the US - exercises understood to have been designed to send a signal to Beijing.


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