Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will leave for Singapore on Tuesday to attend the India-Asean Summit. At present, the regional bloc is trying to balance between a new charter that will commit members to democracy and protection of human rights and increasing pressure to act against its member, Myanmar, for its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protestors.
During his two-day visit, Singh will meet leaders from other participating countries, including Premier Wen Jiabao of China, Prime Minister Thein Sein of Myanmar, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda of Japan and Prime Minister Badawi of Malaysia.
These interactions on the sidelines of the summit and then the 16-member East Asian Summit — that also has representation from China, Japan South Korea, Australia and New Zealand — are expected to be the high points of the visit.
Singh’s meeting with Wen Jiabao comes in the backdrop of the successful visit of the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to Beijing. Singh, who is expected to visit China in early January next year, is likely to discuss the situation in Myanmar.
India and China, the two economic powerhouses of Asia, have been soft on the military regime in Myanmar, citing strategic national interest.
It is unlikely that discussions at the Asean Summit will fructify into an agreement, the East Asian Summit could, however, adopt a declaration on climate change, energy and the environment. “I will discuss with the Asean leaders new measures to expand the horizons of our cooperation to include not just greater economic integration, but also people-to-people contacts, science and technology, health, transport, human resource development and information and communication technology,” the Prime Minister said in his statement on the eve of his departure.
Singh said his participation at the two summits were “vital pillars” of New Delhi’s Look East policy and vital for the qualitatively enhanced engagement which India seeks with the region.
The East Asia Summit had identified five areas of cooperation — energy, education, finance, avian influenza and national disaster mitigation. “The creation of a cooperative framework in East Asia will have a profound impact on the global economy and international relations,” he said.
The already delayed India-Asean free trade pact is unlikely to come anywhere close to finalisation.