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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 823

Manmohan Singh going to Phnom Penh for ASEAN meet

From R. Vasudevan—Reporting from New Delhi
New Delhi, 18 November (Asiantribune.com):

Dr_Manmohan.jpgPrime Minister Manmohan Singh will travel to Cambodia tomorrow to attend the ASEAN and East Asia Summits on the sidelines of which he is expected to meet the leaders of some other countries, including China.

Singh will be in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh for three days.

The Prime Minister’s three-day visit to Japan from November 15 was cancelled just a day ahead in view of sudden political developments there with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda deciding to announce early elections.

During his visit to Cambodia, Singh is expected to pitch for increased trade and investment between India and ASEAN, a grouping of 10 South East Asian countries, against the backdrop of economic crisis hitting Europe and other parts of the western world.

When Singh arrives in Phnom Penh on Sunday, he is likely to hear a common refrain in this part of the world: India is sorely needed here, but India is too slow.

It's a critical time for ASEAN countries -- they are struggling to remain cohesive and stay relevant. They are caught in a bruising territorial dispute with the big Heavy in the region, China. And now the even bigger US is sailing into their waters and telling them how to stand up to China, with its help. US defense secretary Leon Panetta told everyone he who would listen on Friday, "we are deepening our military engagement with our allies and partners in this region in order to ensure that we are able to promote security and prosperity in this region for many years to come."

For many, India is a natural balancer in this region. India struck roots here hundreds of years ago, and there are signs all around. But in the current strategic debate roiling the region, India is a peripheral presence. India's only statement so far has been to endorse the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and mineral resources in the troubled waters of the South China Sea.

"Connectivity" is India's mantra but it's China that's putting stakes on the ground. China is doing more on the Mekong river and China is building the Kunming-Singapore links, while India's trilateral highway to Thailand through Myanmar will take many more years to realise.

India and ASEAN are holding negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement in Services and Investment and are keen to conclude these before the summit on November 19. The two sides have already signed FTA in Goods.

During the last India-ASEAN Summit held at Bali in Indonesia, Singh had cited the global economic downturn to push for conclusion of a “commercially meaningful” Services and Investment pact by March this year to create a positive atmosphere for the implementation of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.

He had also highlighted the need for greater connectivity and cooperation on security issues, including maritime security, counter-terrorism, training, exercises and disaster management.

Addressing the Summit, Singh had described India’s partnership with ASEAN as “one of the cornerstones” of foreign policy and the foundation of our ‘Look East’ Policy.

India-ASEAN trade has been increasing at a rapid pace over the last few years and has already crossed the $70-billion target set for 2012. It currently stands at $79 billion.

India’s trade with ASEAN was over $50 billion in 2011-12 after a 30 per cent jump over the previous financial year. The Prime Minister is also expected to update the ASEAN leaders on the progress made on the revival of the centre of learning at Nalanda, Bihar.

On the sidelines of the ASEAN and EAS Summits, Singh is expected to meet Chinese leaders besides leaders of some other countries. US President Barack Obama will also be in Phnom Penh but it is not yet clear whether there will be meeting between Singh and him.

- Asian Yribune -

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