Asean leaders join India’s national day celebrations

For the first time guests from all ten Asean countries were invited for India’s biggest official event

New Delhi: India yesterday celebrated its 69th Republic Day with 10 leaders of Asean countries taking a close look at the country’s military might and cultural diversity and getting a peep into achievements at the annual grand parade here.

It was for the first time that 10 guests of honour — from all 10 Asean countries — were invited for the annual official celebrations, signifying India’s growing strategic interests in its eastern neighbourhood that surrounds the maritime underbelly of Asia — the Indo-Pacific.

Flags of the Southeast Asian group of countries fluttered at the 90-minute parade. The celebrations also included aerial displays and floats from Indian states.

India’s Constitution came into effect on January 26, 1950. It won independence from British colonialists in 1947.

Leaders from Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia were invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Asean-India ties.

India looks to deepen bonds with its eastern neighbours amid its wariness over China’s growing influence in the region.

With competing territorial claims in the Asia-Pacific region, Modi said India favoured a “rules-based order for the oceans and seas” and respect for International law. He was speaking at the plenary session of the India-Asean summit on Thursday.

China’s building of artificial islands on disputed features in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety, has alarmed Asean. But China’s economic and political clout has also divided the bloc in how to deal with an assertive Beijing.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said there was “significant potential” for expanding trade and economic cooperation between India and Asean.

Combined GDP

“Southeast Asia and India together represent a quarter of the world’s population, about 1.8 billion people, and a combined GDP of more than 4 and a half trillion US dollars,” he said.

A declaration at the end of the summit on Thursday reaffirmed the importance of promoting maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and overflight in the region. It also underlined the lawful uses of the seas and maritime commerce and called for peaceful resolutions of disputes.

In 2016, French President Francois Hollande was the guest of honour at India’s Republic Day parade. In 2015, former President Barack Obama viewed the display.

Despite a thick fog blanketing the city, hundreds turned up on both sides of Rajpath in the heart of Delhi to watch a grand march past that wound its way over eight kilometres from Raisina Hill, with the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan in the backdrop, to the 17th century Red Fort. The day began with President Ram Nath Kovind unfurling the Indian flag at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying tributes to the fallen soldiers at the Amar Jawan Jyoti near India Gate.

Sporting a multi-coloured turban, Modi personally invited the 10 Asean guests to the stage where a Who’s Who of the government, including Kovind and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, were also seated.

President Kovind, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, took his first Republic Day salute as the parade was led by Army personnel carrying the Asean flag and flags of all 10 Asean nations. It was followed by military and paramilitary contingents, including mounted troops from the 61st Cavalry and mechanised columns.

— AP

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