Prime Minister Narendra Modi is rolling out the red carpet for the leaders of Southeast Asian countries on the eve of India’s Republic Day. What is being described by the Indian media as a diplomatic ‘coup’ in India’s ongoing territorial row with China, ten heads of states from Southeast Asian countries will finalize the details of a new maritime mechanism with New Delhi and attend tomorrow’s Republic Day parade, an annual event that showcases India’s military prowess.

Last year, Indian and Chinese troops brawled with each other over a territorial dispute in the western Himalaya region. Both countries went to war in 1962 over similar border disputes. Nearly 55 years later, the two Asian countries continue to face off each other along 2,000 miles of contested mountainous border.

Video: A scuffle between Chinese and Indian soldiers (summer 2017):

In recent years, China has leased ports in countries around India’s periphery, such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka, making New Delhi nervous over the Chinese Naval presence close to its commercial ports and naval facilities.

An agreement with the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations seeks to “promote maritime security in a region dominated by China,” the news agency Reuters reported ahead of today’s summit.

India is gathering the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Regional Cooperation (ASEAN) for a summit on Thursday to promote maritime security in a region dominated by China, officials and diplomats said.

India has been pursuing an “Act East” policy of developing political and economic ties with Southeast Asia, but its efforts have been tentative and far trail China, whose trade with ASEAN was more than six times India’s in 2016-17 at $470 million. (…)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited the leaders of all ten ASEAN nations to join him in the Republic Day celebrations on Friday in the biggest ever gathering of foreign leaders at the parade that showcases military might and cultural diversity.

Indian newspaper Times of India covered the details of the maritime understanding reached between India and the Asean member states on Thursday:

India and ten Asean countries on Thursday agreed to establish a mechanism for greater cooperation in the maritime domain, a move which comes in the wake of growing concerns in the region over China’s rising military posturing in the South China Sea.

The consensus on setting up of a mechanism for deeper maritime cooperation was reached during a retreat session hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the ten Asean leaders. (…)

The move to set up a mechanism for greater cooperation in the maritime domain assumes significance as a number of Asean countries have territorial disputes with China in the resource-rich South China Sea.

The maritime alliance comes amid rising tensions between China and Taiwan. The hostilities intensified over Beijing’s repeated military drills aimed at Taiwan and the threat by a senior Chinese diplomat, last month, to invade the island nation.

“No one can exclude this possibility. We will need to see whether their policymakers are reasonable policymakers or not,” Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told a domestic TV network on Monday when asked whether a Chinese strike was imminent.

“In terms of China circulating around Taiwan or carrying out other military activities, our military is carefully following every action and movement in the scope of its monitoring,” President Tsai added.

Not just India or Taiwan, but Southeast Asian countries are equally alarmed over China’s massive naval and military build-up in the South China Sea. Beijing has ongoing border disputes with 18 of its Asian neighbors.

Despite territorial disputes with its immediate neighbors, China is working on an impressive multi-national infrastructure initiative. The One Belt, One Road ­project, initiated in 2013, seeks to make massive investments in roads, railways and power grids in nearly 70 countries spread across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The project, if successful, would open new land and sea trading routes for Chinese exports.

If China has been unapologetic about translating its economic strength into military muscle to intimidate its neighbors, Beijing’s might not have qualms about weaponizing it’s ‘Belt and Road’ ­network in case of a conflict. People’s Liberation Army’s involvement in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Chinese naval bases in Pakistan and Horn of Africa are the signs of things to come as China emerges as a major global player.

Video: China’s One Belt, One Road initiative:

[Cover image via YouTube]


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