ALMOST lost in the din of the upcoming U.S-North Korea summit and fresh tension between Washington and Beijing last week, India cemented its diplomatic and security ties across Southeast Asia in a clear challenge to China.
It’s not clear just how far New Delhi will take these relationships, given years of promise, and a general election due in 11 months that could be a distraction for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And if India is already rattling China, it won’t want to spark open confrontation.
But Modi took several concrete foreign policy and security steps in Southeast Asia in recent days.
He signed an agreement with Indonesia to develop a port in the city of Sabang that would overlook the western entrance to the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest waterways, and agreed a pact with Singapore on logistical support for naval ships, submarines and military aircraft during visits.
Modi also flew to Kuala Lumpur for a late-scheduled call on Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who won last month’s general election, effectively cementing ties with three of the most influential Southeast Asian nations.
On Friday, Modi told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s premier defense forum, that India would work with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to promote a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We will work with them, individually or in formats of three or more, for a stable and peaceful region,” he said in the keynote speech at the forum.
Several delegates, including U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, voiced support.
At the end of the forum on Sunday, Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said: “I am sure many countries are delighted that India has indicated its firm commitment to the region.”