India’s vice president, Hamid Ansari, will embark on a trip to Indonesia and Brunei to strengthen the Asian giant’s ties with the two Southeast Asian nations, a senior official announced earlier this week.
As I have noted previously, since Narendra Modi took office last year, India has been attempting to further boost cooperation with Southeast Asian states as part of its “Act East Policy,” a variation on the “Look East Policy” first formulated under Narasimha Rao in 1991. The Modi government’s use of the Act East Policy is designed to signal a more action-oriented policy toward Southeast Asia (See: “Modi Unveils India’s ‘Act East Policy’ to ASEAN in Myanmar”).
Ansari’s ASEAN voyage to Indonesia and Brunei is a case in point. According to Anil Wadhwa, secretary in the ministry of external affairs, the trip to Southeast Asia will last from November 1 to November 6.
The Indonesia leg of the trip will take place from November 1 to November 4. Here, Ansari is scheduled to meet his counterpart Jusuf Kalla, the speakers of the two houses of parliament, and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi as well as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. He is also expected to inaugurate a business forum, visit Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta, and inaugurate a bust of Mahatma Gandhi at Uddiyana University in Bali on November 3.
“We will reaffirm our commitment to strengthen and consolidate our economic and strategic relationship,” Wadhwa said at a press conference. Indonesia, he added, has emerged as India’s second largest trading partner in Southeast Asia, with bilateral trade reaching around $20 billion.
Ansari will then move on to Brunei, where he will be from November 4 to November 6. This will be the highest-level bilateral visit by an Indian official ever recorded to the tiny, oil-rich sultanate, though former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did attend a round of Asian summitry there when Brunei hosted ASEAN back in 2013.
“We haven’t had a visit in the level of prime minister or president in the past,” Wadhwa confirmed.
During his stay in Brunei, Ansari is scheduled to call on Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah as well as crown prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah. Indian media reports suggested that the talks would focus on areas such as information and communications technology, civil aviation, hydrocarbons, and regional multilateralism.