PM Modi addressing ASEAN leaders at the summit marking 25 years of India-ASEAN ties

New Delhi: As the 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the India-ASEAN summit, the emphasis on maritime security was a clear message to China. With Chinese expansionism on the rise, India's policy has shifted from 'Look East' to 'Act East'.

"A rules based order for oceans and seas, respect for international law, is critical for peace. We are committed to working with ASEAN for maritime cooperation", PM Modi said in his opening remarks, adding that maritime cooperation was a key focus at a retreat of all leaders earlier in the day. In that retreat, there was an agreement to set up a mechanism on maritime cooperation. The summit that marks 25 years of India-ASEAN partnership was attended by the leaders of Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.

India's outreach to South East Asian nations is significant given the shadow of China's dominance in the region. Security, connectivity, terrorism and trade were the key focus in talks.

China today reacted cautiously to the summit. "We are okay with India developing friendly and cooperative relations with ASEAN countries. We hope all countries can work together for peace, stability and development of the region," the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said in Beijing.

India still has a long way to go in order to counter China's influence in the region. According to official data, India-ASEAN trade for 2016-17 was $71 billion, in comparison to the $470 billion trade with China. In 2016, India invested $1 billion in ASEAN as compared to $10 billion by China.

All 10 ASEAN leaders will be chief guests are the Republic Day parade tomorrow, a historic first for India.