President Ram Nath Kovind was on a two nation visit to the Philippines and Japan—both important anchors in India’s ‘Act East’ Policy. During the first leg of the tour, President Kovind visited the Philippines to commemorate the 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations. This was followed by his visit to Japan to attend the accession ceremonies to the Chrysanthemum Throne by Japanese Emperor, Naruhito.
Underpinned by shared values and mutuality of strategic interests, Philippines constitutes an important component of India’s ‘Act East’ Policy. Advancing a rules-based global order, India and Philippines are ‘natural partners’ in connection with upholding international law and sovereign equality of nations. India-Philippines relations, founded on South-South cooperation and strong democratic polity, gained further momentum within the framework of the Act East Policy. Qualitative depth has been added to India-Philippines relations with four new agreements signed during the visit encompassing maritime domain, security, tourism, science and technology and culture. Besides, cooperation in key areas such as terrorism and space were discussed. Diversification in political-security-economic and people-to-people relations define this bilateral partnership. Mr. Kovind also unveiled a bust of Mahatma Gandhi at Miriam College in Quezon City. Meanwhile, a reinforced India-ASEAN strategic partnership further supported the bilateral understanding.
Both nations are being counted amongst the fastest growing economies having demographic advantages. The economic complementarities between India and Philippines lay a strong foundation for robust trade and investment linkage. Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ initiative offer considerable opportunities for businesses and investors as both sides focus on advancing state-of-the-art infrastructure, including smart cities, ports, airports, and digital i-ways.
At the India-Philippines Business Conclave and the 4th ASEAN-India Business Summit, the Indian President articulated the need to explore new vistas of bilateral cooperation in digital industries, innovation and start-ups, health and pharma and in the key area of agricultural development. Bilateral trade amounts to US$ 2.3 billion, representing a 17 percent rise in the last two years. While Indian companies are focussing on sectors including textiles, information technology, and pharmaceutical, other sectors such as infrastructure development and defence modernisation holds potential. President Kovind invited the Philippines to participate in India’s flagship initiatives including Make in India, Digital India, Skill India, Ganga Rejuvenation Project, Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart Cities and the Jal Jeevan Mission.
In the second leg of the visit to Japan, the Indian President attended the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito along with the Court Banquet hosted by the Emperor and Empress and also the official banquet hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. To further civilizational linkages, President visited Tsukiji Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. He also visited the Meiji Shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Soakin in Tokyo.
Mr. Kovind attended the foundation ceremony of Sino Soto temple in Kakegawa. The India President’s visit to Japan underscored the growing depth and scope of India-Japan relations. Shared universal values of democracy, freedom, and rule of law alongside convergence of strategic, political, and economic interests laid a strong foundation for an enduring partnership. India would be hosting the first Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue (2+2) ahead of the Japan-India annual summit, reportedly scheduled in December 2019. Until recently, India and Japan had a 2+2 Vice-Ministerial level dialogue.
As South-east and East Asia lies at the heart of India’s Act East Policy, India will continue to invest political energy at the highest level in elevating strategic partnerships to newer heights. President Kovind’s visit advanced this objective. As the Indo-Pacific construct assumes greater space in policy designs given its geo-political and strategic dimensions, it is imperative for India to engage in forward thinking to accomplish the full potential of its strategic partnerships in the region.
Script: Dr. Titli Basu, Strategic Analyst on East & South East Asia