China okay with India’s ‘friendly and cooperative’ ties with ASEAN countries

China on Thursday cautiously welcomed India hosting the leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the country’s 69th Republic Day, which experts say is a move by New Delhi to counter Beijing’s influence in the region.

“China is open to all countries developing friendly relations. So, we are okay with India developing friendly and cooperative relations with ASEAN countries,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

“We hope all countries can work together for peace, stability and development of the region. We can all play a constructive role in the regard,” Hua said.

India is holding a two-day India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit which is expected to give a boost to the cooperation in key areas of counter-terrorism, security and connectivity amidst increasing Chinese economic and military assertiveness in the region.

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.

China has also expanded its presence in South Asia, building ports and power plants in countries around India’s periphery, such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and spurring New Delhi to seek new allies.

All the 10 ASEAN leaders will also be the chief guests at the Republic Day celebrations on Friday in the biggest ever gathering of foreign leaders at the parade that showcases India’s military might and cultural diversity.

Experts say New Delhi’s intent to deepen ties with the 10-nation bloc has also to do with countering China. China is gradually winning over its foes in the bloc like the Philippines and Vietnam, who are claimants to the disputed South China Sea.

Reacting to the view, Hua said this was a media creation.

“In recent days some Indian media seems to have cultivated a habit. They will link their domestic affairs with China,” Hua said.

“I don’t know what the Indian leadership think of that. But I want to say that India media is not very confident and they don’t trust us,” she added.

The highest level of participation at the summit is to mark the 25 years of Indo-ASEAN ties.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.

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