Prime Minister Modi has pulled off another diplomatic masterstroke and this one has to do with the tradition of the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations. While most wanted and some even speculated that the chief guest will be Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, they didn’t factor in one aspect – Prime Minister Modi’s diplomatic vision.
The Modi government has enacted the Act East policy in true essence, and the 2018 Republic Day will be the government’s biggest ever Act East outreach. The chief guests (yes, we’ll have more than one dignitaries as chief guest) will be leaders of South Asian nations.
Vietnamese PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong have already confirmed their participation in our R-Day celebrations. Malaysian PM Najib Razak is also expected to attend. A few other ASEAN leaders will also confirm their participation soon.
This will be the first time that so many heads of government and state will together attend the R-Day parade. Only in 1968 and in 1974 did we see more than one chief guest. In 1968, Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito and Soviet Union Premier Alexei Kosygin participated, and in 1974 it was Tito along with Sri Lankan PM Sirima Bandarnaike.
India’s trade with ASEAN is also growing with ASEAN being India’s fourth largest trading partner. India’s trade with ASEAN increased to $ 70 billion in 2016-17 from $ 65 billion in 2015-16. The growth is slow but the potential is enormous.
Prime Minister has used the Republic Day celebrations as an effective and far-reaching tool to further his geopolitical ties. Let’s see how he’s done that –
The chief guest for the 2015 Republic Day, which was the first for Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, was US President Barack Obama. The first guest was the leader of the strongest nation on earth, and a nation which is crucial for India in tackling the threat of China.
The next chief guest was French President Francois Hollande. France is a superpower of the European world. It is often regarded as the 5th most powerful military in the world. Along with this, France has been an old friend to India which was evident when India conducted the Pokhran-II nuclear test; France was one of the few countries that did not condemn it.
This year it was the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed. The UAE is an economic and military powerhouse of the Middle East. This invitation was significant not only in economic terms, but also in tackling the scourge of terrorism and isolating Pakistan in the Islamic world.
Invitation to ASEAN leaders is as explicit an act to counter China as any there can be. With the upper hand that India gained after the Doklam standoff, India will possess a newfound respect amidst ASEAN nations many of whom themselves suffer from China’s expansionism.