PM Narendra Modi’s jaunt to Jakarta to attend the Asean Sum- mit just before hosting the G20 summit speaks volumes of the importance of this engagement. The group, comprising 10 Sout- heast Asian countries, is key to ensuring the rules-based order for a free and open Indo-Pacific region that is geopolitically ‘hot area of influence’. The engagement with Asean is a recognition that challenges that dominate the global landscape cannot be addressed by one set of countries or another. This underscores the role that regional and plurilateral groups can play, working in partnership, to deliver on the promise of multilateralism in a manner that is fair, just and equitable for all countries.

India’s growing global engagement, particularly as a poten- tial bridge between those in the tent and those outside, is part of this visit’s signifi- cance. As G20 president, India has spot- lighted concerns raised by developing co- untries-not across the East-West axis or the North-South one, but as efforts to- wards collective action that will help add- ress global and common challenges. This connect among the Asean is important as it provides Southe- ast Asian countries options for engagement and a say in sha- ping the future of the Indo-Pacific region. Much like Asean- Quad cooperation, which emerged through sustained engage- ment, Asean-India engagement (and, indeed, with other mem- bers of G20) strengthens the future of a free and open Indo-Pa- cific region that can stay safe from the extreme gravity of a single country or bloc (read: China).

India understands Asean’s centrality within this rubric. It also recognises that these countries will need support and coo- peration to make the choices that adhere to international laws, and benefits them as well.

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