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Dhankhar arrives in Phnom Penh to cement India’s ties with Southeast Asian nations

Vice President of India Jagdeep Dhankhar and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Friday (Image courtesy: Twitter/@VPSecretariat)

Vice President of India Jagdeep Dhankhar arrived in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Friday for the 19th ASEAN-India Summit and the 17th East Asia Summit as Southeast Asia becomes a global diplomacy hotspot over the next couple of weeks.

Cambodia is the 2022 chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with Indonesia, which will be hosting the 17th G20 Summit next week, taking over the chairmanship in 2023.

This is Dhankhar’s first official visit abroad after taking oath as the 14th Vice President of India on August 11. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is also part of the delegation which has accompanied the Vice President to Cambodia.

As India formally assumes the G20 Presidency on December 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Bali from November 14-16 to attend the G20 Summit at the invitation of the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo.

A few days later, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will attend the ASEAN Defence Minister’s Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) in Siem Reap – the gateway to Angkor Wat which is the largest religious monument in the world measuring 162.6 hectares.

ADMM-Plus is the only official framework of the Defence Minister’s meetings in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Singh will also attend the first ASEAN-India Defence Ministers Meeting which will be held after the ADMM-Plus.

India and ASEAN have nearly 30 dialogue mechanisms with the strategic partnership standing on a strong foundation of shared geographical, historical, and cultural ties.

The 19th ASEAN-India Summit which Dhankhar will attend Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-India relations.

During the Summit, the Vice President and ASEAN leaders will review the commemorative activities which have been held during the course of the year.

“They will also take stock of the progress made and exchange views on the future course of our relationship and the relationship in the coming decade. Important regional and international developments would also be discussed during the interaction,” said Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

A file photo of Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen receiving the second shot of the ‘Made-in-India’ Covid-19 vaccine. Sen had thanked India for providing 3.25 lakh doses of India-manufactured Covishield vaccines under the QUAD vaccine initiative (Image courtesy: Indian Embassy in Cambodia)

On Sunday, Vice President will participate in the 17th East Asia Summit which comprises the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam) and its eight dialogue partners- India, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Russia.

“India being the founding member of the East Asia Summit remains committed to strengthening it and making it more effective to deal with contemporary challenges. It is also an important platform to promote practical cooperation in the Indo-Pacific by building upon the convergence between ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific and Indo- Pacific Oceans Initiative,” said Kumar.

Interestingly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will also be attending the East Asia Summit while the country’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has in the past attended the ADMM-Plus, has been invited for the Siem Reap meeting.

New Delhi considers Phnom Penh as an “important interlocutor and a good partner” in the context of India’s ‘Act East’ policy, ASEAN, and its wider vision of the Indo-Pacific.

During his visit, Dhankhar will also have bilateral engagements with the Cambodian leadership including a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen and the King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni.

While returning from Phnom Penh, Vice President will visit Siem Reap to review the preservation and restoration work being undertaken by India at Cambodian heritage sites. He will inaugurate the Hall of Dancers at the Ta Phrom temple and also pay a short visit to Angkor Wat temple.

According to Cambodia’s ministry of tourism, the Angkor Wat temple complex was originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.

Between 1986 to 1993, at a time when peace was yet to be restored in Cambodia after the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime, the Indian government – responding to an appeal by Phnom Penh – undertook the conservation of the Angkor Wat temple at a cost of US$ 4 million.

“Our centuries old, cultural and historical linkages are manifest in Buddhist religion, and the magnificent temples of Cambodia, most notably Angkor Wat, Ta Phrom and Preah Vihear. India stood by Cambodia through what was one of its most difficult periods in modern history. This was remembered and acknowledged by the leadership and people of Cambodia,” mentioned Kumar.

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