On Saturday evening, the glitzy Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel on the Manila Bay was teeming with US and Indian officials who are arranging a 45-minute bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump on Monday afternoon, starting 3.30 pm (1 pm IST).
Modi is also scheduled to have bilateral meetings with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, Vietnamese PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern and the Sultan of Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on Tuesday.
So, while the first quadrilateral meeting will be held at the official level (joint secretaries/directors- general/assistant secretary) between India, US, Japan and Australia, Modi will meet leaders from all three countries — Trump, Abe and Turnbull — separately.
“The idea is to generate a sense of solidarity among the quadrilateral leaders. The idea of a leaders-level meeting was knocked off keeping in mind Beijing’s concerns, but it was considered important that they should meet each other to convey their views separately,” a source told The Indian Express.
Modi, who arrives in this bustling capital of the Philippines on Sunday around 5 pm (2.30 pm IST), will head for a “special gala celebration” of the 50th anniversary of ASEAN at the SMX Convention Centre, to be hosted by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in the evening.
The Prime Minister is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Duterte on Monday evening, on the sidelines of the 31st ASEAN summit, in what would be his first official visit to the Philippines.
From November 12 to 14, he will attend the 15th ASEAN India Summit and the 12th East Asia Summit. Sources said that some other bilateral meetings, including one with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, may take place on the margins of the summit.
However, all eyes are set on the Trump-Modi meeting which is going to take place just four-and-a-half months after they met in the White House. Trump may be joined by NSA H R McMaster, among others.
This is significant as over the last four months the Trump administration has enunciated the South Asia strategy as well as advocated a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. Both these thoughts have been perceived favourably by New Delhi, since they deal with Pakistan and China.
Trump was also effusive in his praise of Modi’s leadership at the APEC summit on Friday. The US President appreciated India’s “astounding” growth after it opened its economy and also Modi, saying he has been working successfully to bring the vast country and its people together.
Ahead of the trip, Modi on Saturday said his participation symbolises India’s commitment to continue deepening relationships with ASEAN member states in particular, and with the Indo-Pacific region in general, within the framework of my government’s Act East Policy.
Besides these summits, he will also participate in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Leaders’ Meeting and the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit. “I am confident that my visit to Manila will give a new boost to India’s bilateral relations with the Philippines and also further strengthen the politico-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars of our engagement with ASEAN,” he said.