South-East Asian leaders attend India's Republic Day parade

India seeking to strengthen 25-year-old ties with South-East Asian bloc as a counterweight to China

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South-East Asian leaders watched as India celebrated its 69th Republic Day on Friday with a parade of marching bands, military hardware, floats from Indian states, stunt riders and aerial displays.

Flags of the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) fluttered at the 90-minute parade through the tree-lined roads of central Delhi. The celebrations mark the day India's constitution came into effect on January 26, 1950, three years after it won independence from Britain.

The leaders of Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia were invited by prime minister Narendra Modi to commemorate the 25th anniversary of India-Asean ties.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (3L) takes photos as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others watch the fly-past during India's 69th Republic Day Parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH SINGH
Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong takes photos as Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and other leaders watch the fly-past during India's 69th Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2018. Prakash Singh / AFP

India is seeking to deepen bonds with its eastern neighbours amid its wariness over China's growing influence in the region.

With competing territorial claims in the Asia-Pacific region, Mr Modi said India favoured a "rules-based order for the oceans and seas" and respect for International law. He was speaking at the plenary session of the India-Asean summit on Thursday.

China's building of artificial islands in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety, has alarmed Asean. But China's economic and political clout has also divided the bloc over how to deal with an assertive Beijing.

Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong said there was "significant potential" for expanding trade and economic cooperation between India and Asean.

"South-East Asia and India together represent a quarter of the world's population, about 1.8 billion people, and a combined GDP of more than 4 and a half trillion US dollars," he said.

A declaration at the end of the summit on Thursday reaffirmed the importance of promoting maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and overflight in the region. It also underlined the lawful uses of the seas and maritime commerce and called for peaceful resolutions of disputes.

India invited Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to be guest of honour at the Republic Day parade last year, while French president Francois Hollande was the guest leader in 2016, and US president Barack Obama the year before that.