WHO'S WHO

Meet the 10 ASEAN leaders attending India’s Republic Day parade today

Bigger and better.
Bigger and better.
Image: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton
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As India celebrates its 69th Republic Day, marking the date when its constitution came into effect back in 1950, leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be treated to a grand parade in New Delhi.

The choice of chief guests for this event has often been diplomatically loaded. Dignitaries ranging from Queen Elizabeth II and Nelson Mandela to presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama have attended in the past. In 2017, it was the UAE’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

This year, however, marks the first time that 10 separate heads of state will be present as chief guests: These are leaders from ASEAN member countries, who are attending the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi. Their presence at the Republic Day Parade is a sign that India is finally moving forward with its “Act East” policy, even as China vies to increase its influence in the region.

India is also celebrating the 25th anniversary of dialogue relations with the southeast Asian regional block.

Here’s a handy guide to the 10 leaders:

Aung San Suu Kyi

State counsellor of Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in New Delhi.
Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in New Delhi.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

In 2015, the Nobel prize-winning politician led the National League for Democracy to victory in a landmark election, the first open one in 25 years. Despite holding the official title of state counsellor, not president, Suu Kyi is deemed Myanmar’s de facto leader.

In recent months, she’s faced heavy criticism for her handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis, involving violence against the minority community in the country’s western Rakhine state. India continues to maintain close relations, though, even planning to expand military cooperation.

Joko Widodo

President of Indonesia 

Indonesian president Joko Widodo.
Indonesian president Joko Widodo.
Image: Reuters/Beawiharta

The former governor of capital Jakarta has been president since July 2014, when he trounced ex-general Prabowo Subianto in the national elections, promising to end corruption and nepotism. Last year, Indonesia began challenging China’s hold (paywall) over the resource-rich and highly contested South China Sea, building up military forces in the region and boosting maritime ties with India.

Lee Hsien Loong

Prime minister of Singapore

Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Image: Reuters/Aaron Favila

The son of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father and first prime minister, Lee has led the country since 2004. While he has tried to balance his country’s relations with the US and China, he’s also spearheaded closer ties with India, especially in defence. The two countries even signed a Bilateral Agreement for Navy Cooperation last November.

Nguyen Xuan Phuc

Prime minister of Vietnam

Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Image: Reuters/Erik De Castro

Phuc, a member of Vietnam’s Communist Party, was elected prime minister in 2016. As territorial disputes with China have heated up of late, Vietnam has become a key focus area within India’s “Act East” policy. Soon after Phuc came to power, Modi visited Hanoi and signed a slew of agreements, besides announcing a $500 million line of credit for defence cooperation.

Rodrigo Duterte

President of the Philippines

Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte.
Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte.
Image: Reuters/Dondi Tawatao

Duterte’s promise to crack down on crime and corruption won him a landslide victory in the 2016 elections. Last year, he hosted Modi in what was the first trip made by an Indian prime minister to the island nation in 36 years. The two leaders signed several deals to boost defence and logistics cooperation.

Najib Razak

Prime minister of Malaysia 

Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak.
Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak.
Image: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

The head of the United Malays National Organization has been in power since 2009. Last year, the Malaysian prime minister visited India officially for the third time, signing several agreements to boost political and economic ties. His visit was also viewed as a strategic move amid China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region.

Prayut Chan-o-cha

Prime minister of Thailand 

Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha.
Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha.
Image: Reuters/Kham

A retired Royal Thai Army officer, Chan-o-cha was named prime minister in August 2014 following a military coup that capped months of political conflict. In June 2017, he met Modi during his first official trip to India, and the two leaders laid out plans to expand trade and investments on both sides, improve regional connectivity, notably through the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, and work closely on defence.

Hassanal Bolkiah

Sultan and prime minister of Brunei

Brunei’s sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
Brunei’s sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

One of the world’s longest reigning monarchs, Bolkiah succeeded his father, Sir Haji Omar Ali Saifuddin, as the sultan of Brunei in October 1967. The oil and gas-rich nation has stepped up its defence cooperation with India after the two countries signed a pact in 2016, following the historic visit of former vice-president Hamid Ansari to the small country. That was reportedly the first high-level trip since India established diplomatic ties with Brunei in 1984.

Thongloun Sisoulith

Prime minister of Laos

Laos prime minister Thongloun Sisoulith.
Laos prime minister Thongloun Sisoulith.
Image: Reuters/Erik De Castro

Thongloun Sisoulith was appointed prime minister in 2016. He met Modi during the 14th India-ASEAN Summit held in Laos that year. But the small Communist nation also maintains close relations with China, which has poured in billions of dollars through loans and investments projects, including the construction of a controversial $6 billion railway line.

Hun Sen

Prime minister of Cambodia

Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen.
Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

Reigning since 1985, Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers, looking to stay on for at least a decade more. While India and Cambodia have remained friendly for decades, the latter’s also close to China which, again, has invested billions of dollars there.