Southeast Asia has been portrayed and referred to as the ‘golden island’ or ‘Golden Peninsula’ or ‘Yavadipa or Suvarnadipa’ in the Indian literature from the first century AD. India’s relationship with Southeast Asia has numerous components. Historically, trade between India’s coastal kingdoms of Orissa and Southern India and countries in Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia are well documented. In addition, Buddhism and Hinduism, both Indie religions, retain a strong influence in Southeast Asia, with epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana being part of the ethos of Southeast Asia.
India’s first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, underscored the necessity of closer ties with Southeast Asia as far back as 1944. In his book “The Discovery of India,” Nehru spoke about the economic and strategic relevance of the region, and the inevitability of a larger role for India. He also invited leaders from Vietnam, Indonesia and Burma to the first Asian Conference in New Delhi in March 1947. Leaders from other Asian countries endorsed Nehru’s Pan-Asian vision, specifically his thrust on decolonization and economic cooperation.
Nehru had close ties with Southeast Asian leaders, especially Indonesia’s President Sukarno. Both were pioneers of the Non-Aligned Movement that emerged from the 1955 Bandung Conference of Asian and African states as they sought a path independent from both the Soviet Bloc and the West.
Apart from the Non-Alignment Movement, communism also influenced India’s relations with the region. During the Vietnam conflict, India supported North Vietnam due to its strong opposition to the United States at that time. While the cold war period influenced India’s ties with Southeast Asia, given its closeness to the Soviet Union, India also had reasonable ties with Malaysia and was amongst the first countries to grant diplomatic status to Singapore in 1965.
In the early 1990’s, two major transformations influenced India’s ties with the outside world, including Southeast Asia. First, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Cold War order ended. This led to a major shift in India’s foreign policy towards the US, where ideological blinkers gave way to pragmatism.
Second, this period ushered in economic reforms carried out by India in 1991, ensuring that Non Alignment was no longer the cornerstone of India’s Foreign Policy not only towards the West, but other parts of the world also. India’s Prime Minister during that period, PV Narasimha Rao, along with then Finance Minister and current Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh framed the Look East Policy in 1992. This policy represents India’s efforts to cultivate economic and strategic relations with Asia.
In the same year, India also became a dialogue partner with ASEAN. Rao’s main aim was to integrate India’s economy with a region with which India had historical and cultural links. It was with this in mind, that channels were also opened with Myanmar’s dictatorship in the 1990s.
India’s integration with the region were governed by multiple reasons. First, India’s economy was growing, especially in information technology. Second, the two regions had strong cultural bonds that have never been disrupted. Third, exactly a decade after becoming a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN, in 2002, India became a partner on a summit level with ASEAN, and in 2005, it joined the East Asian Summit.
Look East Policy to Act East Policy
Look East Policy
The objective of the look east policy is to forge social, economic and cultural relations with the countries of East Asia. More specifically, Look East Policy envisages three pronged approach towards the countries of South-East Asia.
- First, to renew political contacts and to develop better understanding with ASEAN member states.
- Second, to achieve enhanced economic interactions including investment and trade, science and technology, tourism, etc. with South-East Asian countries, and
- Third, to strengthen Defence and strategic links with these countries to achieve better understanding.
The Look-East policy was officially launched in 1992. It was expected to:
- Contribute significantly to India’s efforts for globalization and integration with the world economy;
- Fill the void caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, its major trading partner; and
- Help the country in overcoming its isolation from a world-wide phenomenon of joining regionalism.
Factors Leading to Adoption of Look East Policy:
- The Southeast Asian countries are situated in the main intercontinental routes between Europe, America, East Asia and Australia, thus providing scope to act as important stopovers for Indian exporters.
- The booming economies of the Southeast Asian countries also attracted India. ASEAN was also on the lookout for new partners and untapped markets.
- The Look-East Policy portrays a strategic shift in India’s vision of the world and India’s position in the rapidly developing global economy.
- Look-East Policy renders ample relevance to the development of its North-Eastern Region because of its geographical proximity to South-East Asia.
- China’s growing economic interests in Southeast Asian economies and improvement in India-US relations also helped in greater integration.
- Geographical proximity, historical, cultural and religious linkages too played a role in India adopting ‘Look East Policy’.
India, therefore, had to realign its foreign policies and implement, what it refers to as a move “towards big power strategy”, with the characteristics of a multi-directional foreign policy. Thus, it is in this context that Indian leadership came up with a concept of ideas called the “Look East Policy” of India, an active policy of engagement with South East Asia. Under Vajpayee government, Look East started gaining strategic dimension along with economic dimension. It has domestic dimension also i.e. ‘Look East through North-East’. India signed various Defence partnership agreements with various Southeast nations during this phase.
Act East Policy
Act East Policy was announced in 2014 at ASEAN-India summit in Myanmar. The core concept of the Act East Policy is to cultivate strategic and economic relations with the countries of Southeast Asia in order to strengthen India’s posture as a regional power and furthermore, to counterbalance the increasing influence of China. In addition, India is an indispensable player which is able to contribute to improving regional physical infrastructure and serve as a bridge from South to Southeast Asia.
Look East and Act East: A Comparison
- Act East Policy will focus mainly on Three Cs’ i.e., Commerce, Culture and Connectivity for engagement with ASEAN.
- India has expanded its domain from Southeast Asia to Asia Pacific region, in terms of developing Security-Economic relations, whereas under Look East Policy, major focus area for India was confined only to Southeast Asia.
- Special focus has been made on ‘Maritime Security’.
- The primary focus area of cooperation is ‘Strategic’. Bold commitments made in terms of Security, Defence, and Strategic; is clearly a new feature which was not seen previously.
Act East Policy and North-Eastern States of India
Act East Policy provides an interface between North East India and the ASEAN region. The objective of ‘Act East Policy’ is to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop strategic relationship with countries not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but also in the Southeast Asia region, through continuous engagement at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels, thereby providing enhanced connectivity to the States of North Eastern Region from other countries in our neighbourhood.
Various plans at bilateral and regional levels include steady efforts to develop and strengthen connectivity of Northeast with the ASEAN region through trade, culture, people-to-people contacts and physical infrastructure (road, airport, telecommunication, power, etc.). Some of the major projects include Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project’, ‘India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project’, ‘Rhi-Tiddim Road Project’, Border Haats, etc.
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the ‘ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration)’ by the founding members of ASEAN, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The motto of ASEAN is “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”. Brunei Darussalam then joined on 7 January 1984, Viet Nam on 28 July 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar on 23 July 1997, and Cambodia on 30 April 1999, making up the present ten Member States of ASEAN.
The aims and purposes of ASEAN as per ASEAN DECLARATION were about cooperation in the economic, social, cultural, technical, educational and other fields, and in the promotion of regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law, and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. It stipulated that the Association would be open for participation by all States in the Southeast Asian region subscribing to its aims, principles and purposes.
It proclaimed ASEAN as representing “the collective will of the nations of Southeast Asia to bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity.”
According to Article 31 of the ASEAN Charter, the Chairmanship of ASEAN shall rotate annually, based on the alphabetical order of the English names of Member States. A Member State assuming the Chairmanship shall chair the ASEAN Summit and related summits, the ASEAN Coordinating Council, the three ASEAN Community Councils, relevant ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Bodies and senior officials, and the Committee of Permanent Representatives.
Pillars of ASEAN
The three pillars of the ASEAN Community, namely the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) are considered the most crucial areas deemed necessary for the progress and evolution of ASEAN and its peoples.
- ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC): With an objective to build on what has been constructed over the years in the field of political and security cooperation, the ASEAN Leaders have agreed to establish the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC). The APSC shall aim to ensure that countries in the region live at peace with one another and with the world in a just, democratic and harmonious environment.
- ASEAN Economic Community (AEC): The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 is a major milestone in the regional economic integration agenda in ASEAN, offering opportunities in the form of a huge market of US $ 2.6 trillion and over 622 million people. In 2014, AEC was collectively the third largest economy in Asia and the seventh largest in the world.
- ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC): The ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community aims to contribute to realising an ASEAN Community that is people-oriented and socially responsible with a view to achieving enduring solidarity and unity among the peoples and member states of ASEAN.
The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises of Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. India’s focus on a strengthened and multi-faceted relationship with ASEAN is an outcome of the significant changes in the world’s political and economic scenario since the early 1990s and India’s own march towards economic liberalisation. India’s search for economic space resulted in the ‘Look East Policy’. The Look East Policy has today matured into a dynamic and action oriented ‘Act East Policy’.
The year 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of the dialogue partnership between India and ASEAN. The anniversary coincides with the 50 years of existence of ASEAN as a successful regional grouping. The year 2017 also completes 15 years of ASEAN-India dialogue at the summit level, i.e. between the heads of government of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam on one hand, and the India on the other. In tandem, the year also commemorated the completion of five years of strategic partnership between Asia’s third-largest economy and one of the most successful economic groupings in the world.
ASEAN-India Relation: A Timeline
|1991||India Launched ‘Look East Policy’|
|1992||India became ASEAN’s ‘Sectoral Dialogue Partner’.|
|1995||India became a ‘Full Dialogue Partner’.|
|1996||India became member of ‘ASEAN regional forum’.|
|2002||India became the ‘Summit Level Partner’.|
|2003||ASEAN-India signed ‘the Instrument of Accession to the treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia, a framework agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and a joint declaration for cooperation to combat international terrorism’.|
|2003||ASEAN India-Business Council (AIBC) was setup.|
|2004||‘ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity’ and the Plan of Action to implement it were finalised.|
|2005||India became a founder member of the ’East Asian Summit(EAS)’.|
|2007||India announced the setting up of an ‘ASEAN India Green Fund’ and ‘ASEAN-India Science & Technology Development Fund’.|
|2009||‘Delhi Dialogue’ mark the beginning of Track 1.5 Diplomacy.|
|2010||‘FTA in Goods’ implemented.|
|2012||ASEAN-India relations elevated to ‘Strategic Partnership’.|
|2014||India’s ‘Look East’ policy was transformed into the ‘Act East policy’.|
|2015||‘FTA in Services’ enter into force.|
|2018||India ASEAN celebrated 25 years of their relationship by holding a commemorative Summit. Leaders of all ten ASEAN countries were invited as Chief Guests for the Republic Day parade on January 26, 2018.|
Aspects of ASEAN-India Relations
- India and ASEAN observed 25 years of their Dialogue Partnership in the form of ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit on the theme “Shared Values, Common Destiny” on 25 January 2018 in New Delhi.
- At the 12th ASEAN India Summit and the 9th East Asia Summit held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, in November 2014, India formally enunciated the Act East Policy.
- India’s relationship with ASEAN is a key pillar of our foreign policy and the foundation of our Act East Policy. The upgradation of the relationship into a Strategic Partnership in 2012 was a natural progression to the ground covered since India became a sectoral partner of ASEAN in 1992, a dialogue partner in 1996, and a summit level partner at Phnom Penh in 2002. At the Bali Summit in 2003, India and the ASEAN signed the Instrument of Accession to the treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia, a framework agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation, and a joint declaration for cooperation to combat international terrorism.
- Apart from ASEAN, India has taken other policy initiatives in the region that involve some members of ASEAN like BIMSTEC, MGC, etc. India is also an active participant in several regional forums like the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting + (ADMM+) and Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF).
- At the Vientiane summit of 2004 the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity, and the Plan of Action to implement were finalised.
- India has set up a separate Mission to ASEAN and the EAS in Jakarta in April 2015 with a dedicated Ambassador to strengthen engagement with ASEAN and ASEAN-centric processes.
- ASEAN-India Centre (AIC) was established to undertake policy research, advocacy and networking activities with organizations and think-tanks in India and ASEAN.
- ASEAN-India trade and investment relations have been growing steadily, with ASEAN being India’s fourth largest trading partner.
- Investment flows are also substantial both ways, with ASEAN accounting for approximately 18.28% of investment flows into India since 2000. FDI inflows into India from ASEAN between April 2000 to March 2018 was about US$ 68.91 billion, while FDI outflows from India to ASEAN countries, from April 2007 to March 2015, as per data maintained by DEA, was about US$38,672 billion.
- The ASEAN-India Free Trade Area has been completed with the entering into force of the ASEAN-India Agreements on Trade in Service and Investments on 1 July 2015. ASEAN and India have been also working on enhancing private sector engagement.
- India has a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with various countries of the ASEAN region which has resulted in concessional trade and a rise in investments.
- The second edition of the ASEAN-India Workshop on Blue Economy, jointly hosted with the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, was held on 18 July 2018 in New Delhi.
- ASEAN India-Business Council (AIBC) was set up in March 2003 in Kuala Lumpur as a forum to bring key private sector players from India and the ASEAN countries on a single platform for business networking and sharing of ideas.
People to People Contact
- The large Indian Diaspora in many of the Southeast Asian countries, especially Malaysia and Singapore, help strengthen diplomatic, economic and security relations between India and ASEAN as they have contributed to a deepening of bonds. The Indian Diaspora comprises an important instrument of India’s soft power and they help congeal a highly organic relationship between the two regions.
- In eastern India, Odisha has long had historical ties with Indonesia. Every year in the month of November, ‘Bali Yatra’ is celebrated to commemorate the voyages of traders from Odisha to Bali, Java, Sumatra, and Sri Lanka for trade. The traders used to sail on big boats called Boita.
- India and Southeast Asian countries share longstanding civilisational ties. The impact of this cross-fertilisation of cultures and traditions is evident in aspects such as religion, language, literature, beliefs, customs, cuisine, and architecture of the two regions.
- Buddhism forms the spiritual nucleus of ASEAN-India relations as Buddhists from all over the region flock for pilgrimage to revered shrines like Bodh Gaya, the place where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
- The Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, are hugely popular in Thailand and Indonesia and have had influence on popular art forms in those countries such as shadow puppetry.
- India offered to host participants from ASEAN countries to the 5th International Buddhist Conclave (IBC) held in Varanasi in October 2016.
- The fourth International Conference on Dharma Dhamma on “State and Social Order in Dharma Dhamma Traditions” was organised by Nalanda University in partnership with the Vietnam Buddhist University, India Foundation, and the Ministry of External Affairs, government of India in January 2018.
- The main forum for ASEAN security dialogue is the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
- Faced with growing traditional and non-traditional challenges, politico-security cooperation is a key and an emerging pillar of ASEAN-India relationship.
- On 25 January 2018 Summit meeting leaders decided to identify Cooperation in the Maritime Domain as the key area of cooperation under the ASEAN-India strategic partnership.
- The ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) is the highest defence consultative and cooperative mechanism in ASEAN.
- The ADMM+ brings together Defence Ministers from the 10 ASEAN nations plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States on a biannual basis.
- Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF) is an avenue for track 1.5 diplomacy focusing on cross cutting maritime issues of common concern. India participated in the 4th EAMF held in Manado, Indonesia on 10-11 September 2015.
- Joint Naval and Military exercises are conducted between India and most ASEAN countries.
- The maiden Asean-India Maritime Exercise will be held in 2023.
- Watershed’ Military Exercise held in 2016.
- Vietnam has traditionally been a close friend on defense issues, Singapore is also an equally important partner.
- ASEAN-India connectivity is a matter of strategic priority for India as also for the ASEAN countries.
- In 2013, India became the third dialogue partner of ASEAN to initiate an ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee-lndia Meeting.
- While India has made considerable progress in implementing the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Project, issues related to increasing the maritime and air connectivity between ASEAN and India and transforming the corridors of connectivity into economic corridors are under discussion.
- A possible extension to India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam is also under consideration.
- A consensus on finalising the proposed protocol of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicle Agreement (IMT MVA) has been reached. This agreement will have a critical role in realizing seamless movement of passenger, personal and cargo vehicles along roads linking India, Myanmar and Thailand.
- India announced a Line of Credit of US$ 1 billion to promote projects that support physical and digital connectivity between India and ASEAN, and a Project Development Fund with a corpus of INR 500 crores to develop manufacturing hubs in CLMV countries at the 13th ASEAN India Summit held in Malaysia in November 2015.
Significance of ASEAN-India Relations
- Enhanced cooperation would give an impetus to small and medium enterprises in the region.
- Collaboration in knowledge sharing would facilitate innovation and research.
- ASEAN supports India to play a greater role in the political and security domain, and create a rule based region, which is important to both India and ASEAN nations.
- Presence of China in Indian Ocean and its assertiveness in South China Sea underscores the importance of mutual cooperation between India and ASEAN nations.
- Islamic Terrorism has the potential to affect Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The political stability in these countries are of vital interest to India.
Significance of ASEAN to India
ASEAN is an important part of India’s vision of an open, mutual, inclusive and rules-based security architecture in the Asia Pacific region.
- Strategic: The rise of China has led India to put forth its best efforts to engage with ASEAN as a regional grouping. The ASEAN countries have always looked to India for balancing against China. For India to be a regional power, enhancing its relations with ASEAN in all spheres must be a priority. In this age of multilateral alignment, the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region will be defined by India’s engagement and cooperation with ASEAN.
- Economic: East and Southeast Asia are important economic blocks in the world trade architecture today and together command more than a third of world trade. While ASEAN-India economic relationship has grown remarkably starting 2002, there is immense potential to grow the relationship further, through both trade and investment, and by India integrating into the Asian value chain. The ‘Make in India’ initiative in conjunction with the recently implemented investment agreement between India and ASEAN has the potential to facilitate India’s integration in the Asian value chain.
- Maritime Security: Countries of the Indian Ocean Region have repeatedly suffered due to the rise in piracy, illegal migration, and trafficking of drugs, arms, and human on the trans-national level, as well as maritime terrorism. ARF allows India to discuss these issues , which are of immediate concern and can be only resolved on a multilateral level. India has also scored several diplomatic successes at ARF, including maintaining ties after its nuclear test of 1998, isolating Pakistan during the Kargil War, and lobbying against Pakistan’s entry in the forum till 2002.
- UNSC: India needs support of ASEAN nations for its bid for permanent membership to UNSC.
- Connectivity: India is working toward formalizing its transit agreements and establishing better connectivity infrastructure with this region through land, water, and air. Given the economic potential of the region and strategic importance, connectivity with ASEAN nations is of vital interest to India.
- North East India: India’s north east region has the potential to become the new growth engine for the country and is a gateway to ASEAN. It is important to integrate North-Eastern India with the ASEAN region through road, rail and air links. The benefits of such a transformation would be multifaceted, impacting not only India but the entire sub region, and would pave the way for the integration of India’s north east with the world economy.
- South China Sea: India has strategic economic interest in South China Sea region and advocates for peaceful resolution of disputes under the UN framework. China’s territorial conflicts in the SCS threaten the future trajectory of India’s economic development, creating an unacceptable hindrance for regional trade and commerce. In the aftermath of the Hague Tribunal’s verdict on the South China Sea, New Delhi feels obligated to take a principled stand on the issue of freedom of navigation and commercial access as enshrined in the UNCLOS.
- Act East Policy: Indian trade and economic linkages in the Pacific are becoming stronger and deeper. Not only are ASEAN and the far-eastern Pacific key target areas of the “Act East” policy, Asia’s Eastern commons are increasingly a vital facilitator of India’s economic development. With growing dependence on the Malacca Strait for the flow of goods and services, economics is increasingly a factor in India’s Pacific policy .
- APEC: India is not a member of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. Support of ASEAN is vital for India’s entry into economic grouping.
Significance of India to ASEAN
Trade and Transit: India supports unimpeded rights of passage and other maritime rights in accordance with the international law. India is a market for ASEAN exports of goods and services.
Regional Stability: Amidst the aggressive behaviour of China, ASEAN nations want India to take and play leadership role in improving commerce, connectivity and security in the region. India has been a source of strength for most ASEAN countries for its unequivocal stand on maritime disputes.
South China Sea: India and ASEAN have mutual interest in the freedom of navigation and stability in South China Sea region. China’s aggressiveness in the region has raised India’s importance for ASEAN. India has always advocated for peaceful negotiation and adherence to international law.
Challenges in ASEAN-India Relations
- Lack of time-bound implementation of projects poses a huge challenge. For instance, the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and Kaladan multimodal project, which would enhance connectivity between India and the ASEAN region, are still under process.
- Another area of focus is improving land, sea and air connectivity.
- While India is investing time and efforts to give a fillip to its relations with ASEAN, it still has miles to go before it can be equated with China. For one, the trade and economic ties are much below their potential. China is still the largest trading partner of the regional grouping, followed by the European Union and the United States.
- The free mobility of labour within the ASEAN Economic Community region might hamper India’s prospects in terms of mobility of skilled workers, which has just been implemented with the ASEAN-India Services agreement. It could also choke out some of the investments that India might have obtained from the region due to easier flow of capital within the region.
- India’s FDI in ASEAN is also low in comparison to China. While India’s FDI to ASEAN was US$ 1.2 billion in 2015, China’s FDI to ASEAN stood at a whopping figure of US$ 8.15 billion.
- Slow pace of implementation and lack of willingness to take risks has deterred India’s public sector enterprises and private companies from making substantive investments in the Southeast Asian region.
- Many bilateral deals with these nations are yet to be finalised, leading to the halting of various aspects of economic ties.
- Territorial Disputes: ASEAN member states are enmeshed in territorial disputes with interested powers for a long time. For example, China’s claim to territories in the South China Sea overlaps with competing claims by Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
- Indo-Pacific Rivalry: For a long time, the assumption of China as the primary economic partner and the US as the primary security guarantor has been at the heart of the ASEAN balance.
- Today, that balance is falling apart and the Russia-Ukraine war has further aggravated this tension. This sharpening of major power rivalry in the Indo-Pacific region is threatening the underlying stability on which rested the regional growth and prosperity.
- Unstable Geoeconomics: The geopolitical tension in the Indo-Pacific is producing geoeconomic consequences where issues of trade and technology cooperation as well as supply chain resilience is at peak.
- And this is happening at a time when ASEAN remains a divided organisation internally on how to manage these challenges.
- At a time when China is pushing ahead with its Belt and Road initiative, India needs to get at least a couple of major connectivity projects off the ground to demonstrate the credibility of the ‘Act East’ policy.
- Though trade and investment with ASEAN is now increasing rapidly, it is crucial that at the political level that India needs friends to ensure that it becomes a key factor in the Asia-Pacific region. It is a positive sign that the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, is making efforts for at closer cooperation with India.
- There is more potential for a number of state governments to reach out to the ASEAN region. Several state governments have already developed links with countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, as many of them are seeking help with infrastructure.
- Building Resilient Supply Chain: Current engagement in value chains between ASEAN and India is not substantial. ASEAN and India can leverage the emerging scenario and support each other to build new and resilient supply chains.
- However, to explore this opportunity, ASEAN and India must upgrade their logistics services and strengthen the transportation infrastructure.
- Maritime Security in Indo-Pacific: The maritime security of the Indo-Pacific region is crucial for the protection of India’s interests as well as those of ASEAN.
- Both sides need to work towards ensuring maximum utilisation of resources without harming the marine environment. They need to adopt strong and responsible initiatives to harness the potential of the ocean in a sustainable manner.
- Also ASEAN should emphasise the principles of the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to solve the disputes in the South China Sea region.
- Regional Tourism: India and ASEAN should also enhance regional tourism and people-to-people connectivity as they already have civilisational and cultural influences on each other.
- Unfolding Act-East Policy: Reciprocity and mutual understanding on common concerns will help both ASEAN and India to overcome some of the challenges.
- Through coordination in the fields of Digitalisation, Pharmaceuticals, Agriculture Education and Green Growth will unfold the potential of India’s Act East Policy.