New Delhi: For the first time, India had witnessed a 10 leaders as chief guests in the Republic Day Parade. It is also important to note that one of the ASEAN countries had been the chief guest of India’s first Republic Day Parade, President Sukarno of Indonesia. It is no doubt almost from many years India had been significantly close to ASEAN countries.
So, the question is what makes our relation with ASEAN special? It is because we are connected from our ancient era, from the era to the Pallava and Chola Dynasty. It is much evidence from the culture and architecture president there. Also, our bond gets stronger during the modern period during the colonial rule, when most of the ASEAN countries have taken inspiration from the Indian freedom movement to fight against the colonial rule. Although the relation hit nadir during the Cold War period due to difference in addressing International issues, the relation again gain accelerated during the Post Cold War era when India had introduced its ‘Look East Policy’ to engage more cooperation with the ASEAN Nations.
During the Look East period India had gained much prominence in ASEAN by up gradation from sectoral dialogue partner to the full dialogue partner in the 90’s. It had also led to significant improvements in foreign trade and FDI’s. At that time there also need to work on security issues like cross border terrorism and maritime security. Nevertheless the Look East Policy went well with there remain more provisions to improvements.
The ‘Act East Policy’ adopted in the year 2014, can be said a reformation to the previous ‘Look East Policy’ of India to improve ties with the ASEAN countries. Our priorities to foreign policy with the ASEAN Nations based on the facts
- of our close proximity to each other
- due to our shared cultural linkages
- provides a market for investment
- to have it’s strong hold in the region
- maritime security and cooperation
- a scope of opportunity in science and technology
- to counter China’s gaining influence in the region
India is surely concern about the China’s growing influence in the region and to counter China is seen as a policy of giving priority in the ASEAN region. Also the place provides India with ample economic investments and opportunities and especially in the offshore oil field and the disputed area between South East Asian Nations and China.
Apart from the growing concern about China’s rise in the region, India is also focusing to improve ties and economic with the CLMV countries and i.e., Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar as these countries are full of mineral resources, India sees an opportunity in trade and trapped and to unlock the untapped potentialities.
These regions are also provided India with India’s recent policies of ‘Make in India’, ‘Smart Cities’, Digital India, Skill India, Swachh Bharat and International Day of Yoga. Singapore and Malaysia still now remain one of the largest trading partner of India in the ASEAN. Singapore has already signed MoU to develop Andhra Pradesh newly formed capital Amaravathi, which is smart cities.
‘Act East Policy’ have given significant importance to 3c’s known as Culture, Commerce and Connected as ASEAN-India relation stand on ‘Shared values and Common destiny’. Also, it is greatly significant to India, as India and ASEAN are observing their 25 years of their Dialogue Partnership, 15 years of Summit Level Partnership and 5 years of Strategic Partnership throughout the year 2017. According to a report by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), New Delhi, India’s trade with ASEAN has increased to US$ 70 billion in 2016-17 from US$ 65 billion in 2015-16 and India’s export to ASEAN has increased to US$ 31.07 billion in 2016-17 from US$ 25 billion in 2015-16, also ASEAN emerged as the fourth largest trading partner of India. Nevertheless, in terms of economic relations, this progress is quite signifying..
India is also now focusing on more social, cultural and P2P diplomacy, as South East Asian countries or ASEAN countries. India shared an age old cultural legacy with ASEAN countries and India is trying to increase its relation with ASEAN countries by increasing cooperation in Cultural activity. One of the greatest examples of cultural connectivity is the Ramayana and Mahabharata which is quite popular in these countries and have their own version of Ramayana. Also, there are similarity in language of Sanskrit script, Hindi and Tamil languages. India from time to time engage in cultural troops exchanges between India and ASEAN countries.
Recently Indian Embassy had hosted ‘Festival of India’ in some of the ASEAN countries to promote Indian culture there. Bollywood is deeply loved by the people of ASEAN and India’s daily soap is also quite popular there. More cultural provision opens the more provisions for engagements and cultural cooperation and India’s hold in the region through the promotion of ‘Soft Power Diplomacy’.
Another significant area that is focused on India’s Act East is Connectivity, India is working on many projects to improve the connectivity between ASEAN and India. Among them Myanmar provides a gateway to North East India, there need significant improvements to connectivity from North East of Myanmar and also to improve the trade in this region. The other projects that India and ASEAN Nations are involved to improve the connectivity include Kaladan multi-modal transport projects in Myanmar that will offer connectivity to Mizoram in India, Highway from Meghalaya to Myanmar, as part of the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral pact, The Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) is an initiative by six countries – India and five ASEAN countries, namely, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The connectivity will surely help more flow of people and trade and explore the opportunities.
The other areas that India and ASEAN engage in cooperation include Science and Technology and Environment. Also, they are working on improving tourism from both sides as tourism is the best way to promote culture and increase in economy. India and ASEAN also work on space research and development.
ASEAN in India had been important from the early past till the modern era, it is no doubt there remains a vast potential and untapped opportunities between them which need to be explored. ASEAN leaders in India are a potential effort to increase our collaboration and explore our foreign policy, diplomacy in the region and also for growing India’s influence as a potential partner in the Asia Pacific region.