The Big Picture – ASEAN-INDIA Summit
Leaders of ASEAN & India discussed ways to boost maritime security, connectivity and trade as the leaders of all 10 ASEAN leaders visited India on the eve its Republic Day Parade ceremony. PM Modi focussed on India’s vision of Rule based societies and Freedom of Navigation in the region. PM Modi also touched upon religious ties that bind all the nations and stressed that ASEAN is at the centre of India’s Act East Policy.
- There are huge opportunities that await both India and ASEAN to strengthen the relations which are going to be beneficially bilaterally as well for the world in terms of security, stability and prosperity.
- PM Modi rightly stressed upon maritime security which has become important for many ASEAN countries like Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. He stressed upon a Rule of Law looking upon the expansionist policy of China in South China Sea which is now a cause for concern. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982 was also stressed upon.
- Investments and trade was discussed. In last 25 years India has been able to increase the trade with ASEAN by 25 times. But, the potential for this is still higher.
- Connectivity was focussed in terms of digital, maritime and air connectivity. India’s North Eastern states are being connected progressively with Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. More than thousand years of relations in Ramayana & Buddhism was also talked.
- It is today an interconnected world and many issued have a spill-over effect on other regions as well. ASEAN which was formed in 1967, is now trying to bring in a kind of balance by bringing in a big player like India, as China is creating militarisation upon South China Sea. India also has its own concern as about 45 % of its trade passes through this region. So, India which is now a part of the Quadrilateral group (with Japan, US and Australia) is stressing on Freedom of Navigation.
- The coming together of ASEAN and India can provide Asian economic integration. Historically as well, Indian subcontinent and South Asia was an economic hub which linked Central Asia, Eurasia & West Asia to S.E. Asia, East Asia and Oceania. This was done through Silk Route, Cotton Route, etc.
- India relations with most of the ASEAN countries are now good. Only Philippines was one vacant space which was filled somewhat as PM Modi attended the ASEAN summit in Mania in November 2017.
- India’s Act East Policy is a successor to Look East Policy. The Look East Policy launched in 1992 worked well for 20 years, and India’s trade with ASEAN increased 25 times. But, it was felt that it had become stagnant and needed a greater dynamism. So, the Act East Policy was launched which apart from economic initiatives, has gained political, cultural and strategic dimensions as well. It has focussed on India’s domestic initiatives like infrastructure, manufacturing, trade, skills, urban renewal, Make in India and other initiatives.
- But the projects like connecting North Eastern states with neighbouring countries and some other business projects are moving slowly and need to be completed faster.
- Many ASEAN countries are maintaining very high percentage of growth rate and good HRD profiles. The labour costs are also lower in ASEAN countries than in India. Clubbing up with ASEAN countries which are rated good by IMF and World Bank as well, can be beneficial economically for India.
- On the maritime related issues of ASEAN countries, it is estimated by International Maritime Organisation that 52% of global piracy issues are actually now happening in SE Asia. Previously, it was off Somalia. Indian Navy has substantial advantages and can be considered for anti-piracy missions. Bilateral naval exercises with Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore has come into the picture.
- A combination of bilateral and multilateral meetings both are important. Certain issues can be discussed bilaterally only while some others are regional. So, building good relations with ASEAN as a bloc is also needed. Progress and actions need to be taken up simultaneously at different levels.
India and ASEAN have huge potential for cooperation and collaboration like in trade, strategic issues (providing maritime security and cooperation), fighting counter-terrorism, defence engagements, etc. ASEAN is the central pillar for India’s Act East Policy. India has done great efforts in the past to become a full dialogue partner with ASEAN way back in 1992. So, this relation needs to be valued upon. Efforts need to be done rightly so that present trade with ASEAN may be doubled by 2025.