India ASEAN – A 25 Year long Journey

In 2017, India ASEAN would observe 25 years of their dialogue partnership, 15 years of Summit Level Interaction and 5 years of strategic partnership.

India ASEAN | Background

  • As an important regional power, India had contacts with most of the South-East Asian countries from the earliest periods of history.
  • The earliest attempts at building an Asian unity was first made in 1947 during the Asian Relations Conference which was held in New Delhi in 1947.
  • One of the main objectives, as highlighted by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru was to discuss various problems which are of common concern to all the Asian countries.
  • The ASEAN was established in 1967 with the objective of promoting intergovernmental cooperation and facilitating economic integration among its members. India had good bilateral relations with most of the ASEAN countries. It supported the Indonesian struggle for independence in the 1950s and also signed friendship treaties with Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines.

India ASEAN | The Journey

  • Both India and ASEAN are influential actors in Asia and as such, both of them share similar political and security interests. India became a sect oral dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1992 and was upgraded to full dialogue partner in 1996.
  • In 2012, ASEAN-India celebrated the 10th anniversary of Summit-level partnership with a Commemorative Summit in New Delhi under the theme “ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace and Shared Prosperity”. The summit endorsed elevating the partnership to a “Strategic Partnership”.
  • The ASEAN-India Plan of Action 2010-15 envisaged cooperation in a range of sectors in politics, economic, socio-culture sphere for deepening and intensifying ASEAN-India cooperation.

India ASEAN | India’s Act East Policy

  • The Narendra Modi government has emphasized on the Act East Policy (following on from the Look East Policy which was introduced in the 1990s) which is more pragmatic and proactive and seeks to highlight the importance of continuous engagement with the countries of the Asia-Pacific by addressing key strategic, economic and cultural opportunities.
  • As ASEAN looks to mark 50 years of its existence as a grouping, India is looking to commemorate 25 years of dialogue partnership with the bloc this year. Within the parameters of interests and actions of regional and great powers and security perceptions and interests within ASEAN, India and ASEAN need to shape the larger architecture of the regional environment.

India ASEAN | Security cooperation

  • In the new regional security configuration, there is the necessity to develop a common approach to regional security which would foster regionalism beyond the sub-ASEAN focus to include the broader region of the Asia-Pacific.
  • In the regional security architecture, the prospects of ASEAN-India collaboration to tackle threats like poverty, transnational health threats, environmental degradation, natural disasters and transnational crimes like terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, people trafficking, money laundering, arms smuggling, sea piracy, international economic crime and cybercrimes cannot be downplayed.
  • Security-oriented ocean governance architecture is also all the more necessary as the region has issues of piracy, terrorism, drug and human trafficking, territorial claims and overlapping disputes as well as issues of resource management and environmental degradation.

India ASEAN | Economic ties

  • Establishing better connectivity will help in increasing trade ties and business potential between India and the ASEAN countries. Today, India and ASEAN share deep economic ties. ASEAN is India’s 4th largest trading partner, accounting for 10.2% of India’s total trade. For a more robust economic engagement, complementarities must be realised between the two regions.
  • The role of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (RCEP) in further strengthening cooperation and economic integration in the region can be highlighted as also the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (FTA) which provides a great opportunity to expand trade and economic ties.
  • They can exploit opportunities in emerging marine industries like marine biotechnology, minerals, marine ICT, development of new drugs, cosmetics etc. Development of joint projects on ocean tourism presents huge potential for jobs and economic growth.

India ASEAN | Way forward

  • For the deepening of India ASEAN relations, there needs to be an arrangement of programmes and mechanisms to promote cross-cultural dialogue and people-to-people contacts.
  • More attention towards educational and cultural exchanges, development of science and technology, innovation and entrepreneurship would take the relationship to a qualitatively different level.
  • Given the fact that both are major players in the regional and global economy and are important contributors to the future development of Asian regionalism, cooperation would help in the creation of a more stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia. This requires seizing key opportunities with vision and dexterity.

India ASEAN | Conclusion

ASEAN, unlike the EU, is politically diverse. Its members range from one-party communist-ruled Vietnam to quasi-military ruled Myanmar, the increasingly Islamist-leaning kingdom of Brunei and the raucously democratic The Philippines. To be successful, the community also requires a tremendous amount of political backing from both internal and external sources. India is exploring collective as well as bilateral engagements with the ASEAN members which is a sign of pragmatic and proactive approach towards diplomacy.

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