Home Contact Us  
   

Southeast Asia - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5296, 15 June 2017
 

Three Years of the Modi Government

India-ASEAN Relations: Progress and Possibilities
Rajiv Bhatia
Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House, and former Indian ambassador to Myanmar
 

Assessing the state of India's relations with ASEAN as the Modi government completed three years in office makes sense. But the task is not easy, for the governments are in a mode of self-congratulation. Whereas celebrations of the silver anniversary of the India-ASEAN dialogue partnership (which began in 1992 and culminated in the strategic partnership in 2012) are underway, ASEAN celebrates its own golden anniversary in 2017. Nevertheless, offering a scholarly and objective evaluation is possible, keeping in view the recent history and changing power dynamics in the region.

The Shift
In the last two years of the Look East Policy (LEP), India's approach towards ASEAN looked tired, if not stale. Nothing much of significance seemed to be happening in the relationship then. Some commentators, this author included, wrote at the time about the need for re-orienting the policy and crafting LEP 2.0 or 3.0. In this backdrop, PM Narendra Modi brought a breath of fresh air and a dash of strategic gravitas as he rose at the India-East Asia Summit at Naypyitaw on 13 November 2014 to announce that the LEP had been turned into the Act East Policy (AEP).

Cynics quickly dismissed the shift as merely a change of labels. But perceptive observers noted that the change was consequential. The Modi government sought to extend the canvas of its focus from  ASEAN to the whole of East Asia; defence cooperation, maritime security and strategic coordination were added to the previous agenda (largely) of political, economic and cultural cooperation; and the new policy promised increased attention to developing India's Northeast and its linkages with ASEAN countries. Greater emphasis on implementation of promises and strategic boldness on India's part at a time when China’s assertiveness was on the rise were also implicit in the AEP.

Successes
As a strong leader with a clear popular mandate, PM Modi made a positive impression at the past three India-ASEAN Summits and East Asia Summits by spearheading the expansion and diversification of India's economic growth and demonstrating his keenness to enhance trade and investment ties with Southeast Asia. The articulation of India's policy and programmes was precise, pointed and powerful. India came through as a country that knew its mind and articulated its stand, without hesitation, on key issues such as the South and East China Seas and regional security architecture.

New Delhi moved to implement its policy at three different levels. At the bilateral level, India's top three leaders – the president, vice president and prime minister – paid visits to nine out of 10 ASEAN member-states. Return visits by VIPs from all ASEAN countries took place. Viewed together, they contributed to the strengthening of mutual cooperation. At the sub-regional level, serious initiatives were launched to rejuvenate BIMSTEC: the Leaders’ Retreat, followed by their Outreach Summit with BRICS leaders on 16 October 2017, and the first-ever meeting of BIMSTEC national security advisers in Delhi in March 2017. The Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) too received pointed attention.

At the ASEAN level, India pushed for new economic cooperation initiatives and also increased financial resources to intensify cooperation in science and technology, energy, environment and other sectors. The extra-ASEAN dimension was strengthened by developing a joint vision for the security-development matrix in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly with the US, Japan and Australia.

Downside
Despite strenuous efforts, the figures of trade and investment flows between India and ASEAN did not bring much comfort. Trade, valued at US$ 76.53 in 2014-15, declined to US$ 65.04 in 2015-16. Investment from India to ASEAN and ASEAN to India stood at US$ 38.67 billion (for 2007-15) and US$ 49.40 billion (for 2000-16), respectively. While the global slowdown is undoubtedly an explanation, these figures are far from vibrant and indicate systemic challenges that need to be addressed.

Endeavours to conclude negotiations for a balanced Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) seemed to have been bogged down. Earlier, RCEP was supposed to be ready by end-2016. Negotiations are now set to spill into 2018. The region and India badly need a new economic partnership arrangement that vastly strengthens trade, technology and investment linkages in a mutually beneficial manner. On connectivity, progress has been made in the fields of space and digital technology. However, physical connectivity continues to lag behind. India's flagship infrastructure projects – Kaladan and the Trilateral Highway – are unlikely to be completed before 2020.

Above all, the strategic environment in East Asia has taken an adverse turn from New Delhi’s perspective. This happened during the transition from Obama to Trump. China rejected an unfavourable verdict on the South China Sea, delivered by the tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and succeeded in overriding critical reactions. It weakened ASEAN's 'centrality' and increased anxiety levels in the region. Leveraging political change in the Philippines, it succeeded in developing a framework for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, with valuable help from Manila (Philippines is the current chair of  ASEAN). Further, US-China relations are passing through a happy phase. China-Japan relations too are looking up. On the other hand, India-China ties are frayed. India-US relations are also marked by new tensions; how this equation will shape up may become clearer after the Modi-Trump meeting in Washington in end-June.

Challenges Ahead
Bilateral political relations with most ASEAN countries are in good shape today, but more investment of effort is required to deepen cooperation with Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines. Enhanced energy is undoubtedly required not just by the governments but by India Inc and ASEAN Inc to secure the agreed target of trade touching US$ 100 billion. The long-pending connectivity projects deserve the strongest national effort. The proposed extension of the Trilateral Highway to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia will gain credibility only when the highway is ready. A time-bound plan to conclude RCEP negotiations expeditiously should be a priority. New programmes announced by the Modi government - US$ 1 billion-fund for digital connectivity with ASEAN countries and US$ 100 million-fund for small-scale projects in CLMV countries - must produce concrete results.

As regards the changing geopolitical situation, deep contemplation is needed to re-calibrate India's policy priorities and partnerships. A carefully re-designed strategy alone will protect India's national interest, enhance its multi-dimensional relationship with ASEAN, and ensure peace and prosperity in East Asia. 

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
 
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Indo-Pacific
Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Indus-tan
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within


OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


 
Related Articles
Amit Ranjan,
"India-Bangladesh: Engagement with More Stakeholders Required," 12 June 2017
Ranjit Gupta,
"India-West Asia: With Relations Boosted, Consolidation Must Follow," 12 June 2017
Rana Banerji,
"India-Pakistan: Three Years of Wasted Effort?," 9 June 2017

Browse by Publications

Commentaries 
Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 
China 
Myanmar 
Afghanistan 
Iran 
Pakistan 
India 
J&K  

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Indo-Pak 
Military 
Terrorism 
Naxalite Violence 
Nuclear 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
ADD TO:
Blink
Del.icio.us
Digg
Furl
Google
Simpy
Spurl
Y! MyWeb
Facebook
 
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2017
 January  February  March  April  May  June
 2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
 2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001
 2000  1999  1998  1997
 
 

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

 
Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2017, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.