Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Visit to India

17 Oct, 2007    ·   2394

Anushree Bhattacharyya underlines the significance of Gloria Arroyo's visit in strengthening Indo-Philippine relations

The Philippines President, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo paid a state visit to India from 4-6 October 2007. It was her first visit to South Asia and the second in a decade by a Filipino head-of-state to India. The visit provided a much needed roadmap and framework to Indo-Philippines bilateral relations. The hitherto limited nature of bilateral interaction between the two countries can be assessed from the fact that trade between them stood at US$730 million in 2006, which is nominal compared to India's trade with other major ASEAN countries. This negligence can be attributed to two factors: baggage of the past and lack of interest. Despite long-established diplomatic relations and a common heritage of colonial subjugation, the two countries faced each other from ideologically opposite camps during the Cold War. Lack of interest came from the misperception both shared against one another. India viewed the Philippines as an American surrogate while the latter perceived India as a communist-tilted country with a closed economy. This resulted in marginal interaction that began improving at the sidelines of ASEAN participation.

Taking these limitations into consideration, the Filipino President declared the main objective of her visit as "boosting languishing trade and political ties." Accompanied by a 41-member business delegation, Mrs Arroyo stressed for greater Indian investment in her country whether in tourism and hotels, the entertainment industry or in government asset-privatization programmes. She called on the Indian IT, BPO industry and pharmaceutical companies to make the Philippines their base of operations in the Southeast Asian region which would not only increase investment but also benefit the host country with technology and cheap medicines.

The visit essentially highlighted nine agreements between the two governments out of which three areas can be identified as significant for future strategic cooperation. The agreement on Joint Declaration for Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism is noteworthy since both countries are beset with the scourge of terrorism. This would allow information sharing between their respective law enforcing agencies bringing in security cooperation within the fold of the above declaration. Secondly, a 15 million USD credit line offered to the Philippines for 12 years in consonance with the proposed $100-million soft line of credit India decided to extend to the ASEAN. Finally, a bi-annual Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation has been agreed on, co-chaired by their respective Foreign Ministers to discuss and develop trade, economic, scientific, technological and other fields of bilateral cooperation. This is a significant step forward which would regularize and institutionalize their collaboration at a very high level.

With a substantial English speaking and young work force, the Philippines offer a lucrative market for Indian investment. Significantly, the nominal wage in the Philippines remains comparatively low compared to other NICs in the region with the added advantage of a substantially educated population. This factor can be explored to mutual advantage by developing collaboration in areas like joint movie venture, development of the Jatropha plant as an alternative fuel source, cooperation in the field of health and medicine and increasing air linkages.

In tune with the "India fever" gripping the entire Southeast Asian region, Mrs. Arroyo's visit is significant. Mrs. Arroyo brought home 2 billion USD worth of trade and investment from India which is enormous given the sluggishness of their economy. Besides, calling India as a neighbour in the East Asian region the Filipino President made India a part of the region. In fact, the Philippines have never been wary about India's entry in the East Asia Summit unlike some other ASEAN members. This brings out positive vibes that would facilitate wider convergence of interest and build a closer partnership.

Most importantly, Mrs. Arroyo's visit came as an opportunity for India since it gave a fillip to India's Look East Policy - strong bilateral relations with every ASEAN member-state is a prerequisite for India's integration with the region. Although India's relations with the Philippines seems slothful compared to its relations with some other ASEAN members, high profile visits between the two countries in recent years marks the seriousness of an effort to augment their quiescent bilateral relations.

What is striking, however, is that despite India's emphasis on a Look East Policy (LEP), a state visit by the head-of-state of the second largest country in ASEAN failed to make the front pages of any of the Indian newspapers. This fact illustrates the laidback attitude of the Indian Government in viewing the visit as a stepping stone towards successful implementation of the LEP.