India and the ASEAN: A Media Analysis

14 Mar, 2013    ·   3842

Amruta Karambelkar analyses the level of awareness in the media about India’s engagement in the region

Two significant events took place between India and the ASEAN’s member states since December 2012. One was the India-ASEAN commemorative summit and sideline events in December 2012, and two, the Delhi Dialogue (DD-V) in February 2013. These events are of particular significance to India’s Look East Policy as they intensify India’s engagement with Southeast Asia. India’s stakes are indeed high in its relations with Southeast Asia. With this premise, the commentary examines the media coverage of these events to study the level of awareness about India’s engagement in Southeast Asia.

India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit: Media Coverage in Southeast Asia
The Bangkok Post and The Nation (Thailand) talk about the FTA in services that India was pushing for. The Nation emphasises on trade with India and enumerates the benefits this FTA in services can bring to Thailand, since it is connected to India by land and sea (sic). Kavi Chongkittavorn’s piece in The Nation places India-ASEAN relations in terms of its relevance in the context of the changing international dynamics, and substantiates India’s role as a ‘natural’ and ‘reliable’ partner.

GMA News and Philstar's (Philippines) coverage focus on the economic dimensions of the summit, which is the India-ASEAN business fair, and mentions the bilateral trade between India and the Philippines. Jejomar Binar, the Vice President of the Philippines delivered the keynote address at the India-ASEAN business conclave and fair, which is covered in these news sources.

Channel News Asia (Singapore) writes about India’s Look East policy, the ASEAN-India vision statement, and India’s role in the ASEAN. It also explains the problems in India and the ASEAN; but gives a positive picture of this engagement. The trade potential is mentioned only towards the end.

The Borneo Post (Malaysia) does a US media survey of this summit and reports accordingly. On the basis of the US newspapers it referred to, it puts India-ASEAN relations within the prism of the US’s foreign policy. It writes about the extent of the US’ interests in India-ASEAN relations generally; and in the FTA in particular. The report talks of how India’s integration with the ASEAN is vital to the US’ interests in the Asia-Pacific, vis-à-vis China. It further notes that India has agreed to enhance maritime cooperation with the ASEAN. This aspect is also presented from the US’ perspective, of how the country has noted it. Finally, the report says that the New Delhi Summit is in sync with the ‘new strategic thinking’ which complements the US’ strategy in Asia, especially after its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. Bernama has a detailed coverage of the DD-V.

Thannien News (Vietnam) covers the visit by INS Sudarshini, and related events, and makes a passing reference to the India-ASEAN summit. Vietnam Net Bridge reports the cover statement by Vietnam’s Prime minister, where he welcomes the India-ASEAN strategic partnership and FTA in services, noting that India and the ASEAN need to prioritise political partnerships and security concerns amidst challenges facing the region. There is no independent assessment or coverage of the summit beyond the PM’s speech.

The Irrawaddy (Myanmar) covers the summit in the light of protests held by Burmese Democratic Forces in India at Jantar Mantar. The coverage presents demands of this group- expecting India to ensure transparency in its investments in Myanmar.

Do Governments have the same Perception of India as their National Media?
Each ASEAN member state has a different take on its expectations from India, which is obvious.  The media coverage of a country is selective; in accordance with its national interest vis -a vis India. Some perception gaps are observed internally- except for Singapore and Thailand, where public diplomacy and media understanding are near identical.

The media coverage in Singapore presents the India-ASEAN engagement in a comprehensive way, particularly India’s political role in the ASEAN. So there seems an accurate understanding about India, wherein the Indian Diaspora in Singapore helps significantly.

Vietnam’s media coverage emphasises India’s political role over economic, and expects active Indian engagement in security challenges facing the region. However, the Vietnamese government has a better understanding of India’s potential. The Philippines too, picks up snippets regarding its national interest (maritime disputes) from India’s agenda. The media is not as enthusiastic about India’s economic engagement, when compared to official statements.

Myanmar’s foreign ministry, or the embassy in Delhi, does not have any press release, whilst The Irrawaddy does. Coverage or official press releases from Laos and Cambodia were not found. No official information was available from Malaysia. Considering the overview, it can be concluded that governments and media in Southeast Asia have more or less similar understanding of India.

Media coverage is important, as it actually creates awareness and builds impressions on people. It should be noted that while major Indian newspapers covered the summit and sideline events, the response was not the same in Southeast Asia, where only one national newspaper or online portal carried the summit-related coverage. Nothing much has been said about the India-ASEAN business fair, the car rally and Sudarshini expedition either, which were milestone events for New Delhi. Either India’s engagement, apparently, is not popular in the ASEAN states yet, or New Delhi’s PR is falling short in the region where its stakes are very high.