[Burning Issue] Indo ASEAN Relations

Why in News?

  • India invited all ten heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as chief guests at the Republic Day celebrations.
  • India and the ASEAN are also celebrating
  1. 25 years of their rapidly expanding partnership.
  2. 15 years of their Summit engagement.
  3. Five years of Strategic their Partnership.
  • In addition, ASEAN completed 50 years of its establishment.

India-ASEAN Relations

  • Look-East Policy in 1992 gave an upthrust to India -ASEAN relation and helped India in capitalizing its historical, cultural and civilizational linkages with the region.
  • India entered into a Free Trade Agreement(FTA) in goods with the region in 2003 which has facilitated the bilateral trade which now stands at approximately USD 76 Billion.
  • The India-ASEAN Free Trade pact in services and investments, which was concluded in 2014 and came into effect a year later, has the potential to further reduce India’s trade deficit with ASEAN.
  • Further, the launch of Act East Policy in 2014 has added a new vigour to India-ASEAN relations.
  • ASEAN countries, owing to their strategic location in the Pacific Ocean, are also very crucial for maintaining the stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

Five-key focus areas for India and ASEAN

  • Connectivity
    1. Physical connectivity remains a constraint in India-ASEAN trade relations.
    2. However, infrastructure projects like Trilateral Highway connecting India’s Northeast to Thailand, the Data Deep-sea Port in Myanmar, and the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project have the potential to overcome the infrastructure bottleneck. Continued commitment and investment is needed.
    3. Apart from this, Non-tariff barriers should also be rationalized and the institutional mechanisms be streamlined to further augment the connectivity with the region.
  • Maritime Security
    1. The maritime space in today’s world plays a key role not only in economic development but also in security and connectivity.
    2. Piracy, disputes over resources, territorial claims, terrorism, China’s increasing assertiveness, and a fractured governance system are creating instability in the Indo-Pacific region.
    3. Thus, ASEAN India cooperation is imperative for maintaining peace and stability in the region.
  • Blue Economy
    1. Given India’s vast Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ), there is huge potential in this sector that remains to be realized.
    2. India should deepen its engagement with ASEAN on this front through developing PPP models for fisheries sectors, knowledge sharing and joint efforts to conserve and manage coastal and marine resource.
  • The Digital Age

Two things need to be considered under this :

Inclusive Growth

Technological disruptions may further increase inequality in incomes, digital access, and opportunities. Thus, India and ASEAN should focus on greater knowledge sharing and developing best practices for fostering inclusive growth.

Cyber Security

Policies governing cyberspace and cyber securities are in their nascent stage, in such scenario both India and ASEAN should seek to be a decisive voice in norm-setting, and in cultivating inter-regional cooperation for addressing cyber insecurity.

  • Migration
    1. Because jobless growth in India, unemployment is on rise. In such scenario, ASEAN nations can act as an important destination for Indian immigrant workers.
    2. On the other hand, job creation is expected to rise in ASEAN countries like Singapore and Malaysia. There are gaps in labour supply across different sectors in ASEAN nations.
    3. Therefore, both India and ASEAN should work together to reduce barriers to immigration, and facilitate the freer movement of labour between them, as they both stand to gain.

Issues Hampering India-Asean Relations

  • In bilateral trade, there is an imbalance as the majority of ASEAN countries have strong manufacturing bases that rely on export while Indian export remains feeble. Moreover, the current policy under Make In India is to promote domestic production.
  • India still engages more with ASEAN countries on a bilateral basis rather than on a multilateral basis.
  • India’s has a limited capacity to provide development assistance and other financial relation. Moreover, ASEAN’s inclination to harness India for regional stability remains limited because of the presence of other regional powers like China.


  • On the trade front, there are certain concerns related to Free Trade Agreement in services. Services being India’s domain, India need to work on these concerns on a priority to give an impetus to exports in services.
  • Efforts should also be made to finalise an agreement for free movement of labour so that both ASEAN and India could capitalize on each other’s resources
  • Further, with increasing assertiveness of China Indo-Pacific region and the uncertain Trump administration in U.S. A, the cooperation between India and ASEAN become all more important to maintain rule-based order and stability in the Indo-Pacific region
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