Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

Back in news: India- ASEAN Relations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ASEAN

Mains level : India-ASEAN Relations

The Foreign Minister of Myanmar is unlikely to be part of the 24th ASEAN-India Ministerial summit.

What is the news?

  • Myanmar’s absence is the souring ASEAN-Myanmar.
  • This is after the coup that overthrew the Aung San Suu Kyi government in Myanmar.
  • This shows India’s concern over the junta in Myanmar which has refused to enter into a negotiation

What is ASEAN?

  • ASEAN is a political and economic union of 10 member states in Southeast Asia.
  • It brings together ten Southeast Asian states – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – into one organisation.
  • It was established on 8th August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration by the founding fathers of the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines.
  • The preceding organisation was the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) comprising of Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
  • Five other nations joined the ASEAN in subsequent years making the current membership to ten countries.

India-ASEAN Relations: A Backgrounder

  • 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.
  • Further, the launch of Act East Policy in 2014 has added a new vigour to India-ASEAN relations.

Five-key focus areas for India and ASEAN

(1) Connectivity

  • Physical connectivity remains a constraint in India-ASEAN trade relations.
  • 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.

(2) Maritime Security

  • The maritime space in today’s world plays a key role not only in economic development but also in security and connectivity.
  • 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) Blue Economy

  • Given India’s vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), there is huge potential in this sector that remains to be realized.
  • 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.

(4) Other

  • India and ASEAN focus on greater knowledge sharing and developing best practices for fostering inclusive growth.
  • 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.

Issues in ties

  • Trade imbalances: 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.
  • Nature of engagement: India still engages more with ASEAN countries on a bilateral basis rather than on a multilateral basis.
  • Limited financial outreach: India’s has a limited capacity to provide development assistance and other financial relation.
  • Chinese presence: ASEAN’s inclination to harness India for regional stability remains limited because of the presence of other regional powers like China.
  • No strategic vision: ASEAN and India are yet to fully converge on a joint vision for the maritime domains of Asia and the world at large.

Way forward

  • India has cultivated strong bonds of historical and contemporary significance with the ASEAN.
  • This relation can offer the region a natural recourse to peace, unlike the many conflicts that the ASEAN countries are involved in with China.


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