Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

India’s ASEAN Engagement and Upcoming Summits


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: ASEAN

Mains level: India-ASEAN Relations


Central Idea

  • Prime Minister departed for Indonesia to participate in the 20th ASEAN-India summit and the 18th East Asia Summit (EAS) in Jakarta.
  • During the visit, he will meet with leaders from the ten ASEAN countries and attend the EAS, including leaders from ASEAN nations, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the U.S.

Why discuss this?

  • India-ASEAN relations have evolved significantly over the years, moving from a distant past to a robust partnership.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Established August 8, 1967
Member Countries Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam
Objective To promote political and economic cooperation and regional stability among member countries.
Key Areas of Cooperation – Economic Integration

– Political and Security Cooperation

– Social and Cultural Cooperation

Significance Promotes economic growth, stability, and peace in the Southeast Asian region. It is also a forum for diplomatic dialogue and conflict resolution.
ASEAN Secretariat Jakarta, Indonesia (The ASEAN Secretariat is the organization responsible for coordinating ASEAN activities.)


Evolution of India-ASEAN Relations

  • 1950s and Early 1960s: During this period, India played a significant role in supporting the decolonization efforts of Southeast Asian countries.
  • 1960s to 1980s: India maintained some distance from the region due to internal issues and viewed ASEAN as a product of the Cold War.
  • 1990s to 2010s: India adopted the ‘Look East Policy,’ leading to a full dialogue partnership with ASEAN in 1995 and becoming a full member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1996.
  • 2010s to Present: India-ASEAN cooperation intensified with the ‘Act East Policy,’ resulting in the elevation to a Strategic Partnership in 2012 and a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2022.

Key Areas of Cooperation

  • Trade Relations: The India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AIFTA) and substantial trade volumes have strengthened economic ties, with commodity trade reaching $98.39 billion in the period April 2021-February 2022.
  • Business & Investment: ASEAN is a major source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for India, with cumulative FDIs from ASEAN to India totaling $117.88 billion between 2000-2021. The ASEAN India-Business Council (AIBC) promotes collaboration between private sector players from India and ASEAN.
  • Socio-Cultural Cooperation: Cultural affinities between ASEAN and India foster people-to-people interactions through initiatives like student exchange programs.
  • ASEAN-India Projects: Collaboration in agriculture, science & technology, environment, renewable energy, and defense promotes mutual growth. The ASEAN-India S&T Development Fund (AISTDF) contributes $1 million to support joint collaborative R&D research projects.
  • Strategic Cooperation: Platforms like the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (ASEAN PMC) and ADMM-Plus facilitate dialogue on security issues.
  • Defense Cooperation: India is enhancing arms sales and defense ties with ASEAN countries to promote regional security, such as the recent approval by the Philippines for a USD 374 million purchase of the BrahMos shore-based anti-ship missile system in January 2022.
  • Technological Cooperation: ISRO’s collaboration supports ASEAN countries in space science and technology.
  • Connectivity: Projects like the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and Kaladan Multimodal Project enhance regional connectivity.

Why India Needs ASEAN?

  • Significant Trade & Commercial Relations: ASEAN is a major destination for India’s service sectors and a vital source of foreign investments.
  • Development of North East India: ASEAN provides an alternate route for India’s access to North Eastern India, facilitating development and strategic interests.
  • Countering Chinese Expansion: Strengthening ties with ASEAN countries helps India counter Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Maritime Freedom: Collaboration with ASEAN ensures a free and peaceful Indo-Pacific region based on a rules-based order.
  • Facing Politico-security Challenges: Cooperation in addressing security threats like climate change, terrorism, and refugee crises benefits both sides.
  • Support for Indian Initiatives: ASEAN’s support is crucial for India’s success in regional policies and initiatives.
  • Emerging Market: India benefits from ASEAN’s agricultural and industrial products, while ASEAN relies on India’s demographic dividend.
  • Global Reforms: ASEAN’s global influence aligns with India’s vision for reforms in international forums.
  • Diaspora: Southeast Asia’s significant Indian diaspora fosters cultural ties and people-to-people relations.
  • Elevating India’s Global Status: Partnership with ASEAN enhances India’s geopolitical standing.

Challenges to Stronger Cooperation

  • Large Trade Deficit: Trade imbalance and issues with the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) have impacted India’s economic relations with ASEAN, with the trade deficit rising from around $5 billion in FY11 to USD 21.8 billion in FY19.
  • Balancing China: ASEAN countries’ engagement with China and concerns over military capabilities impact the depth of cooperation with India.
  • Delays in Connectivity Projects: Long gestation periods for connectivity projects hinder progress.
  • Issues within ASEAN: Different political systems and human rights issues pose challenges to stronger cooperation.

Way Forward

  • Enhance Trade Relations: Focus on the blue economy and sustainable development to boost economic ties.
  • Accelerate Connectivity Projects: Expedite the completion of infrastructure projects and build new trade and transport linkages.
  • Strengthen Regional Role: India must play a more prominent role in the region to address geopolitical challenges.
  • Establish Dedicated Departments: Dedicated departments under central ministries can facilitate better cooperation with ASEAN.


  • India’s commitment to ASEAN signifies its strategic engagement with the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Despite challenges, enhancing cooperation in trade, connectivity, defence, and socio-cultural aspects can pave the way for mutual growth and regional peace.

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch