Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] Building maritime capacity in South-East Asiaop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ASEAN, Vientiane Vision, SIMBEX, Sambandh Initiative, Quad

Mains level: India’s Act East policy and modifications required in it


ASEAN’s rising importance

  1. ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has been on a roll since January
  2. In the span of slightly over a month, the 10-member regional bloc participated in four major events: the commemorative summit with India, Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting Retreat, Asean Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, and an informal defense ministers’ meeting with China

Problems being faced by ASEAN

  1. Asean is certainly more preoccupied with the scourge of extremist violence and terrorism, especially following the Marawi debacle (ISIS had besieged city of Marawi in the Philippines)
  2. It is also coping with the evidently intensifying great power rivalries
  3. There are concerns over the persistent militarization activities in the disputed waters

ASEAN’s idea of inclusivity

  1. ASEAN believes enmeshing all ASEAN and extra-regional players by giving each a veritable stake in regional peace and stability
  2. This norm works well when it comes to maritime security capacity-building in South-East Asia
  3. Maintaining good order at sea—safeguarding the maritime commons and ensuring freedom of navigation—is everyone’s responsibility, both coastal and user states
  4. The Malacca Straits patrols and the latest Sulu-Celebes Seas trilateral cooperative arrangements show that ASEAN governments regard policing the waters as first and foremost the primary responsibility of coastal states
  5. Extra-regional actors are welcome to offer fiscal, technical and training aid

Extra-regional players in the region

  1. The US is a longstanding player, elevating its role with the recent freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea
  2. Japan trails the US via a structured programme known as the Vientiane Vision

Prospects for India

  1. India has more room to grow its involvement
  2. Many ASEAN governments have long viewed New Delhi as a counterweight to China
  3. What New Delhi has in South-East Asia is what Beijing has only in the past decade started doing and not yet accomplished in the Indian Ocean
  4. Indian maritime forces have been conducting regular deployments east of the Malacca Straits through a set of bilateral maritime security and naval relations
  5. They have accumulated geographical familiarity and knowledge over many decades

What more can be done?

  1. Creating more institutionalized patterns of joint training and exercises along the lines of the Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise (SIMBEX), involving navies and coastguards
  2. The latest Sambandh Initiative and Mobile Training Team programme are targeted at the smaller Indian Ocean neighbors as part of the overall response to China’s increasing presence in the region
  3. It might be worthwhile extending these programmes to South-East Asia
  4. A more structured programme aimed at South and South-East Asia along the lines of Australia’s Pacific patrol boat programme could be feasible instead of credit extension
  5. India could also leverage its space technology strengths, especially remote-sensing capabilities for maritime domain awareness

Way forward

  1. It may reap greater benefits for these extra-regional powers to coordinate with each other instead of disparate national approaches to assist South-East Asia’s maritime security capacity-building, which could lead to duplication and overlap of efforts
  2. The Quad may serve as such a platform, short of being a formal alliance, to facilitate such efforts

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