Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] The balancing act: ASEAN

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ASEAN, RCEP, etc.

Mains level: The newscard discusses importance of India and the ASEAN for each other.


Outcome of the recent Indo-ASEAN summit

  1. The principal gain of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit is to provide ample clarity on what their partnership has achieved and where it should move in the future
  2. A good way to begin is to listen to ASEAN voices
  3. India is important to ASEAN and huge scope exists to develop cooperation with it

Importance of the recent summit

  1. Recent developments in the Indo-Pacific region have lent special significance to the summit
  2. China’s economic progress is welcomed, with every ASEAN nation keen to derive optimal benefit from it
  3. But Beijing’s assertive diplomacy, strategic postures and coercive action in the South China Sea have combined to sour the environment
  4. This mix has impelled ASEAN states to expect and encourage India to enhance its role as a balancer in the region

Importance from India’s point of view

  1. For India, ASEAN is of vital importance both for strategic and economic considerations
  2. India seeks to redefine the contours of its neighbourhood
  3. Constraints and setbacks in South Asia and opportunities in Southeast Asia have led it to blur the traditional distinction between ‘immediate neighbourhood’ and ‘extended neighbourhood’
  4. Friendly South Asians and welcoming Southeast Asians now constitute our new neighbourhood, with an eastward tilt

On political and security cooperation

  1. Freedom of navigation and overflight “in the region” is of the highest importance
  2. How the two sides deepen maritime cooperation and to what extent it is extended to practical collaboration among the navies of major ASEAN states and India will be watched closely
  3. ASEAN also wants India’s support to ASEAN efforts to obtain a legally binding Code of Conduct with China in the South China Sea

On trade and economic cooperation 

  1. Full utilisation of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area and “the swift conclusion” of a modern, comprehensive and high quality Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are the next steps
  2. Of course, the RCEP should be “mutually beneficial”, but note that the adjective “balanced”, preferred by India, is missing from the text
  3. India does not have the option to stay out of the RCEP, but it needs ASEAN’s support to secure an acceptable bargain. Tough negotiations lie ahead
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