Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[oped of the day] Opportunities for India in the Asian Centuryop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Asian Century


India is at an inflection point. Its recent period of significant growth was faster than the global average. 

Slowdown in growth

Indian growth has stalled in the face of global headwinds against trade, volatile commodity markets, stagnant private investment, weaker domestic consumption, and constrained government spending.

Asian potential

    • Asia is becoming the world’s powerhouse and economic center. 
    • Economic contribution – research from the McKinsey Global Institute finds that Asia could generate more than half of the world’s GDP by 2040.
    • Cross-border flows – they are increasingly shifting towards the region, which is rapidly integrating. With 60% of goods traded, 56% of greenfield foreign direct investment (FDI) and 74% of journeys by Asian air travelers taking place within the region.

Asian connectivity

    • There are 4 distinct sub-Asias which are diverse groups of economies with characteristics that complement each other and are fast becoming increasingly interconnected.
    • In the new era of regionalization, Asia is taking a lead. 
    • Historic account – Historically, India—and other countries in ‘Frontier Asia’ (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc)—have had relatively low levels of integration when compared with the rest of the region. Only around 31% of their flows are intra-regional. 
    • What lies ahead – how they now respond to the shifting flows and the opportunities they present will be the key in defining and delivering its next chapter of growth. 

What India offers

    • Services – account for 53% of India’s GDP
    • Young labor force – younger than China’s median age by around ten years
    • New markets for the rest of the region
    • Growth – despite the downturn, GDP in India is expected to grow at well above 5% for the coming period.

Adding Asia focus – opportunity # 1: Manufacturing

    • Advanced Asian countries shift gears – countries like China move up the economic development ladder and phase out manufacturing in favor of a shift to R&D and knowledge-intensive manufacturing. There is room for India to become a larger sourcing base for global supply chains.
    • Example of mobile phones – the global sourcing value of mobile handsets is over $500 billion in scale. India could aspire for a 15-20% share of this footprint. 

What needs to be done for #1

    • Improving infrastructure – Investments are needed to improve the logistical backbone supporting manufacturing. 
    • R&D – Incentives are needed to encourage future investments in R&D.
    • Innovation – Large-scale innovation hubs need to be developed to move to manufacture to the next phase and help to capture the demand opportunity.
    • Recent corporate tax cut – The recent move towards an attractive corporate taxation regime could provide the much-needed ignition to attract more investment for Make in India.

Opportunity # 2: Capital

    • For development – India can benefit from the flows of capital and investment powering development.
    • Advanced Asia – which comprises Japan, South Korea, Singapore and China have been huge contributors to the development of ‘Emerging Asia’ – small highly interconnected economies like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, etc.
    • Example – China accounts for 42% of total Asian outbound FDI in 2013-17 and 43% and 61% of Emerging Asia’s imports and exports respectively.

To do for #2

    • Attract investments – while India is beginning to attract investment from firms across Asia, more needs to be done to realize the potential opportunity of investment flows from other countries.

Opportunity # 3 : Innovation

    • Hub of innovation – East Asia has emerged as a leading hub that rivals the leading innovation hubs globally.
    • Technologies – It has already gained pole position in driving innovation relating to key disruption themes such as electric mobility, 5G telecom, and renewable energy. 
    • Patents – Nearly 65% of global patents stemmed from Asia between 2015 and 2017, derived from the 50 fastest-rising innovation cities in Asia.
    • This gives an opportunity for Indian firms to be a part of this Asia-wide innovation arc.

Opportunity # 4: Growth

    • Rapidly growing Asia – is catapulting its major cities into leading consumption centers.
    • The market for India – This offers a market opportunity for Indian businesses ranging from IT services, tourism services, generic pharmaceuticals, automotive components, agrochemicals, and so forth. 
    • Reduce trade deficit – Just with China alone, India runs an over $50 billion of trade deficit. This could be narrowed down by targeting these export opportunities. The research found that about 420 cities in emerging markets could generate 45% of global growth, many of them residing in Asia.


The Asian century is truly underway. As globalization gives way to regionalism, Asia takes a leading position. India could look to many of the opportunities arising out of the region’s rapid integration and shifting networks and flows to help drive its next chapter of growth.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[oped of the day] Quad in the spotlightop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : QUAD - its position; with respect to China


Quad convened on November 4 at the level of senior officials on the margins of the EAS in Bangkok.

China – QUAD animosity

  • The US Secretary of State said that the “Quad” between Japan, Australia, India, and the United States would ensure that “China retains only its proper place in the world”. 
  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry retorted to condemn the American plain-speaking as habitual lies and malicious slandering. 


  • Early origins – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed in early 2007 to hold a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
  • It was endorsed by US Vice President and the governments of India and Australia, leading to the first meeting at the official level.
  • Non- military – There was a general understanding that it would not take on a military dimension against any country. 
  • Chinese response
    • The strategic community in China branded it an emerging “Asian NATO”. 
    • It began with maritime-centric concerns.
    • It is gradually seen by China as a means to involve the use of the wider Indo-Pacific theatre to target China.
  • Growing idea – Abe’s “Confluence of Two Seas” address to the Indian Parliament gave a fresh impetus to the nascent concept. Abe had spoken of a “broader Asia” taking shape at the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 
  • Broader Asia – It recognised the economic rise of India and brought Japan and India together as part of a network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, the US, and Australia. It was seen as a network that would allow people, goods, capital, and knowledge to flow freely.
  • Australia walked away – The Quad dissipated when Australia walked away on account of Chinese sensibilities. 
  • Later, Asia’s “Democratic Security Diamond” was announced – involving Australia, India, Japan, and the US to safeguard the maritime commons from the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific.
  • Reducing differences – differences among the Quad countries have narrowed down in the last two years. They hold a common interest in the creation of a free, open and inclusive regional architecture, rules of the road, freedom of navigation and overflight, and, ASEAN centrality. 


  • Friendships with China – Even as the US has described China and Russia as revisionist powers, Japan has dropped the word “strategy” from its own Free and Open Indo-Pacific to better ties with China. 
  • Dependence on China – Japan’s overwhelming economic dependence on China, Australia’s continued commitment to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China signify the nations’ relationship with China.
  • Chinese response – 
    • China believes that the concept of the Indo-Pacific and Quad is a plot by the US to contain its rise. 
    • It believes that trilateral compacts involving the US, Japan and India and the US, Japan, and Australia are aimed at strengthening the Quad.
    • China believes in “Asia-Pacific” for building an inclusive regional cooperative structure. A switch to “Indo-Pacific” implies erosion of its pre-eminence.
  • Chinese five-point formula for Asia – Pacific
    • making greater efforts to work together on the BRI
    • forging China-ASEAN digital cooperation, including in 5G
    • fully implementing the China-ASEAN FTA
    • finalising regional rules-of-the-road based on the negotiating text of the Code of Conduct 
    • engaging in joint maritime exercises
  • China – ASEAN 
    • China also pitched for synergies between the BRI and ASEAN’s development. 
    • China has signed bilateral agreements with ASEAN countries to advance transportation routes, including the existing economic corridors, China-Thailand Railway, China-Laos Railway, and Jakarta-Bandung high-speed Railway.

India – China

  • India’s commitment to “strategic autonomy” is reassuring to China. It suggests that India would never agree to fully align itself with the US against China.
  • This impression has been reinforced by India holding up Australia’s participation in the annual Malabar naval exercise. 
  • India did not join the Indo-Pacific Business Council.
  • The recent Mamallapuram summit is a positive development as the key to giving strategic guidance to stakeholders on both sides. 

China – other QUAD nations

  • Japan – With Japan, the opportunity for China lies in working together on agreed-upon projects in third countries
  • Australia – it is an alliance partner of the US and is involved in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. China wants to leverage its deep economic engagement to balance the hard line being taken by Australia’s security and intelligence establishment.

China – QUAD : way ahead

  • China remains wary of the Quad and its future contours. 
  • It remains worried about the advantages that the Quad process might offer to India in the Indo-Pacific. 
  • It will seek to use its considerable bilateral engagement with Japan, Australia as well as India to ensure that the Quad does not flip over from a regional coordinating mechanism focused on connectivity and Infrastructure, capacity-building, HADR and maritime security and cyber security and counter-terrorism to become an “Asian NATO”. 
  • Much will depend on China’s actions and how others perceive her capabilities and intentions.





Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

RCEP: Opportunity, fears in regional trade dealIOCR


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RCEP; ASEAN

Mains level : ASEAN negotiations


Commerce Minister is in Bangkok for the eighth RCEP ministerial meeting. The meeting is expected to work out the unresolved issues in the negotiations on the mega trade deal.

What is the RCEP?

  • It is a trade deal that is currently under negotiation among 16 countries — the 10 member countries of ASEAN and the six countries with which the ASEAN bloc has FTA.

The deal

  • Negotiations on the details of RCEP have been on since 2013, and all participating countries aim to finalise and sign the deal by November.

What does the RCEP propose?

  • The purpose of RCEP is to create an “integrated market” spanning all 16 countries, making it easier for products and services of each of these countries to be available across this region.
  • ASEAN says the deal will provide “a framework aimed at lowering trade barriers and securing improved market access for goods and services for businesses in the region”.


  • The negotiations are focussed on areas like trade in goods and services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement, e-commerce, and small and medium enterprises.

Why is the RCEP important?

  • It is billed as the “largest” regional trading agreement ever.
  • These countries account for almost half of the world’s population, contribute over a quarter of world exports, and makeup around 30% of global GDP.

How have the talks progressed?

  • Of the 25 chapters in the deal, 21 have been finalised. 
  • Chapters on investment, e-commerce, rules of origin, and trade remedies are yet to be settled.

How does India stand to gain?

  • Sections of the Indian industry feel that being part of RCEP would allow the country to tap into a huge market if the domestic industry becomes competitive. 
  • Pharmaceuticals and cotton yarn are confident of gains, and the services industry too may have new opportunities.

What are the concerns?

  • Several industries feel India needs to be mindful of the amount of access it gives to its market. 
  • There is fear that some domestic sectors may be hit by cheaper alternatives from other RCEP countries. 
  • Apprehensions have been expressed that cheaper Chinese products would “flood” India.
  • Critics are also not confident that India would be able to take advantage of the deal, given its poor track record of extracting benefits from the FTAs with these countries. 
  • India’s trade gap with these countries may widen if it signs the RCEP deal.
  • Industries like dairy and steel have demanded protection. 
  • The textile industry has already raised concerns about growing competition from neighboring countries.
  • The bigger players in steel are apprehensive of the potential impact on their businesses.
  • Makers of finished goods have argued that limiting steel supply to domestic producers through higher import duties will put them at a disadvantage.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed of the day] Reclaiming the Indo-Pacific narrativeMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : ASEAN's approach on indo Pacific


  • At the 34th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok in June, its member states finally managed to articulate a collective vision for the Indo-Pacific region in a document titled “The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific”.
  • At a time when the geopolitical contestation between China and the United States is escalating, it has become imperative for the ASEAN to reclaim the strategic narrative in its favour in order to underscore its centrality in the emerging regional order.
  • An awareness of the emergence of a great power contest around its vicinity pervades the document as it argues that “the rise of material powers, i.e. economic and military, requires avoiding the deepening of mistrust, miscalculation and patterns of behaviour based on a zero-sum game”.


Change in approach

Despite individual differences and bilateral engagements ASEAN member states have with the U.S. and China, the regional grouping can now claim to have a common approach as far as the Indo-Pacific region is concerned and which the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayuth Chan-ocha, suggested “should also complement existing frameworks of cooperation at the regional and sub-regional levels and generate tangible and concrete deliverables for the benefit of the region’s peoples”.

Code of Conduct in the China Sea

  • Tensions continue to rise over the militarisation of this waterway; in June, a Philippine fishing boat sank after it was rammed by a Chinese vessel.
  • It is hoped that the first draft of the code for negotiations will see the light by this year end.
  • With these moves, the ASEAN is clearly signalling its intent to be in the driving seat as it seeks to manage the geopolitical churn around it.

In response to other major powers

  • The release of the U.S. Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy report in June — it focusses on preserving a “free and open Indo-Pacific” in the face of a more “assertive China” — was perhaps the final push that was needed to bring the ASEAN discussion on the subject to a close.
  • Japan had already unveiled its Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept in 2016, while Australia released its Foreign Policy White Paper in 2017, detailing its Indo-Pacific vision centred around security, openness and prosperity.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulated India’s Indo-Pacific vision at the Shangri-la Dialogue in 2018, with India even setting up an Indo-Pacific wing in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) earlier this year.

The framework

  • The ASEAN is signalling that it would seek to avoid making the region a platform for major power competition.
  • Instead its frame of reference is economic cooperation and dialogue.
  • The fact that the ASEAN has gone ahead and articulated an Indo-Pacific outlook is in itself a seeming challenge to China which refuses to validate the concept.
  • But the ASEAN’s approach is aimed at placating China by not allowing itself to align with the U.S.’s vision for the region completely.

India’s Response

  • India has welcomed the ASEAN’s outlook on the Indo-Pacific as it sees “important elements of convergence” with its own approach towards the region.
  • During U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to India in June, India was categorical that it is “for something” in the Indo-Pacific and “not against somebody”, seeking to carefully calibrate its relations with the U.S. and China in this geopolitically critical region.
  • As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has suggested “[and] that something is peace, security, stability, prosperity and rules”.
  • India continues to invest in the Indo-Pacific; on the sidelines of the recent G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, Mr. Modi held discussions on the Indo-Pacific region with U.S. President Donald Trump and Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a focus on improving regional connectivity and infrastructure development.


With the ASEAN finally coming to terms with its own role in the Indo-Pacific, the ball is now in the court of other regional stakeholders to work with the regional grouping to shape a balance of power in the region which favours inclusivity, stability and economic prosperity.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Modi’s Taiwan opportunityMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Stronger relationship with Taiwan may boost India's Act East policy


Some in Delhi, however, would say that Modi’s focus on Taiwan is too big and risky an idea. They worry it might offend Chinese political sensitivities. But productive engagement with Taiwan is not about abandoning India’s “One-China” policy or playing some kind of a “card”. India has been rather scrupulous in respecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Relationship with Taiwan

  • Most major nations have significant cooperation with Taiwan without extending it diplomatic recognition. India, however, has too many self-imposed constraints on its Taiwan policy.
  • It is now time to lift many of them.
  • To be sure, since the establishment of formal channels of contact in the mid-1990s, there has been steady progress in the relationship.
  • Annual bilateral trade has reached $7 billion last year and the hope is to raise it to $20 billion in the next few years.
  • There has been a rise in Taiwan’s investments in India and a steady growth in exchanges between the two societies.
  • During the last five years, the NDA government has taken steps to enhance the relationship.
  • These include the upgradation of the bilateral investment agreement, promotion of major Taiwanese investments, expanding parliamentary exchanges and facilitating track-two dialogues on regional issues.

Reasons to enhance the relationship

There are at least three reasons why Delhi should take a fresh look at Taiwan and replace its current incrementalism with a more ambitious policy.

  1. Geopolitical –
  • The delicate three-way political compromise between US, China and Taiwan crafted in the 1970s appears to be breaking down, thanks to rising China’s regional assertiveness, the renewed threat of forceful reunification of Taiwan and Beijing’s relentless pressure tactics against Taipei.
  • If there is one piece of real estate that holds the key to the geopolitics of East Asia, it is Taiwan. The unfolding dynamic around Taiwan will have significant consequences for India’s Act East Policy and its emerging role in the Indo-Pacific Region.

2. Geo-economic –

  • The unfolding trade war between the US and China is compelling Taiwan to accelerate its plans to move its large manufacturing bases away from China to Southeast Asia and India.
  • As the structure of industrial production in East Asia undergoes a profound transformation, amidst the prospect of an economic decoupling between the US and China, India has once-in-a-generation opportunity to boost its own manufacturing sector.

3. Talent and technology

  •  As it turns out, Taiwan has embarked on a big mission to attract skilled workers.
  • With a declining birth rate and growing emigration, Taiwan’s industry, education, and technology development could do with Indian engineers and scientists. At present, there are barely 2,000 Indians working in Taiwan.

Future of relationship

  • There is no shortage of ideas for the transformation of India’s relations with Taiwan.
  • An agreement on comprehensive economic cooperation is one of those.
  • The synergy in human resources provides the basis for massive collaborations between the universities, research institutions and technology enclaves in the two countries.
  • Expanding the engagement with Taiwan can’t be a tactical game; it should be an important part of Delhi’s effort to come to terms with all corners of Greater China that looms so large over India’s future.

Those who think Taiwan is small beer in the wider scheme of Indian grand strategy should ponder over two facts. Taiwan’s GDP is about $600 billion and twice the size of Pakistan’s economy. And few entities in the international system are today as eager and capable of boosting Modi’s domestic economic agenda.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap]Charting a clear course in the Indo-PacificMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Indo pacific approach overhaul is a welcome step in foreign policy relations.


Though the term Indo-Pacific has been gaining traction in Indian policy circles for some time now, it achieved operational clarity after the Indian vision was presented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018. His speech underscored that for India the geography of the Indo-Pacific stretches from the eastern coast of Africa to Oceania (from the shores of Africa to that of the Americas) which also includes in its fold the Pacific Island countries.

Many mechanisms regarding Indo Pacific

  • India’s Act East policy remains the bedrock of the national Indo-Pacific vision and the centrality of ASEAN is embedded in the Indian narrative.
  • India has been an active participant in mechanisms like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), in ASEAN-led frameworks like the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, the ASEAN Regional Forum as well as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation and the Mekong-Ganga Economic Corridor.
  • India has also been convening the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, in which the navies of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) participate.
  • Through the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation, India is stepping up its interactions with the Pacific Island countries.


The approach towards Indo Pacific

  • Inclusiveness – Inclusiveness, openness, and ASEAN centrality and unity, therefore, lie at the heart of the Indian notion of Indo-Pacific.
  • Security – Security in the region must be maintained through dialogue, a common rules-based order, freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.
  • Connectivity – More connectivity initiatives impinging on respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, consultation, good governance, transparency, viability and sustainability should be promoted.

The idea behind setting up Indo Pacific Wing

  • The setting up of the Indo-Pacific wing in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in April 2019 is a natural corollary to this vision.
  • Major powers defining their vision – Given how the term Indo-Pacific has been gaining currency and how major regional actors such as the U.S., Japan and Australia are articulating their regional visions — including this term in their official policy statements — it was becoming imperative for India to operationalise its Indo-Pacific policy.
  • Renaming by the USA – The renaming of the U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command as well as the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act in December 2018 showcase Washington’s more serious engagement with the Indo-Pacific.
  • Huge geographical spread – Given the huge geography that the Indian definition of Indo-Pacific covers, there was a need for a bureaucratic re-alignment to create a division that can imbibe in its fold the various territorial divisions in the MEA that look after the policies of the countries which are part of the Indo-Pacific discourse.
  • Focus on IOR – The integration of the IORA means that attention will continue to be focused on the IOR.


Challenges ahead

  • Integrating quadrilateral with Indo-Pacific – There are  challenges for India, especially how it will integrate the Quadrilateral initiative which got revived in 2017 with its larger Indo-Pacific approach.
  • Commerce and connectivity – Commerce and connectivity in particular will have to be prioritised if India is to take advantage of a new opening for its regional engagement.
  • The balance between the interests – .While India has been consistently emphasising “inclusiveness” in the Indo-Pacific framework, it will be challenging to maintain a balance between the interests of all stakeholders.
  • Difference in vision –There are differences between India’s vision and the U.S.’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific even as countries like China and Russia view the Indo-Pacific with suspicion.


As geopolitical tensions rise between China and the U.S., the MEA’s new division will have its task cut out if India’s long-term political and economic interests in the region are to be preserved. A bureaucratic change was indeed needed, but going forward the challenge would be to see how effectively this change manifests itself in managing India’s growing diplomatic footprint in the Indo-Pacific.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] Looking beyond the opticsop-ed snap


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mekong Ganga Cooperation

Mains level: Vietnam’s importance in India’s Act East policy


India’s relationship with Vietnam

  1. President Ram Nath Kovind’s choice of Vietnam as the first Southeast Asian country to visit in his capacity as the President is not surprising
  2. A close ‘ally’ of India for over 70 years, and not limited to official diplomatic ties, Vietnam is critical for India’s foreign policy at the regional and systemic levels

How is Vietnam’s foreign policy shaped?

  1. Domestically, since the start of its Doi Moi policy — its political and economic renewal campaign —in 1986, Vietnam has made dramatic strides
  2. Today it is a rapidly growing, regional economic giant, showing both dynamism and pragmatism in its calculations
  3. While earlier it imported agricultural products, today it is a major exporter
  4. Agricultural competence has furthered Vietnam’s entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)
  5. Internationally, Vietnam’s foreign policy is characterised by ‘multidirectionalism’, which addresses regional asymmetries of the power balance by engaging across a broad spectrum of states to achieve its interests
  6. Increasingly, this asymmetrical power structure in the region, offset by the rise of China, is bringing regional and extra-regional states together to address the shifts in the normative order
  7. Within this context, Vietnam even normalised relations with the U.S., its former opponent

Common grounds for increasing bilateral ties

  1. An area of potential convergence for both Vietnam and India is health care
  2. The 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, in 2016, highlighted the importance of linking economic growth to universal health care, whereby 80% population would be covered by health insurance
  3. India too, since 2011, has been focussing on the need to deliver accessible and affordable health insurance to weaker sections of society
  4. With Indonesia ratifying the India-ASEAN Services agreement on November 13, New Delhi is a step closer to signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, bringing India to the forefront of the services sector globally
  5. A potential area of convergence in the realm of health care through joint public-private partnership agreements can be explored by the two countries
  6. There is increasing commonality of security concerns between Vietnam and its ASEAN partners — as well as with Australia, India, Japan and the U.S., particularly in the areas of maritime security and adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
  7. Finding compatibility between the ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’ and the U.S. driven ‘Indo-Pacific’ necessitates a more nuanced approach whereby regional concerns of ASEAN centrality can be assuaged while accounting for diverse approaches to maintaining regional stability
  8. In pursuance of this, the two countries have planned a bilateral level maritime security dialogue in early 2019

Promoting Sub-regionalism

  1. As ASEAN continues to focus on its centrality in the region, there will undoubtedly be shifts in how smaller members of ASEAN perceive the centrifugal forces of China’s rise
  2. Vietnam has helped to mitigate these by focussing on both sub-regionalism and regionalism as the core of its priorities. India too looks at both sub-regionalism and regionalism as priority avenues to pursue its foreign policy
  3. The India-Vietnam Joint Statement of March 2018 reiterates the focus given to sub-regionalism and the Mekong Ganga Cooperation framework
  4. Another area is emerging in the CLV, or Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam growth triangle sub-regional cooperation, bringing these three countries together
  5. India and Vietnam can jointly explore the potential for enhancing capacity building and providing technical assistance and training within this sub-regional grouping

India’s cooperation model

  1. The major takeaway from Mr. Kovind’s visit is the reference to the ‘cooperation model’ India offers, providing choices and opportunities for its friends
  2. This reference highlights India’s willingness to address issues on which increasing synergies need to evolve
  3. One such area where convergence is likely but has been held back due to individual preference is the $500 million line of credit offered to Vietnam
  4. Both India and Vietnam possess the capacity to find compatibility in areas promoting defence cooperation and infrastructure simultaneously

Way forward

  1. Vietnam’s role as country coordinator for India in ASEAN will come to a close in 2018
  2. While the ties have progressed under the Look East and Act East Policies, going forward they need to factor in pragmatism, helping relations to move forward
  3. India’s ability to look beyond the prism of optics will remain a core challenge
  4. Vietnam is crucial to India’s Look East Policy — bilateral ties must build on common concerns
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

13th East Asia SummitIOCR


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: East Asia Summit

Mains level:  India-ASEAN Relations


  • India reiterated it’s commitment to a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region at the 13th East Asia Summit in Singapore.

13th East Asia Summit (EAS)

  1. The EAS consists of 10 ASEAN nations (Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei and Laos), Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the U.S.
  2. It was formed to further the objectives of regional peace, security and prosperity.
  3. India has been participating in the EAS since its very inception in 2005.
  4. PM Modi reiterated India’s commitment to a balanced Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
  5. The RCEP, involving 10 ASEAN members as well as China, Japan, Australia, India, New Zealand and South Korea, would cover about half the world’s population and a third of its GDP.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[pib] ASEAN Defence Ministers Meet, SingaporeIOCRPIB


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: ADMM and ADMM Plus

Mains level:  India-ASEAN Strategic Relations


5th ADMM Plus Meet

  1. Defence Minister has attended the 5thADMM plus meet in Singapore, which is a forum for Defence Ministers from ten ASEAN and eight ASEAN Plus countries.
  2. The theme of this year’s dialogue was ‘Strengthening Cooperation, Building Resilience’.
  3. The dialogue adopted two resolutions on ‘Countering the Threat of Terrorism’ and ‘Practical Confidence Building Measures’.



  1. The ASEAN Security Community (ASC) Plan of Action, adopted at the 10th ASEAN Summit, stipulates that ASEAN shall work towards the convening of an annual ADMM.
  2. Against this background, the Inaugural meeting of the ADMM was held in Kuala Lumpur on 9 May 2006.
  3. ADMM is the highest defence consultative and cooperative mechanism in ASEAN.
  4. The ADMM aims to promote mutual trust and confidence through greater understanding of defence and security challenges as well as enhancement of transparency and openness.
  5. All ASEAN Member States, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam are members of the ADMM.


  1. The ADMM-Plus is a platform for ASEAN and its eight Dialogue Partners to strengthen security and defence cooperation for peace, stability, and development in the region.
  2. The main objective of ADMM Plus is to benefit ASEAN member countries in building capacity to address shared security challenges.
  3. The ADMM-Plus countries include ten ASEAN Member States and eight Plus countries, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, and the United States.
  4. The principles for membership to the ADMM-Plus process a country shall be
  • A full-fledged Dialogue Partner of ASEAN;
  • Have significant interactions and relations with ASEAN defence establishment;
  • Able to work with the ADMM to build capacity so as to enhance regional security in a substantive way in order to promote capacity-building in the region in the fields of defence and security.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[pib] 6th East Asia Summit and 15th India-ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting, SingaporePIBPrelims Only


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

Mains level: Importance of India-ASEAN Trade



  1. Commerce & Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu attended the 6th East Asia Summit- Economic Ministers’ Meeting (EAS-EMM) and 15th India-ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting (AEM) in Singapore.
  2. Singapore is currently holding the Chair of ASEAN.

Importance of the meet

  1. ASEAN has emerged as the second largest trade partner of India in 2017-18 with bilateral trade valued at USD 81.33 billion, comprising 10.58% of India’s total trade with the world.
  2. The ASEAN-India Business Council (AIBC) presented their recommendations to the forum  to sustain the momentum of trade and investment in the region.
  3. Issues related to promoting connectivity, collaboration on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) development, blue economy, healthcare, and tourism as well as women and youth economic empowerment were discussed.

About East Asia Summit

  1. Established in 2005, EAS allows the principal players in the Asia-Pacific region to discuss issues of common interest and concern, in an open and transparent manner, at the highest level.
  2. The membership of EAS consists of ten ASEAN Member States (i.e. Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam), Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and the USA.
  3. EAS is an initiative of ASEAN and is based on the premise of the centrality of ASEAN.
  4. The six priority areas of EAS are – Environment and Energy, Education, Finance, Global Health Issues and Pandemic Diseases, Natural Disaster Management, and ASEAN Connectivity. India endorses regional collaboration in all six priority areas.
  5. Following the 12th EAS in November 2017 in Manila, Philippines and following the adoption of the Manila Plan of Action for Maritime Cooperation.
  6. In 2009, the EAS endorsed the proposal for the revival of Nalanda University by former president APJ Abdul Kalam.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[pib] Indo – Thailand Joint Exercise Maitree 2018PIB


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Exercise Maitree

Mains level:  Not Much

Exercise Maitree

1. It is a joint military exercise between the Indian Army and Royal Thai Army which will be conducted from 06 to 19 August 2018 in Thailand.
2. It is a platoon level exercise which comprises of infantry component.
3. The exercise will emphasize to hone the tactical and technical skills in joint counterinsurgency and counter-terrorist operations in the rural and urban scenario under UN mandate.
4. Due emphasis will be laid on increasing interoperability between forces from both countries which is crucial for the success of any joint operation.
5. Both sides will jointly train, plan and execute a series of well developed tactical drills for neutralization of likely threats that may be encountered in urban warfare scenario.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

Rise in India-ASEAN naval gamesPriority 1


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, Java sea, CORPAT, Malabar exercise, coast of Guam, Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC)

Mains level: India’s increasing cooperation with ASEAN and need of it to counter China

Naval games with ASEAN

  1. The Navies of India and Indonesia will hold their first bilateral exercise in the Java Sea
  2. India will stage a new trilateral exercise with Thailand and Singapore soon
  3. India is instituting a series of bilateral and multilateral naval exercises with Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries
  4. This is being done as part of the increasing military-to-military cooperation
  5. India is also looking at a new multilateral exercise with ASEAN

Increasing cooperation

  1. The bilateral with Indonesia is in addition to the Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) that the two sides conduct
  2. The bilateral with Indonesia will be held after the conclusion of the Malabar trilateral naval war games between India, Japan and the U.S. which is underway off the coast of Guam
  3. Two of the ships participating in Malabar will head to the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest multilateral exercise, hosted by the U.S. biennially off the Hawaii islands
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

At Changi base, a naval honour for PM Modi


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: Changi Naval Base, INS Satpura

Mains level: India’s partnerships with various nations in Indian and Pacific ocean regions to counter Chinese growing footprints

Visit to Changi base

  1. PM Modi visited the Changi Naval Base in Singapore
  2. He also interacted with the officers and sailors on board the Indian Navy’s Shivalik class stealth frigate INS Satpura

Importance of the visit

  1. India and Singapore have signed implementation agreement between their Navies concerning mutual coordination, logistics and services support for naval ships, submarines and naval aircraft (including ship-borne aviation assets) visits
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] The North East is key for India’s ties with Aseanop-ed snap


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: Geography of the North-East India, particulars of the trilateral highway, etc.

Mains level: Importance of the North-East India and development projects needed in the region.

India and ASEAN relationship

  1. Ever since India transformed its “Look East” policy to “Act East”, there have been continuous efforts to make this relationship result oriented and practical
  2. In the absence of political differences, trade and investments should be the main drivers of the relationship, but India and Asean are struggling to push bilateral trade to the agreed target of $100 billion
  3. How can it be improved: This could be helped by improving connectivity(through land, sea and air) which will cut down costs of movement of goods and services

Connectivity through tri-lateral highway: The importance of the North-East India

  1. Among the connectivity projects already envisaged is a four-lane trilateral highway linking India (Moreh in Manipur) with Mae Sot (Thailand) via Myanmar which will be expanded to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam
  2. This highway can only be sustained through movement of goods and economic activity along the route through Myanmar and
  3. Hence, the growing importance of our North-East

It is essential to focus on development and connectivity in India’s North-East itself

  1. It can be done with new road and rail links, opening up multi modal transport, including river navigation, and setting up industrial corridors and economic activities like haats or local markets, with emphasis on agriculture, horticulture, handlooms, handicrafts and processed food
  2. This will allow India to export its produce through this link rather than become a net importer of cheap Chinese goods

What about sea connectivity?

  1. Sea connectivity from India to Asean will be helped by the Kaladan multi-modal transport project
  2. It will link Kolkata to Sittwe port in Myanmar, as also Mizoram by the river and land route

Budget for North-East development

  1. India plans to spend Rs45,000 crore for the development of the region bordering China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar

Recent development projects in the NE

  1. Some recent decisions to enhance connectivity of the North-East include
    (1) a 4,000-km long ring road connecting the states; expediting railway projects connecting all state capitals by 2020, and extending to 15 new destinations;
    (2) border last-mile rail connectivity with Myanmar and restoring rail connectivity with Bangladesh
  2. Twenty port townships are to be developed along the Brahmaputra and Barak river systems to enhance intra-regional connectivity
  3. Government has also proposed the augmentation of air connectivity to and from the region, which will help business ties with the Asean
  4. Connectivity is also being upgraded in the border areas for strategic purposes
  5. This will also aid in improving law and order in the region and boost the underutilized tourism potential

Japan as a major partner

  1. Japan has emerged as a major partner in our efforts for the development of the North-East and connectivity to Asean
  2. The “Japan India Act East Forum” has been set up
  3. It will seek synergies between India’s Act East policy and Japan’s Partnership for Quality Infrastructure located in the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and link with Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”

The way forward

  1. Transformational policies and supportive governments in these states could enable the government at the centre to roll out development schemes and infrastructure projects quickly
    (as has been the case with Assam)
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

India, Vietnam set to ink nuclear energy pact, boost defence ties


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: South China Sea, Belt and Road Initiative

Mains level: India’s relationship with ASEAN countries

Vietnam President’s India visit

  1. Strategic partners India and Vietnam are to boost defense ties and sign pacts on civil nuclear cooperation and port development during a visit by Vietnamese President
  2. There will be pact for development of a port in the Nghe An province in north-central Vietnam
  3. The two countries will also exchange views on developments in the South China Sea where Vietnam and some other South-East Asian nations are locked in a maritime dispute with China
  4. Of the 26 countries that Vietnam has a strategic partnership with, the level of the strategic partnership with India is the highest

Importance of visit

  1. The visit comes at a time when India is warily watching China make inroads into its neighborhood
  2. China has increased naval presence as well as stepped-up infrastructure profile in countries like the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka as part of its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative


  1. India views South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region as its traditional sphere of influence while China sees the South China Sea as its backyard
  2. In the past, China has objected to India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd exploring for oil in blocks off the Vietnamese coast in the South China Sea
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
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] The balancing act: ASEANop-ed snap

Image Source


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
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] Taking ASEAN to the bankop-ed snap

Image source


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, RCEP, CLMV countries

Mains level: India’s Act East policy


Inviting ASEAN leaders at Republic Day

  1. Gesture of inviting leaders of 10 ASEAN nation as guests of honor at the Republic Day is a manifestation of our engagement with South East Asia
  2. It will emphasize “Shared Values Common Destiny”, a theme slightly at variance with the “Shared Values in a Fractured World”, at Davos

The India-ASEAN strategic partnership

  1. The theme of the retreat of the India-ASEAN summit is maritime security
  2. ASEAN is today at the center of the Indo-Pacific as a strategic concept
  3. ASEAN sees India more clearly as a strategic partner
  4. It will want to engage India in all aspects — socio-cultural, political and economic

RCEP without India unlikely

  1. Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) launched in Phnom Penh in 2012 still awaits conclusion
  2. This is because FTA partners of ASEAN besides India — China, Japan, ROK, Australia and New Zealand — have varied interests
  3. India wants to match access for goods with access to services

Infrastructure need of ASEAN

  1. ASEAN wants to see more of India in infrastructure development
  2. There is great demand in the ASEAN countries for infrastructure and they are looking for FDI and funding options
  3. India has a $1-billion credit facility for developing infrastructure and other projects in ASEAN countries
  4. There is also a Rs 500-crore Project Development Facility for CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Mynmar, Vietnam) countries under the commerce ministry
  5. While the development funds are well utilized, the line of credit (LOC) is hardly touched
  6. India needs to study why the LOCs are underutilized

Way forward

  1. The ASEAN Master Plan for Connectivity has several options, including in the maritime sector, for India to pursue in conjunction with friends in the region
  2. India needs to use the strategic space in economic terms to enhance its partnership with ASEAN
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

Delhi Declaration calls for joint fight against terror


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, Delhi Declaration

Mains level: Cooperation between India-ASEAN in various sectors

ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit

  1. It was held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of sectoral dialogue between India and ASEAN
  2. Counter-terrorism, identity security, military cooperation, and bilateral financial support were discussed in official level talks with leaders from ASEAN countries

Delhi Declaration

  1. A joint statement titled Delhi Declaration was issued after the plenary session
  2. It supported a common approach to counter terrorism by focusing on the presence of the Islamic State and other forms of radicalism in the region


Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

  1. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a regional intergovernmental organization comprising ten Southeast Asian countries
  2. It promotes Pan-Asianism and intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, security, military, educational and socio-cultural integration amongst its members and other Asian countries
  3. It members are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam
  4. ASEAN shares land and maritime borders with India, China
  5. ASEAN is an official United Nations Observer
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] The arc to Southeast Asiaop-ed snap

Image Source


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: BIMSTEC, trilateral highway, etc.

Mains level: The newscard discusses some concerns related to India-ASEAN relationship. It also discusses some suggestions for encouraging the relations between the two.

Why is ASEAN in news?

  1. India will host heads of state or government of all 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the Republic Day celebrations
  2. Why important: The year 2017 was an important landmark as India and the ASEAN commemorated 25 years of their partnership, 15 years of summit-level interaction, and five years of strategic partnership

Disillusionment on both sides

  1. The ASEAN member states have been disappointed that India expects more than possible
  2. India expectations regarding a more robust support for its regional outreach too have not been met by the ASEAN
  3. Indian government’s ‘Act East’ policy is aimed at enhancing India’s strategic profile in East and Southeast Asia, India’s main focus remains on South Asia and the Indian Ocean region
  4. There has been a shift in emphasis, of course, with India moving away from the SAARC to BIMSTEC and asserting its centrality in the evolving geography of the Indo-Pacific

Prioritizing of some countries by India

  1. Due to strategic importance of the Bay of Bengal, Myanmar and Thailand have emerged as key players in its southeastern outreach
  2. The hope is to use these nations as a bridge to ASEAN
  3. The temptation to prioritise these countries over others in ASEAN may also prevent others from looking at India as a regional stakeholder


  1. It is important for India and ASEAN to chart out a more operational agenda for future cooperation
  2. The three Cs of commerce, connectivity and culture have been highlighted but a more granular perspective is needed in terms of a forging a forward-looking approach
  3. There is no getting away from enhancing trade and economic linkages between India and ASEAN
    Focus on the delivery of committed projects
  4. Instead of talking about ASEAN-wide connectivity projects, India needs to focus on more effective delivery of projects it is already committed to
  5. In this context, prompt completion of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is very important
  6. The plan is to extend this highway to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in an attempt to project India’s role in the emerging transportation architecture
    Air connectivity
  7. With China having three times more commercial flights than India to Southeast Asia, improving air connectivity between India and ASEAN countries should also be high on the agenda
    Cultural connect
  8. The cultural connect between the two needs strengthening
  9. While India offers scholarships to students from ASEAN states to study at Nalanda University, this initiative should be extended to the IITs and the IIMs
  10. Tourism too can be further encouraged between India and the ASEAN with some creative branding by the two sides
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

RCEP: India hardens stand ahead of ASEAN summit


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: Particulars of the RCEP

Mains level: Concerns affecting India’s interests


Sign of slowing down the efforts for an FTA

  1. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has taken a strong stand that the country should restrain itself from concluding any such pact from which it would not gain in the medium term
  2. The RCEP is a proposed mega-regional FTA involving the 10 member countries of ASEAN and its six FTA partners including India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand

Report on ‘trade with Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)

  1. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce, in its report, has called for observance of due restraint and not conclude trade arrangements which are not to our medium term advantage
  2. The report is significant coming ahead of the ASEAN-India commemorative summit to be held on January 25
  3. At the summit the issue of the long-delayed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will likely take centre stage

Possible reasons behind these concerns

  1. The India-ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement was inked and enforced from January 1, 2010
  2. After that India’s goods trade deficit with ASEAN widened from $4.98 billion in 2010-11 to $14.75 billion in 2015-16, and then narrowed to $9.56 billion in 2016-17
  3. The huge goods trade deficit has led to questions on whether the pact is only helping ASEAN nations and not benefiting India


Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

Govt, ASEAN in talks to take IMT highway up to Vietnam

Image source


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: India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highway, ASEAN

Mains level: Various regional connectivity agreements involving India and their current status

IMT highway to be extended

  1. The government is in talks with ASEAN countries to extend the India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highway up to Vietnam
  2. India and ASEAN countries are holding consultations on the extension of the 1,360 km IMT highway — from Moreh in India to Mae-Sot in Thailand — to Laos, Cambodia and to Vietnam

Other such agreements

  1. Another area on which the government is working to connect India with South East Asia is the IMT Motor Vehicle Agreement (IMT MVA)
  2. India, Myanmar and Thailand in 2014 commenced negotiations for finalising and implementing the IMT Motor Vehicle Agreement (IMT MVA)

Benefits of connectivity

  1. Connectivity can generate annually, an estimated USD 70 billion in incremental GDP and 20 million in incremental aggregate employment by 2025
  2. Connecting India with the Southeastern countries through a network of road will create jobs, market for crops grown in hilly regions of the Northeast which will also help growers in getting better price for their produce


Know about ASEAN here

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] The ASEAN outreachop-ed snap

Image Source


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

Mains level: These topics are specially mentioned in the mains syllabus



  1. The article talks about the importance of relationship between India and ASEAN

Important meetings attended by the Indian Prime Minister

  1. The Philippines has been the centre of attraction for the last few days with Manila hosting
    (1) the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-India
    (2) East Asia summits as well as special celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of ASEAN
    (3) the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) leaders’ meeting
    (4) the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit
  2. Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined these meetings
  3. And underscored India’s commitment to deepening ties with the ASEAN member states and the wider Indo-Pacific region as part of the ‘Act East’ policy

Importance of the Indo-Pacific region

  1. The Indo-Pacific region is now central to global politics and economics and recent days have merely reinforced the trends that have been emerging for some time
  2. China is the most important player in the region
  3. And as Chinese President Xi Jinping made clear in his speech at the recent Communist Party Congress, Beijing is now more confident than ever of projecting regional and global power
  4. In this, China has had the good fortune of having an administration in the U.S. that lacks seriousness of purpose and is unable to communicate effectively its priorities for the region
  5. Opportunity for India: This makes this period of transition very significant for countries like India that have a stake in the long-term stability of the region
  6. As China’s profile grows, and the U.S. continues to be unsure of its security commitments, there is a new opportunity for India in the region

Symbolic move by India

  1. In a symbolic move, all 10 ASEAN heads of state have been invited to be guests of honour for next year’s Republic Day function

Different strategy adopted by India

  1. On the one hand, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being resurrected without the U.S.
  2. And on the other, the idea of an Indo-Pacific quadrilateral involving Japan, Australia, India and the U.S. is back
  3. Unlike in the past, India is no longer diffident about engaging with other regional players if it helps to further Indian interests in maintaining a stable balance of power in region

Importance of ASEAN for India

  1. ASEAN is currently India’s fourth largest trading partner, accounting for 10.2% of India’s total trade
  2. India is ASEAN’s seventh largest trading partner
  3. India’s service-oriented economy perfectly complements the manufacturing-based economies of ASEAN countries
  4. There is, however, considerable scope for further growth

The way forward

  1. India needs to do a more convincing job as a beneficial strategic partner of ASEAN by boosting its domestic economic reforms agenda, enhancing connectivity within the region, and increasing its presence in regional institutions
  2. The ASEAN nations should be clearer and more specific in their expectations from New Delhi and nudge India for a deeper, more broad-based engagement
  3. There is much at stake for both sides


Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN)

  1. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a regional intergovernmental organisation comprising ten Southeast Asian states which promotes Pan-Asianism and intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, military, educational and cultural integration amongst its members and Asian states
  2. Since its formation on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, the organisation’s membership has expanded to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam
  3. Its principal aims include accelerating economic growth, social progress, and sociocultural evolution among its members, alongside the protection of regional stability and the provision of a mechanism for member countries to resolve differences peacefully
  4. ASEAN is an official United Nations Observer
  5. Communication by members across nations takes place in English
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

Post-Doklam, India asserts itself in China’s backyard

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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, East Asia summit, Doklam issue, South China Sea, UN laws of the seas (UNCLOS)

Mains level: India’s rising stature in world affairs


Convergence of interests with the new quadrilateral grouping

  1. Displaying convergence of interests with the new quadrilateral grouping with U.S., Japan, and Australia, India reached out to China’s backyard
  2. It addressed an array of issues ranging from the tension in the Korean peninsula to freedom of navigation and sought a crackdown on chemical weapons during the ASEAN and the East Asia summits

India emerges as a more dependable partner for South-East Asia

  1. Following the Doklam faceoff with China, India has emerged as a more dependable partner for South-East Asia
  2. South-East Asian countries expect New Delhi to be assertive with Beijing
  3. Outcome of the Doklam crisis has shown that India has reached a stage where it can be a resilient strategic and defense partner for them
  4. Southeast Asian region had been facing uncertainties following the exit of President Barack Obama as he took visible interest in the region

Fundamental change in India’s foreign affairs

  1. India is now embracing the big-ticket issues of East Asia like the North Korean nuclear crisis as well
  2. PM Modi shared concerns of DPRK’s pursuit of missiles and nuclear weapons and called for complete verification and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula
  3. He also said that North Korea’s proliferation links must be investigated and the parties who have supported these unlawful programmes must be made accountable
  4. Taking up of North Korean threats was part of a new Indian set of concerns that also covers major global issues like terrorism by the Islamic State and its capability to inflict mass casualties, and tensions in the South China Sea that concern the world as well as India

India’s stand on the South China Sea

  1. India remains concerned about China’s man-made structures in the South China Sea that are likely to create navigational problems and international friction
  2. The situation in the South China Sea also featured in the statement of PM Modi in the ASEAN who asked for upholding of the ‘rules-based regional security architecture’, an expression often described to refer to China’s opposition to adhere to the UN laws of the seas (UNCLOS)

India wants total ban on chemical weapons

  1. India also pushed for a total ban on chemical weapons in the region and for an end to terrorist financing
  2. The agreements on terror financing, chemical weapons and de-radicalization adopted at the East Asia Summit will help the region cope with the threat of terrorism effectively in future
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

India, Philippines ink deals on defence, agriculture


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, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

Mains level: The article talks about the deals signed by India and Philippines



  1. The PM Modi’s visit to the Philippines is the first bilateral visit by an Indian PM to this Southeast Asian nation in 36 years after the visit of the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1981, though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited the Philippines in 2007 for the ASEAN summit
  2. Four agreements were signed by the two countries on the sidelines of this visit

Agreements signed between the two countries

  1. Four agreements were signed between the two countries, which covered areas of defense, agriculture, small and medium enterprises and a tie-up between think-tanks
  2. The Philippines is also committed to improving the public health system and wants Indian infrastructure companies to pitch in his flagship “build, build and build programme
  3. The idea is to have private and public enterprises to cooperate in the defense sector, including on the off-shore patrolling vessels

Other highlights of the visit

  1. The Indian PM contributed two Indian rice seed varieties to the gene bank of the international rice research center in the Philippines which he said is working towards mitigating global poverty and hunger by improving the cultivation of the key grain
  2. He also visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and interacted with several Indian scientists working there
  3. A number of scientists at IRRI briefed the PM on flood-tolerant rice varieties which, they said, can withstand 14-18 days of submergence and provide 1-3 tonnes more yield per hectare in flood-affected areas
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

India marks big shift in trade policy

  1. What? India has outlined higher level of commitment to liberalize investment and services for the members of RCEP
  2. This marks a significant shift in its trade policy & could become a template for future bilateral treaties
  3. India has accepted ratchet and most-favoured nation-forward (MFN-forward) clauses
  4. But India will, in turn, impose conditions on RCEP members for accepting these clauses
  5. However, India has not made any commitments on multi-brand retail nor in according national treatment before investors set up shop in the country
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

ASEAN Plus Multinational Field Training Exercise ‘Ex Force 18’

  1. News: Multinational Field Training Exercise (FTX) – Exercise FORCE 18, involving ASEAN Plus countries commenced at Pune
  2. Context: This is the largest Ground Forces Exercise ever conducted on Indian soil and would be conducted from 02 to 08 March 2016
  3. Theme: ‘Humanitarian Mine Action’ and ‘Peacekeeping Operations’
  4. First phase: 28 foreign trainers were trained by Indian Army, these trainers will form the training backbone for the conduct of ‘Exercise FORCE 18’
  5. Foreign participants witnessed martial skills performed by the Indian Army, including Drill by soldiers from the Mechanised Infantry Regimental Centre
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

ASEAN to ease travel, mobility of labour

The leaders endorsed “ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together,” which charts the path for community building over the next 10 years.

  1. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was proclaimed a community through a declaration signed by the ASEAN leaders at its 27th Summit.
  2. The focus of ASEAN 2025 will be on strengthening the community on political, economic and socio-cultural fronts.
  3. While the Political-Security Community aims at maintaining the association’s centrality in regional mechanisms.
  4. The Socio-Cultural Community will focus on promoting a high quality life and equitable access to opportunities for all.
  5. The ASEAN Economic Community will focus on business-friendly, trade-facilitative and market-driven economy to inspire investor confidence.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

Give no shelter to terrorists: PM Modi

  1. Prime Minister says the world is coming together to use “force” to fight the menace.
  2. PM Narendra Modi suggested a multi-pronged approach for combating international terrorism.
  3. Making an intervention at the East Asia Summit (EAS).
  4. He emphasised the need for building a new global resolve and new strategies for combating terrorism, without balancing them against political considerations.
  5. He said, terror was the biggest problem faced by the world today and stressed the need for delinking religion from terror.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

ASEAN-India Summit: Terrorism, trade, sea dispute to be top agenda

ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is India’s fourth largest trading partner.

  1. Terrorism, trade and South China Sea dispute are expected to dominate discussions at the 13th ASEAN-India Summit
  2. The 10 member grouping will review the new Plan of Action (2016-2020).
  3. To further enhance ASEAN-India cooperation along politico- security, economic and socio-cultural pillars.
  4. India and ASEAN have 30 dialogue mechanisms including a Summit and 7 Ministerial meetings with various ministries.
  5. Trade between India and ASEAN stood at USD 76.52 billion in 2014-15.

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