The year 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of ASEAN and India’s dialogue relations.

The partnership between ASEAN and India began in the early 1990s has transformed into a significant strategic and economic relationship.

India has strategic and economic interests in both the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific area as its markets, exports, and need for energy and other resources rise.

In this regard, India’s political, economic, and strategic ambitions in the area are influenced by its relationship with ASEAN.

India’s role in shaping Asian Architecture

India’s location at the center of Asia has affected how it has interacted with the rest of the world over time.

India
Map with India in focus

The “celebration of diversity, of numerous and connected cultures,” which may not be found in any other collaboration, is the main “ideological” motivator of the India-ASEAN partnership.

India has returned to a very different and dynamic East Asia that is at the epicenter of a structural change in the balance of power in the world.

India’s regional influence and strategic space have generally increased as a result of recent reforms and realignments to its foreign policy, including changes to its relations with the US and ASEAN.

However, critics contend that India has lagged in seizing possibilities, mostly as a result of its own domestic policies.

India’s “Look East” policy

Since its economy was opened up in 1991, India’s “Look East” policy has played a significant role in its interactions with the rest of the world.

India has shown in recent years that it aspires to take on a greater strategic role in the region by forging deeper ties with Japan, Vietnam, Australia, and other nations.

This policy has been influenced by India’s “external balancing” strategy towards China, as well as India’s aspirations for a larger international role and its development as a trading power.

As a result of Narendra Modi’s overwhelming victory in the May 2014 election, India has the opportunity to play a larger strategic role in the Asia-Pacific region.

Look East
India’s ‘look East’ policy

The Look East policy will become the “Act East” policy, as Modi has previously stated. Even while the Modi administration has stated that improving ties with India’s neighbors in South Asia will come first, its dedication to economic expansion and more muscular foreign policy will cause a greater emphasis on the east.

Expanding ties between India and ASEAN

Delhi Dialogue

The ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership is further strengthened through discussions at the Delhi Dialogue, the top annual track 1.5 international forum in India that brings together dignitaries, senior officials, corporate executives, academics, and renowned figures from India and ASEAN.

Eleven editions of the Dialogue have been held since it began in 2009; the most current will end on June 16–17, 2022.

Special India and ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

On June 16, 2022, in New Delhi, India, the Special ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations was held.

China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region is growing quickly, so they decided to look into how their strategies for maritime security, connectivity, and the Blue Economy could be coordinated in the Indo-Pacific.

The main goal is to implement the ASEAN-India Joint Statement on Cooperation on the ASEAN Perspective on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).

Members pledged to continue efforts to effectively implement the Plan of Action for the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress, and Shared Prosperity (2021–2025).

In order to promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, members put into practice the ASEAN-India Joint Statement on Cooperation Regarding the ASEAN Perspective on the Indo-Pacific AOIP.

In the same way, the proposed ASEAN-India Defense Ministers Informal Meeting and ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise are to be welcomed, as is the need to deepen defense cooperation through the ADMM-Plus (ASEAN’s main defense consultative and cooperative framework).

Strategic Goal of the Meeting

Early in February, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin jointly unveiled a 5,000-word manifesto for a new global order and pledged their “limitless” friendship.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, the two countries have engaged in their first combined military drill. This month, they inaugurated a new border crossing in the Russian Far East to facilitate increased trade.

For nations like the ASEAN states, which heavily rely on commerce and regional stability, changes like these are unsettling.

Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Foreign Minister, declared: “The escalating rivalry between the United States and China as superpowers has direct implications for all of us.”

As far as the economy is concerned, ASEAN is stuck. Each of these countries is heavily dependent on China as a result of their long-standing business relationships.

However, due to the numerous territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the majority of them view Beijing as a serious danger.

The most sensible role for India would be to quickly increase trade ties. India is a crucial ASEAN partner given China’s growing military footprint in the area and US worries.

Whether New Delhi can perform the necessary economic and security tasks will be determined by ASEAN.

India’s Converging Interests

Strengthening Commercial Ties

In the fiscal year 2021, India and Southeast Asia will together make up one-fourth of the global population and conduct trade worth more than 78 billion dollars. By 2022, India plans to increase its commerce with ASEAN from $78 billion to $200 billion.

India-ASEAN
Value of export from India to ASEAN countries, 2020

Due to India’s sizable market, ASEAN nations see chances to expand their economic partnerships by “engaging the West.” Because both countries face similar issues, India is a crucial security partner for ASEAN.

Maritime Security

There is an ancient Indian strategic thought with respect to the country’s contemporary maritime relations.

It argues that India should shift its maritime strategy from a largely continental posture to one that focuses on the country’s maritime mandala.

The Indian state may then be able to achieve security and well-being for the people by fostering cooperation with like-minded nations and enhancing its own domestic capability across naval and civilian maritime sectors.

In the same way, India and ASEAN collaborate on counter-terrorism, disaster relief, and maritime security.

The establishment of a marine security regime that would give all Asian countries a sense of security was advocated at the most recent summit, along with increased bilateral and multilateral security cooperation.

Maritime
India’s Maritime Engagement with ASEAN through the Malabar exercise

It would be much preferable to have an open, inclusive, transparent, and balanced approach to dealing with piracy, marine accidents, energy security, and ocean management, notably in the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea, as opposed to the current, potentially competing naval expansion.

Diplomatic Triangles

India and East Asia continue their productive dialogue. The US-India-Japan trilateral includes an approach to ASEAN and endorses the proposal for a trilateral involving India, China, and the US.

QUAD
QUAD Summit 2022, Tokyo

It was evident at the QUAD summit in Tokyo, Japan, when the member states devised fresh strategies like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

Enhancing Connectivity

According to both ASEAN and India, the Indo-Pacific area needs to be open, welcoming, governed by laws, permit free sailing, and have a peaceful means of resolving disputes.

The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), under the guidance of ASEAN leadership, completed the Comprehensive Asian Development Plan, a comprehensive plan for developing infrastructure and connecting economies that complements the ASEAN Master Plan on Connectivity.

Dawei
Dawei deep-sea port

The $8.6 billion Dawei deep-sea port and industrial complex is one of several significant port developments that will link Myanmar, Thailand, and other countries to the east and northeast of India.

India-ASEAN Security Cooperation

Simple confidence-building measures (CBMs) were employed in the late 1980s to allay ASEAN’s concerns regarding the Indian Navy’s capacity to project power.

At first, cooperation with Indonesia and Malaysia was restricted to straightforward passing exercises, but it has since expanded to encompass the majority of other nations.

ASEAN initially showed interest in India due to concerns about post-cold war insecurity. The biggest cause now is China’s emergence as a military superpower.

China has also benefited greatly from its tenacious claims in the South China Sea and from the widespread perception that Beijing seeks to establish a Chinese-led hierarchical system in East Asia.

India has so far reached more agreements and deals than any other major power with Southeast Asian nations regarding defense and security cooperation.

Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Myanmar have strategic partnership agreements. Additionally, the nations collaborate on bilateral exercises, the majority of which involve the navy.

The Directorate of Foreign Cooperation is a separate entity located at the Indian Naval Headquarters. Its primary responsibility is to establish defense cooperation with East Asia.

The ASEAN-India relationship’s security component will likely take on more significance in the coming years.

Towards more Peaceful Motives

India and the ASEAN members must take the initiative by holding more frequent and extensive consultations at all levels.

A multi-polar security architecture should be the foundation for establishing the region’s customary power balance.

Competition, control, and conflict are not viewed favorably in the Indo-Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific area accounts for half of all global trade, and the sea is the heart of the business.

One cannot overestimate the value of open, free, and inclusive oceans. No nation can face the problems by itself because of the global nature of the problems and the maritime geography of the world. The only way to move forward is through cooperation.

India and ASEAN need to foster cooperative behaviors that are more future-focused and build institutional frameworks.

ASEAN and India should continue to facilitate trade, investment, and value chains during the recovery and reconstruction following the pandemic.

These countries are anticipated to experience serious issues with coastal floods, heat stress, wildfires, and shortages of water, food, and energy. The emphasis should be on resolving these issues rather than engaging in strategic competition with neighboring states.

To improve the peaceful climate in the region, the public and business sectors of ASEAN, India, and East Asia must “operate together.”

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