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Day 47 – Q 1. What are India’s interests in the ASEAN? Examine the measures taken by the government to strengthen Indo-ASEAN cooperation.

1. What are India’s interests in the ASEAN? Examine the measures taken by the government to strengthen Indo-ASEAN cooperation.  

ASAEN में भारत के हित क्या हैं? भारत-ASEAN सहयोग को मजबूत करने के लिए सरकार द्वारा उठाए गए उपायों की जांच करें।


  • The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), originally conceived as an economic initiative in 1991, has evolved in terms of geographical expanse and sectoral reach across the three pillars of politico-security, economic and socio-cultural cooperation.
  • India and ASEAN recently celebrated 25 years of their rapidly expanding partnership, also marking 15 years of Summit engagement and five years of Strategic Partnership.


India’s interests in ASEAN:

India’s age old ties with South-East Asia have been established through culture, trade and religion, thus they carry multidimensional interests. Relations which were earlier seen as lackadaisical, are again assuming renewed vigour.

Economic interests

  • India and ASEAN are natural partners in their desire to create a free, open, and inclusive regional trade architecture.
  • Bilateral trade increased from USD 12 billion in 2002 to 72 billion in 2012 with a cumulative annual growth rate of around 22 per cent over the preceding 10 years.

Security of the region

  • Stronger relations between India and Myanmar have also helped to quell insurgency and extremism in the north-eastern states of India.
  • The success of the Act East Policy will be determined by its contribution to security and economic development of Northeast India.

Strategic interests

  • India and ASEAN are active participants in the East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF).
  • In a rapidly evolving geo-political scenario marked by China’s assertive military, political and economic rise, the AEP has imparted greater dynamism to India’s ties with ASEAN.

Socio-cultural interests

  • The large Indian diasporas in many Southeast Asian countries help strengthen diplomatic, economic and security relations between India and ASEAN as they contribute to expand and intensify bonds. The Indian diaspora comprises an important instrument of India’s soft power.

The measures taken by the government to strengthen Indo-ASEAN cooperation

Strategic and diplomatic measures

  • The Look East Policy (LEP) was put in place in 1992. Act East Policy is the successor to LEP, launched at the first East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2014.
  • Currently, there exist 30 different dialogue mechanisms between India and the ASEAN states focusing on a range of sectors that include foreign affairs, economy, environment, tourism, etc.

In economic sector

  • The India-ASEAN Free Trade pact in services and investments has the potential to reduce India’s trade deficit with the region.
  • India is also a part of the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will cover almost 40 per cent of the world’s population, 33 per cent of global GDP and 40% of world trade.
  • India’s two-way trade with ASEAN now stands at approximately USD 76 billion.

People to people contacts

  • Exchange programmes have been put in place for frequent interaction between students, senior officials, diplomats, academics, media professionals, etc.
  • Many programmes and events are designed to further enhance religious and cultural ties.

Connectivity and infrastructure

  • Two major connectivity projects, viz., the Trilateral Highway between north-east India and Myanmar and onwards to Thailand (and Laos and Vietnam) as well as the Kaladan multi-modal transit and transport project, have been under implementation.

Challenges and Opportunities

  • India and ASEAN missed out on achieving the two-way trade target of USD 100 billion. There are problems of delays of years and red tapism in project implementation.
  • Common concerns and aspirations as well as similar threats and challenges confront the ASEAN countries and India at a time when not only Asia but the whole world is suffering an uncertain and unpredictable phase.
  • Connectivity between India and ASEAN, particularly Myanmar and Thailand, has emerged as a significant element in cementing bonds between the two regions.
  • Better infrastructure connecting Northeast India and ASEAN has become the sine qua non for stronger economic and trade partnership and vital contributor to prosperity and economic development of the region.
  • Relations with ASEAN have become multi-faceted to encompass security, connectivity, strategic, political, space technology, counter-terrorism and anti-insurgency operations, anti-radicalisation, trade and investment, maritime security and defence collaboration, in addition to economic ties.
  • Cooperation to curb terrorism especially in the face of the rising influence of the Islamic State has assumed priority.
  • The issue of ownership, control, use and exploitation of oil, gas, mineral and fisheries resources in the South China Sea has emerged as a major dispute between China and several ASEAN countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.
  • India is concerned because more than 40 per cent of its trade passes through the South China Sea.
  • It is also interested in harnessing fossil fuel resources in the region for meeting its energy needs.
  • ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) entered into an agreement with Vietnam to prospect in oil blocks off the Paracel islands which fall within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Vietnam.
  • China’s increasing intemperance and intractability over the last many years has added to the anxieties and concerns of countries in South East Asia and beyond. They want India to play a more active countervailing role in the region.
  • The expression “Indo-Pacific” is being used in foreign policy of the region, instead of the more commonly used “Asia Pacific” to signify that India is a significant player in the region and will need to be included in all discussions and decisions on peace and security of the region.
  • A meeting of the Quad (USA, Japan, Australia and India) at the level of officials also gave a strong indication of the interest of these countries in working together to ensure a free, open, inclusive and prosperous region.

Way forward

  • India and ASEAN account for about 30 per cent of the global population and a combined GDP of approximately USD 5.1 trillion.
  • Together, they would form the third largest economy in the world. Given their combined clout, it is but natural for them to expand their areas of collaboration particularly in view of the rapidly changing and uncertain global and regional scenario.
  • Besides geographical proximity, historical commonalities, cultural affinities and commercial interests, India’s AEP has been driven by geo-strategic concerns as well.
  • It is essential to strengthen collaboration with ASEAN as an organisation as well as with individual Southeast Asian countries.
  • This is one of the most dynamic regions of the world today, and it is necessary for both India and ASEAN to actively collaborate to shape the so-called ‘Asian century’.
  • A stronger partnership and enhanced cooperation should be prioritised by both sides if the full potential of this engagement is to be realised.

(NOTE: This synopsis has been deliberately made comprehensive to cover all the aspects of the Indo-ASEAN relationship as per the demand of the question)

Best Answer:  Gargi Gupta

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