India: From “Looking East” to “Acting East”

7 April 2015

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – After coming into power last May, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reshaped and emboldened India’s foreign policy to become more proactive and pragmatic. Modi’s ambition is for India to become a pillar providing peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
India’s bilateral relations with all major powers have been advancing since, particularly with the US, China, and Japan. Bilateral partnerships with Southeast Asian countries have gained new momentum.
At the India-Asean Summit last November, Modi revamped India’s “Look East Policy” to “Act East Policy”. India has shown stronger interest and commitment in deepening economic relations and building closer strategic and security ties with Southeast Asia.
“Asean lies at the core of India’s Act East Policy and at the center of our dream of an Asian century,” Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said last month at the Delhi Dialogue VII. “Since the launch of our Look East Policy in the early 1990s, we have matured from being Sectoral Dialogue Partners to being Strategic Partners.”
Road and Port Links between India and Asean
Infrastructure developments and links between India and mainland Southeast Asia have improved, particularly under the framework of the Mekong-India Economic Corridor and India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway.
In addition, India financed and constructed the $120 million Sittwe Port in Myanmar as part of the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport network.
Economic Cooperation and “Made in India” Campaign
Deepening regional economic integration and connectivity between India and Asean serves India’s economic development strategy and its trade promotion policy. The “Made in India” strategy is the core economic policy initiated by Modi.
Asean, with its population of more than 600 million and a total GDP hovering around $3 trillion, is a potential market for Indian products and services.
In 2014,  bilateral trade volume was around $80 billion. It is expected to reach $100 billion this year, and $200 billion by 2022.
Investment flows between India and Asean have increased over the years.  Asean investments in India over the last eight years amount to $27.9 billion while Indian investments in Asean reached $32.4 billion.
Freedom of the Seas
India proactively promotes a maritime doctrine called “Indo-Pacific Security.” Here India intends to expand its maritime power in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans.  Strengthening security and strategic ties with Japan, US, Australia, and Asean underline this new doctrine.
Maritime security cooperation is a core element in building strategic partnerships between India and Asean.
India intends to play a more active role, through both bilateral and multilateral dialogues and mechanisms, to maintain freedom of navigation in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Regarding India’s position in the South China Sea,  Shri Anil Wadhwa, Secretary of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, stated last year: “Our position has always been that India stands for freedom of navigation on the high seas.
We would like to ensure that all countries in the region adhere to the international conventions on the Law of the Sea in this issue.”
Ways Forward
Under the current leadership, India has shown greater commitment to engage Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific. Bilateral ties with Asean constitutes significant factors in realizing India’s regional power projection guided by the Indo Pacific doctrine.
India and Asean need to work together to further deepen their strategic partnership. Meanwhile, they should also consider working together to realize the United Nations Development Goals focusing on eradicating poverty, addressing inequality, tackling climate change, achieving more sustainable lifestyles, building strong, inclusive and resilient economies, and promoting peaceful societies and strong institutions.

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