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India could not develop its foreign relations with Southeast Asia for most of the twentieth century as it was blocked by the Cold War divide. New Delhi’s eastern diplomacy faced another hurdle because of its troubled relations with Bangladesh and Myanmar. India’s desire to transform itself from a “South Asian Regional Power” to an “Asian Major Power” compelled it to develop political and economic relations with Asean, using it as a bridge to connect to East Asia. There is still an overhang of outstanding issues that needs to be addressed in order to make the Act East Policy more effective. The Asean India Free Trade Agreement came into force on January 1, 2010, but in order to accomplish its full trade potential and product integration, it is of crucial urgency to facilitate business-to-business connections, information flow, and harmonisation and mutual recognition of standards, as well as the removal of non-tariff barriers.

AT THE END OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR, THE PRIME MINISTER OF India,  Jawaharlal Nehru diplomatically engaged Asian countries by supporting anti-colonial struggles and advocating pan-Asianism, and later espousing a new international order based on not choosing sides during the Cold War. It can perhaps be said that India’s Look East Policy (LEP) is an indirect expression of India’s desire to return to a continuation of India’s historical foreign policy behaviour. The Indian leadership came up with the concept of the Look East Policy following the collapse of its principal ally, the Soviet Union, at the end of the Cold War in 1991, and the arrival of the era of globalisation and economic liberalisation. It was a time when many countries felt the need to promote international trade and encourage foreign investment.[1] Yet, India and the nations of Southeast Asia found themselves on opposite sides of the Cold War divide, despite some of them being fellow members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).[2] 

The LEP was developed and conducted during the governments of the prime ministers, P.V. Narasimha Rao (1991-1996) and Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004), and continued thereafter. The 1990s were a period of rapid economic growth in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia, a region that was already recognised for its vast economic potential, at a time when the Indian subcontinent was fast emerging as an economic and political force to be reckoned with.

The LEP was focused on the ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), as well as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Asean, established on August 8, 1967, by the five original member countries—Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand—expanded to include Brunei in 1984, followed by Vietnam in 1995, and Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and eventually Cambodia in 1999. The eastern neighbours represented an increasingly important dimension of India’s foreign policy. Asean-India trade and investment relations have been growing steadily, with Asean emerging as India’s fourth largest trading partner. Over the past decade, total bilateral trade increased more than threefold from US$ 21 billion in 2005-2006 to US$ 65 billion in 2015-2016.[3]

The term Look East itself implies that till the 1990s India had not been paying sufficient attention to the Asia-Pacific, a region that is increasingly being called the Indo-Pacific, a U.S. formulation crafted to assert India’s regional role and influence. Why was this so? After all, there is much that brings India and the east together—no history of war or conflict, a peaceful interaction through the flow of trade and the movement of people, and the intermingling of cultures and ideas.

The natural development of India’s links with its eastern neighbours was blocked by the state of New Delhi’s relations with Bangladesh and Myanmar. Bangladesh did not give adequate transit facilities to India. Myanmar was a closed and isolated society and its ties with India were quite minimal till the early 1990s. In fact, Southeast Asia did not rank high in Indian foreign policy priorities. Dixit argues that India’s decision to retain the membership of the Commonwealth after its political independence indicates that India mainly conceived of its development in collaboration with the Western world.[4] The financial crisis that hit India in 1991 and the ineluctable logic of globalisation compelled the country to embark on its economic reforms in the same year. This marked a decisive change in India’s inward-looking economic orientation towards a meaningful economic integration with the rest of the world. By the 1990s, the “Asian Tigers” had started roaring and induced India’s attention.[5]

India was forced to look eastward due to several factors such as the need to speed up domestic economic reforms, the failure of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to forge economic integration, and China’s growing influence in the East. India made strategic adjustments to its foreign policy during the Cold War period, relying on its leadership role in the NAM and the Third World, as India performed a balancing act between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, and wielded a somewhat significant influence on regional and international affairs. As the Soviet Union collapsed, India lost a strong ally together with the military and financial assistance that came with a pro-Soviet orientation. India’s status and prestige ultimately declined in the international arena, and its geopolitical clout decreased dramatically. It, therefore, had to re-adjust and change its foreign policy strategy, and create a new place for itself on the international economic and geopolitical stage.

The eastward gaze is logical because Pakistan, lying on India’s western border, constitutes a significant geographic obstacle to New Delhi’s efforts to create, develop and deepen relations in the Middle East. The politics of the Middle East, moreover, remains unstable while Central Asia and Afghanistan located to the north of India lack the potential for cooperation. In the event, the Asean countries, as relatively close neighbours of India, sharing both cultural commonalities and regional interests, have emerged as an attractive proposition in New Delhi’s gaze for cultivating closer relations. Indian policymakers realised that if India wanted to seize a significant role as a major power, and also to complete its transition from a “South Asian Regional Power” to an “Asian Major Power,” it must develop political and economic relations with Asean, using it as a bridge to connect to East Asia.

India’s avowed doctrine of economic self-sufficiency, in hindsight, led to its isolation. The country’s main objective after achieving independence in 1947 was to attain self-reliance under a planned economic system. But in the first four decades, self-sufficiency remained elusive and the import-substitution policy failed to yield the desired result. Instead, what became obvious was an economy weighed down by inefficiency, stagnation, and poor performance. When P.V. Narasimha Rao became the prime minister in June 1991, India was experiencing its most serious economic crisis since independence with a steep fall in foreign exchange reserves to about US$ 1billion (equal to two weeks’ imports), a sharp downgrading of India’s credit rating, and a cut-off of foreign private lending. In co-operation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, India started a process of large-scale economic reforms, embracing globalisation and liberalisation with enthusiasm, thus effecting a paradigm shift in its economic posture.[6]

Although almost everything needed to be reformed, the most urgent retooling focused on ensuring rapid economic growth. In order to contain inflation, the government decided to borrow heavily on the market and encourage massive foreign investment rather than ‘printing money.’ To satisfy the demand for capital and maintain economic growth, India not only needed Asean’s markets, but also required Singapore and Malaysia’s technology and investment to ramp up its infrastructure such as airports, roads and power generation.

An important domestic dimension emerged in India’s LEP:  How to help India’s North East Region (NER) get over the handicap of its geographical location. India’s strategy envisages the development of the NER’s communication and economic links with Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries, thereby reducing the NER’s overwhelming dependence on Bangladesh.[7]

The failure of SAARC was a prime factor that influenced India to turn its gaze eastwards. India’s involvement in SAARC as a whole had neither resulted in greater trade nor in improved security. The level of intra-regional trade between SAARC countries has remained low mainly because of the lack of comparative advantage in their economies. The small South Asian countries, moreover, feared that Indian capital and lower-priced goods might flood their markets if they were to liberalise their economies. As a result, some countries resorted to non-tariff barriers such as anti-dumping measures to limit trade with India. Contrary to the principles and goals of SAARC, bilateral disputes have impeded the group’s development. India’s regional standing was weakened because Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka were all on friendly terms with one another, while all of them had contentious relations with India. In contrast, India was impressed with the economic progress made by Asean to achieve its goal of economic integration for all its members.[8]

India’s engagement with Asean has been central to the LEP. For their part, the Asean countries have realised that with the rise of India, they can reduce their economic dependence on Japan, the Western countries, and China. They responded positively to India’s initiatives and advances, and accepted India as a sectoral dialogue partner of Asean in 1992 in the fields of trade, investment, and tourism. At the 1995 Asean Summit, a proposal made by the prime minister of Singapore, Goh Chok Tong, to elevate India to full dialogue partnership received the consent of all the Asean leaders. In 1996, India began participating in the Asean Post-Ministerial Conferences and the Asean Regional Forum (ARF). This was the first time that India had attended a multilateral dialogue on politics and security in the Asia-Pacific region, demonstrating that the LEP had reached an important milestone.[9] The mid-1990s, nonetheless, saw improved Sino-U.S. relations under the Clinton administration.

India was now confronted with the prospect not only of U.S. hegemony, but also of U.S.-endorsed Chinese hegemony over it because of Washington’s acquiescence in China’s transfer of nuclear and missile equipment and technology to Pakistan, and U.S. embrace of China during the mid 1990s as a strategic partner. Indeed, India’s nuclear ambition might well be driven more by the China factor than concerns over Pakistan. After India’s nuclear test in May 1998, followed by tests in Pakistan, China, exercising its authority as the rotating president of the UN Security Council, actively coordinated consultations among the permanent members to condemn the Indian tests. Meanwhile, the United States, Japan, Australia, and some other developed countries unanimously retaliated against India in the form of economic sanctions.

When Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the prime minister in 1998, the LEP was hastened. This phase of the LEP saw India making a greater effort to forge links with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam (CLMV), and to marshal support for India to hold a summit-level meeting with Asean. In June 1997, under New Delhi’s aegis a sub-regional grouping called BISTEC or Bangladesh-India-Sri Lanka-Thailand Economic Cooperation (later, BIMSTEC, or Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) comprising three South Asian countries of Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka, and two Southeast Asian countries (Thailand and Myanmar), was formed with the aim of creating a free trade zone among the member countries.

The 9/11 event was a significant turning point in U.S. relations with South Asia. The United States and India grew closer due to a slew of factors such as India’s possible help to Washington in the fight against terrorism, India’s economic liberalisation programme that offered lucrative contracts to U.S. companies, and mutual unease over China’s rapid rise. On September 22, 2001, the Bush administration further lifted the sanctions that were imposed under the terms of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act following India’s nuclear tests in May 1998. The president, George W. Bush, and the prime minister, Vajpayee, held their first summit in November 2001 and embraced a vision for the rapid transformation of the relationship between the two countries. Closer Indo-U.S. relations prepared the ground for more space and flexibility for India to carry out its LEP.[10] 

President George W. Bush welcomes Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of India to the Oval Office on November 9, 2001. Photo by the courtesy of the White House.

India belatedly accelerated its engagement with Southeast Asia to catch up with China whose influence had spread across the region. Ever since the Sino-Indian War of 1962, China and India have been strategic competitors in South and Southeast Asia. India’s troubled relations with its South Asian neighbours played to the advantage of China, and opened a strategic space for Beijing to maintain good relations with them. China has made substantial early bird investments in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, opening up these nations for Chinese goods: It invested in building a naval port on the Arabian Sea coast in Gwadar, Pakistan. It sold military equipment to Myanmar in the early 1990s, and provided Yangon assistance in the construction of military facilities. And Bangladesh has offered China naval access to its Chittagong port. In April 2005, China signed a comprehensive agreement with Sri Lanka which provides access to Colombo’s ports, and thereby to the Indian Ocean.

There are lingering concerns over China’s overseas investments. The United States and its key regional allies, India and Japan, are deeply worried that projects like Hambantota in Sri Lanka, and in several other countries, that are financed by non-concessional Chinese loans expose regional economies to grave risk and to a distinct disadvantage. Those loans also put the United States and its allies at a strategic disadvantage, U.S. officials have argued. The U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, warned that the Indo-Pacific region had become a casualty of China’s “predatory economics,” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, in October 2017. He declared that China’s actions “result in saddling them [the countries in the region] with enormous amounts of debt.”[11]

In a succession of surprisingly rapid responses in November 2017, three South Asian countries—Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar—cancelled or shelved major hydroelectricity projects planned by Chinese companies because of their inequitable financial terms.[12] The scrapping of the three projects, worth nearly US$ 20 billion, delivered a blow to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Pakistan was candid in explaining that the tough financing terms imposed by its strategic ally, China, was the reason for cancelling the US$ 14 billion Diamer-Bhasha Dam. Nepal’s deputy prime minister rejected a US$ 2.5 billion contract for a hydroelectricity project, accusing a Chinese company of financial irregularities. And Myanmar, after halting a US$ 3.6 billion Chinese-backed dam in 2011, declared that it was no longer interested in large hydro-electric developments.

To counter China’s growing links with Myanmar, India has sought constructive engagement with the military-controlled regime in Myanmar, and has not only agreed to take steps to ensure peace and tranquillity along the India-Myanmar border, but it also inaugurated the Tamu-Kalemyo-Kalewa highway that provides a cross-border link and is expected to promote economic development, border trade, and tourism in the region. At the sub-regional level, India initiated the “Mekong Ganges River Co-operation Project” between India and the Asean-5 (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand) in 2000. Moreover, India’s membership of BIMSTEC underscores New Delhi’s intention to elbow out China’s growing civilian and military influence from this area.

In order to balance China’s military profile in Southeast Asia, India and selected Asean countries began holding joint military exercises. The Indian Navy has conducted joint exercises with the Singaporean, Vietnamese, Japanese, and South Korean navies to ensure the safety of strategic waterways in the region, particularly in the Straits of Malacca. India secured a prominent role as a security provider through its defense cooperation with many Asean countries in the form of joint exercises, coordinated patrolling, and training. In this context, India’s LEP, which initially concentrated on the economic aspects, has more recently taken on an added security aspect, too.[13]

After intensive efforts to achieve parity with China, Japan, and South Korea in the Asean scheme of partnerships, India successfully became a summit-level partner in 2002. At the Third Asean-India Summit held in November 2004 in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, India and Asean signed the “Asean-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity” document, setting out a road map for long-term Asean-India engagement. At the 2005 Asean-India Summit, as part of its assistance programme for the new members of Asean, India announced its intention to set up a permanent Centre for English Language Training in each of their countries and a “satellite-based network” linking India with those countries for tele-medicine and tele-education that use telecommunications and information technology to deliver healthcare and education from a distance in order to reach out to rural communities that would not have access to these services.[14]

India overcame a hurdle in 2005 and was able to participate in the first East Asia Summit (EAS) in Kuala Lumpur. From the very beginning, there was no unanimity either within Asean or among the Asean+3 (Plus Three) countries, namely China, Japan and South Korea, on whether India should be invited to be a part of the EAS. But in April 2005, with the strong advocacy of Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand, the Asean foreign ministers endorsed India’s participation. It was a logical outcome and a symbol of the success and credibility of the LEP.

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh with Asean leaders at the India-Asean Summit meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on November 19, 2012. Photo by the courtesy of the Archives of the Prime Minister of India.

India continues to cooperate in all the five priority areas that the first EAS meeting had identified—energy, finance, education, disaster management, and avian influenza—with the last being accorded importance because it was an issue of immediate concern when the first EAS was held. Energy received special attention both at the second EAS meeting in the Philippine resort city, Cebu, and at the third EAS meeting in Singapore, which resulted in the adoption of concrete initiatives, namely the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security and the Singapore Declaration on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment, respectively. In the field of education, the EAS meetings have endorsed initiatives like the revival of Nalanda University in India, and the United Nations’ Alliance of Civilisations project, as well as inter-societal and inter-faith dialogues. These schemes aim to improve regional understanding and appreciation for the rich and diverse heritage and history of the region. Potentially more important is the progress achieved on the economic and financial side. A Track-II study on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) was considered by the fourth EAS meeting in Thailand in 2009.[15]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Asean leaders at the 14th Asean-India Summit held on September 8, 2016 in Vientiane, Laos. Photo by the courtesy of Asean.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined the Act East Policy (AEP) in November 2014 within six months of assuming power in May that year. The policy seeks to revive and reinvigorate India’s relations with Asean as well as expand the country’s engagement beyond the region to encompass South Korea in the north, and Australia and New Zealand in the south, and from neighbouring Bangladesh to Fiji and the Pacific Island countries in East Asia. Modi formally enunciated the AEP at the Twelfth Asean-India Summit and at the Ninth East Asia Summit held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar in November 2014.[16]

The LEP was upgraded to the AEP in order to provide greater impetus and importance to India’s eastern diplomacy, but the founding principles and the objectives remain the same. This is evident from a flurry of visits from both sides. Modi travelled to Singapore to attend the state funeral of the first prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, in March 2015. He went back in November the same year to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations and to set up a strategic partnership. Before that, Modi had gone to Myanmar to participate in the East Asia Summit and the Asean-India Summit in November 2014. He also travelled to Malaysia in November 2015 for a bilateral visit as well as to attend the East Asia and the Asean-India summits. The minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, visited Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar during the same period. Asean leaders, too, have travelled to India—the visit of the prime minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung, in October 2014, and that of the president of Singapore, Tony Tan, who arrived for celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s diplomatic relations with India in February 2015. 

Most recently, Modi visited Myanmar in September 2017 where he signed eleven agreements in a range of sectors, including one on maritime security cooperation, further strengthening their multifaceted partnership. This visit came at a time when the Myanmar government and the de facto leader, the state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, were facing global condemnation for their mishandling of the Rohingya crisis. While Myanmar was being isolated in the West and among civil society globally, India stood by Yangon, and underlined its support with its joint statement: “India condemned the recent terrorist attacks in northern Rakhine State, wherein several members of the Myanmar security forces lost their lives.” It added: “Both sides agreed that terrorism violates human rights and there should, therefore, be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs.” It is argued that strategic interests led New Delhi to ignore the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, and that India tried to maintain a delicate balance between its strategic interests and its democratic ideals.[17]

Indian foreign policy towards Myanmar is driven by the reality that the eastern neighbour occupies a special position in India’s matrix of ties with Asean. It is contiguous to India’s North East Region, sharing a land boundary of 1,700 km with the four states of Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The strategically significant infrastructure project, the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, can prove to be a game-changer to connect India’s North East with Asean.[18] Further, an opportunity for both India and Asean to significantly upgrade their ties presents itself in the Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project, connecting Kolkata with Sittwe port in Myanmar, going further to Lashio via the Kaladan river, and to Mizoram in India by road.[19]

Thailand occupies a unique place in promoting the AEP. In addition to ancient Indo-Thai cultural, maritime, business, religious, and linguistic links, the large Indian diaspora settled in Thailand since the end of the nineteenth century presents a unique opportunity to nurture a rapidly expanding mutual relationship. The vice president of India, Hamid Ansari, built upon these linkages during his visit to Bangkok and Chiang Mai in early February 2016. Singapore, likewise, has strong and vibrant trade and economic relations with India and is the second largest source of foreign direct investment. Singapore is also the first Asean nation to establish a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India, and has always been supportive of stronger ties between India and Asean.

Indonesia’s bilateral ties with India are deepening. Modi had a fruitful meeting with the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, in Myanmar in November 2014 on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit. Relations were further advanced by Sushma Swaraj’s visit in April 2015, and by Hamid Ansari’s a few months later in November 2015. Indonesia has emerged as India’s second largest trading partner among the Asean countries. Although cultural and literary interaction between the two countries is advancing at a rapid pace, it is essential to actively engage Indonesian entrepreneurs to look closely at India to further enhance bilateral commercial and economic ties.

Vietnam stands as a significant trade, strategic and defense partner of India. As part of its AEP, India is helping Vietnam build maritime capacities. Indian Navy warships have called on the ports of Vietnam every year since 2000. The Modi government sent its advanced guided missile stealth frigates, belonging to the Shivalik class, to Vietnam in August 2014 and in October 2015. During a meeting with the prime minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung, Modi announced plans to launch a US$ 100 million line of credit to enable Vietnam to acquire naval patrol vessels from India.

A Vietnamese reception team on board the Indian naval ship Satpura at the jetty at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. Photo by the courtesy of the Indian Navy.

Further, India’s outreach to the region has grown considerably, spurred by the growing assertiveness of China in the South China Sea, especially as China has declared it as one of the core issues of its foreign policy. Although India is not a direct stakeholder in the South China Sea territorial disputes, it is an important issue as about 40 percent of India’s trade traverses through the South China Sea and it is seen as the gateway to the Pacific. Under its AEP, and as a result of Chinese regional hegemonic attempts, India is playing a greater strategic role in the Indo-Pacific by building up partnership with the United States, Japan and Vietnam.[20] And most recently, in November 2017, the United States, India, Japan and Australia declared that they would revive plans to establish a quadrilateral coalition to conduct joint military exercises to keep the region’s sea lanes and air space open and free.

There is still an overhang of outstanding issues that need to be addressed in order to make the AEP more effective: Connectivity within India’s North East, and between the North East and Asean, needs to be developed. While Myanmar is India’s gateway to Southeast Asia, India’s North East is its gateway to Myanmar, but connectivity between the North East and Myanmar is not well-developed. Besides the poor condition of roads, there are many missing highway links in Myanmar, and between Myanmar and other Asean countries. For instance, only about 15 percent of total road length in Myanmar is paved. Railway links are almost nonexistent and, where they do exist, rail connectivity is hampered by railway gauge mismatch: While India uses the broad gauge (1,676 mm), Thailand and Myanmar follow the metre gauge. Moreover, the ports need to be modernised and equipped with multimodal transport facilities, and their operational efficiency needs to be improved. Although geographical contiguity is a key condition to facilitate deeper economic integration, the benefits of proximity are often lost due to poor transport linkages.[21]  In this regard,  the allocation of US$ 1 billion to promote connectivity between India and Asean, announced by Modi during his visit to Malaysia in November 2015, will go a long way in bringing India and Asean closer. Projects like the Chennai-Dawei Sea Port Project, India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, and maritime connectivity with Indonesia could further contribute to India’s integration with Asean.[22]

The Asean India Free Trade Agreement (AIFTA) came into force on January 1, 2010, but in order to realise its full trade potential and product integration, it is a matter of crucial urgency to facilitate business-to-business connections, information flow, harmonisation and mutual recognition of standards, as well as removal of non-tariff barriers. The Asean Economic Community was officially launched on December 31, 2015 to create a single market to enable easier movement of goods, services, investment, capital and people across the region. It is expected to result in a common market of more than 600 million people, dwarfing the European Union’s 500 million and the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA’s, over 400 million. Challenges still remain in the implementation of the AEC, as it is not possible to view the region as a single economic bloc as yet. Asean countries see themselves more as ten individual economies, and the question of financial integration, trade regimes, and the flow of labour and capital in the region remains large.[23]  

In spite of all the challenges, the Asean-India relationship and the Act East Policy have demonstrably proven themselves to be both feasible and effective. In the last twenty-five years, Asean-India diplomatic linkages have grown to host thirty dialogue mechanisms covering a wide dimension of strategic, political, economic and cultural interests.

Foreign policymakers in New Delhi believe that owing to China’s assertive posture in the region, joint defense production and collaboration in defense, and research and development would help India firm up its capabilities and forge lasting partnerships in the region. Potential partners in this domain are Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam. Asean-India relations should not be viewed from a purely merchandise trade perspective, but also for its future potential in trade in services and investment flows. In order to further boost Asean-India ties, Modi hosted the ten leaders of the Asean countries as chief guests at the Republic Day celebrations in January 2018. In the end, the Act East Policy aims to promote economic engagement and strengthen people-to-people links, as well as cultural and civilisational contacts between the two regions. The AEP is not designed to get into conflicts and confrontations, but to create an enabling environment for peace and prosperity.

Kamaran M. K. Mondal is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Chandidas Mahavidyalaya, the University of Burdwan in West Bengal. He holds an MPhil and a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His articles have appeared in the International Studies Quarterly, Inquest: A Journal of Social Science and Humanities, and The Milli Gazette Online, and his book chapters have been published in Terrorism and Human Rights in the Globalizing World: Experience in Indian Context; Thoughts on Liberal Arts and Popular Culture; Globalisation, Environment and Sustainable Development: Indian Perspective; Development and Politics in India; and State, Nation and Multiculturalism: Problems in Perspectives.


[1] Sabina Yasmin Rahman, “The North-East in India’s Look East Policy,” International Politics, Energy, and Culture, online publication, May 15, 2013, 1.

[2] Rajiv Sikri, Challenge and Strategy: Rethinking India's Foreign Policy (New Delhi: Sage, 2009), 2.

[3] Ministry of External Affairs, ASEAN India Relations, March 2, 2017, ASEAN Multilateral Division, New Delhi. http://www.mea.gov.in/aseanindia/20-years.html. Accessed on July 20, 2017. http://www.mea.gov.in/aseanindia/20-years.html; and Biswaranjan Mohanty, International Relations: New Horizons and Changing Equations, Vol. II (New Delhi: Atlantic, 2010), 476.

[4] J.N. Dixit, Across Borders: Fifty Years of India’s Foreign policy (New Delhi: Picus, 1998).

[5] Hong Zhao, “India and China: Rivals or Partners in Southeast Asia,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, 29. 1 (2007): 121-142, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies; and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, “India’s Economic Reforms: An Appraisal,” in India in the Era of Economic Reforms, ed. Jeffry D. Sachs et al. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[6] Vijay Joshi, “Fiscal Stabilisation and Economic Reforms in India,” in India’s Economic Reforms and Development: Essays for Manmohan Singh, ed. Isher Judge Ahluwalia et al. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010); Ahluwalia, “India’s Economic Reforms: An Appraisal”; and Baldev Raj Nayar, “Globalisation and India’s National Autonomy,” in Globalisation and Politics in India, ed. Baldev Raj Nayar (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[7] Sikri, Challenge and Strategy, 4.

[8] Biswaranjan Mohanty, International Relations: New Horizons and Changing Equations, Vol. II (New Delhi: Atlantic, 2010), 535-36.

[9] Ministry of External Affairs, ASEAN India Relations, March 2, 2017.

[10] Hong, “India and China: Rivals or Partners in Southeast Asia,” 127-28.

[11] Krishnadev Calamur, “China vs. America in a Financial Game of ‘Risk’,” The Atlantic, October 18, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/10/china-investments/543321/.

[12] Saibal Dasgupta and Anjana Pasricha, “Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar Back Away from Chinese Projects,” Voice of America, December 4, 2017.

[13] Hong, “India and China: Rivals or Partners in Southeast Asia,” 130-32; Sanjaya Baru, “Strategic Consequences of India’s Economic Performance” in Globalisation and Politics in India, ed. Baldev Raj Nayar (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010), 333-35; and Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharjee, “India’s Vision on Act East Policy,” (event paper delivered at a national seminar on “India’s Act East Policy: Problems and Prospects in North East India,” Imphal, Manipur, January 28-29, 2016).

[14] Hong, “India and China: Rivals or Partners in Southeast Asia,” 124; Sikri, Challenge and Strategy, 5-8; and Mohanty, International Relations: New Horizons and Changing Equations, 497.

[15] Mohanty, International Relations: New Horizons and Changing Equations, 505.

[16] Ministry of External Affairs, ASEAN India Relations, March 2, 2017.

[17] Harsh V. Pant, “India’s Balancing Act in Myanmar,” The Diplomat, September 9, 2017. Accessed on September 20, 2017. https:// thediplomat.com/2017/09/indias-balancing-act-in-myanmar.

[18] Ashok Sajjanhar, “Taking Stock of India’s ‘Act East Policy’,” Observer Research Foundation, issue brief, May 2016, issue no. 142. 2. Accessed on June 20, 2017. www.orfonline.org.

[19] India-Myanmar Joint Statement issued during PM’s State Visit to Myanmar, September 6, 2017. Accessed on September 20, 2017. http://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates.

[20] India and the United States have regularly conducted the Malabar maritime exercises since 1992, alternatively off the coast of India and in the Western Pacific. The 2016 Malabar-16 maritime exercise with the United States and Japan assumed significance as it was conducted close to the South China Sea (Tien-sze Fang, “India’s Act East Policy and Implications for China-India Relations,” 2017. Accessed on July 20, 2017. http://web.isanet.org /Web/Conferences.). On September 19, 2017, the Japan-U.S.-India Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held in New York City. They agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the fields of maritime security and regional connectivity in order to create a free and open Indo-Pacific (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Japan India Relations: Japan-U.S.-India Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, September 19,  2017, http://www.mofa.go.jp /ssa/sw/in/page.).

[21] ASSOCHAM (The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India), “India ASEAN Trade and Investment Relations: Opportunities and Challenges,” (New Delhi: July 2016), 44.

[22] Rahul Mishra, “From Look East to Act East: Transitions in India’s Eastward Engagement,” Indian Council of World Affairs, 17 (2014). Accessed on June 20, 2017. theasanforum.org.

[23] ASSOCHAM, 58.