India-ASEAN ties a morale-booster for region : The Tribune India

Join Whatsapp Channel

India-ASEAN ties a morale-booster for region

On the economic side, there was satisfaction that there is finally a forward movement in India-ASEAN trade, which has crossed $100 billion. This requires more attention and the creation of new supply chains which should be resilient and not China-dependent. This can be supplemented by a review of the ASEAN-India Agreement on Trade, which is overdue. Despite calls for its early implementation, ASEAN bureaucratic processes are slow.

India-ASEAN ties a morale-booster for region

Gains: India-ASEAN meet focused on increasing heft for strategic & political cooperation. PTI



Gurjit Singh

Former Ambassador 

The special India-ASEAN ministerial meeting to commemorate 30 years of the dialogue partnership was held on June 15-16. Nine of the 10 ASEAN countries participated. Myanmar was not invited due to ASEAN’s decision to exclude it over its reluctance to implement the association’s guidelines on its domestic matters.

Six countries were represented by foreign ministers. Notable was Vivian Balakrishnan, Foreign Minister of Singapore, who co-chaired the meeting as Singapore is the current country coordinator for India. The Foreign Minister of Cambodia, the current chair of ASEAN, was present. Retno Marsudi, Foreign Minister of G20 Chair Indonesia, was an active participant. Thailand, the Philippines and Laos participated at lower levels, but the participation was fulsome and meaningful.

Since the last India-ASEAN summit in 2021, the problems of Covid and economic recovery were aggravated by the Ukraine crisis. Thus, this meeting was significant in dealing with the current global crisis and how India and ASEAN together should act in their mutual interest.

The meeting was an important confidence-building mechanism for the region. The Cambodian minister told the Delhi Dialogue, the track 1.5 parallel event, that there was a crisis in the region due to increasing great power rivalry, which ASEAN alone could not manage. The Singapore minister pointed out the important role of India, particularly in dealing with Covid, economic recovery and CBMs. He said that whenever one thought of the pharmacy of the region or the impact of digital connectivity and the big provider of agricultural products, thoughts turned to India. Keeping India engaged was important for the region.

Indonesian minister Retno Marsudi made a plea that despite the problems and cleavages in the world, it was important that strategic trust should be increased. This meeting was a good occasion for vaccination to deter the lessening of such trust. India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar said the partnership had received the double dose of the vaccine, and now the meeting had given it a booster shot. This appeared to be the perception among the participating ministers, who showed comfort and confidence with India.

India’s engagement with ASEAN started after its economic liberalisation in 1991 and the launch of the Look East Policy. Thereafter, India became a sectoral partner of ASEAN in 1992. This was enhanced to a full dialogue partnership. In 2002, India and ASEAN established their annual summits. In 2012, at the 20th Commemorative Summit, the strategic partnership was created. At the 25th anniversary Commemorative Summit held in New Delhi in January 2018, all 10 ASEAN leaders participated, including as chief guests at the Republic Day parade.

Much of the India-ASEAN agenda is already on the anvil and agreements exist. What is now to be done is to take them forward with determination. Most ministers pointed in this direction: that we have a good framework and let us now move to fruition.

Among the significant mentions in the Co-chair’s statement are an increasing heft for strategic and political cooperation. In the past, this was the weakest link in the India-ASEAN relationship, but is now becoming more focused. The India-ASEAN joint statement on maritime security at the last summit and the agreement for aligning the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) with the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) of India has been reiterated as a good framework which requires further movement. Singapore and Indonesia stepped forward to participate in the IPOI programmes; the EAM invited other ASEAN countries to also step forward to choose areas of cooperation

It was decided that India and ASEAN would hold a defence ministers’informal meeting, to be held alongside the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM)-plus in November 2022. India’s participation in the ADMM-plus has become more regular and this sets an important tone to the almost 30 other mechanisms which already exist. The agreement to do a joint maritime exercise between India and ASEAN as a whole is also a welcome step. Uptil now, India has been doing coordinated patrols with six ASEAN member states.

On the economic side, there was satisfaction that there is finally a forward movement in the India-ASEAN trade, which has crossed $100 billion. This requires much more attention and the creation of new supply chains which should be resilient and not China-dependent. This can be supplemented by a review of the ASEAN-India Agreement on Trade (AITIGA), which is overdue. Despite repeated calls for its early implementation, ASEAN bureaucratic processes are slow. But now it appears that the basic work to present the proposal to the ASEAN economic ministers later this year is complete. The review could actually start after that and, perhaps, be concluded by 2024.

The India-ASEAN upgraded FTA could be a game-changer within the Indo-Pacific region. Seven ASEAN countries, besides India, are part of the new IPEF. The RCEP, from which India withdrew, has not started with gusto. A revitalised AITIGA would compensate for any lost opportunities for engagement with ASEAN without necessarily bringing in the China factor.

ASEAN needs to understand this concern with China. It cannot become a conduit for Chinese goods into India. The EAM was quite clear in his remarks at the Delhi Dialogue that ASEAN would do well to understand India’s China policy, which was based on mutual respect, sensitivity and interests. He clearly said that what happens on the border will be reflected in the bilateral relationship with China. In this, India is not following the ASEAN template where economic relations are rapidly growing, even though China has gobbled up almost the entire South China Sea, including islands which were claimed by five ASEAN countries.

The main take-away from the Commemorative Ministerial meeting is that it did not make tall announcements or new funding mechanisms. It took stock, vowed to improve the realisation of goals and promoted confidence-building measures which will increase the strategic autonomy of both India and ASEAN in the region.


Top News

Swati Maliwal ‘assault’ case: Police seize DVR from Delhi CM Kejriwal’s house

Swati Maliwal ‘assault’ case: Police seize CCTV digital video recorder from Delhi CM Kejriwal’s house

Maliwal has alleged that CCTV footage of CM’s residence is b...

AAP leaders once sought justice for Nirbhaya, today they are supporting an accused: Swati Maliwal

'Had Sisodia been here, things wouldn't have been so bad for me', says AAP Rajya Sabha MP Swati Maliwal

'Party leaders once sought justice for Nirbhaya, today they ...

17-year-old rams speeding luxury car into bike in Maharashtra's Pune, 2 dead

17-year-old rams speeding luxury car into bike in Maharashtra's Pune, 2 dead

After knocking down the duo, the car crashed into the roadsi...


Cities

View All