The Diplomatist, Vol. 2, No. 9, September 2014
M. Mayilvaganan, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies
India’s engagement with ASEAN is flourishing to new heights today, owing to the changing geopolitics in the region, India’s maritime interest and its quest for securing access to natural resources and freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. India’s current vibrant Look East Policy (LEP) seeks to reinforce its ties with states in the Asia-Pacific, much beyond the intention of LEP that was initiated in 1991 by former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. After the end of the Cold War and the launch of economic reforms, New Delhi essentially aimed to reintegrate India, economically and culturally, with South East Asia (SEA). This led to a major strategic shift in India’s foreign policy objectives, as traditionally till then New Delhi looked westwards in spite of its long-established historical and cultural ties with the region. Gradually, increased trade and commerce between India and ASEAN, which later expanded to Japan, South Korea and Australia, contributed significantly to the expansion of defence and security ties. As a result, relations between India and the region have acquired new strategic and security characteristics in recent years.
The breadth and intensity of India’s engagement with South East Asia and East Asia today is considerably unparalleled by any of its other regional relationships. Several institutionalised annual summits, ministerial consultations and intensive engagement across governments and programmes between private sectors, academia, and media are cases in point. However, there are some pertinent questions with regard to India’s rising relations with the region such as: How does India perceive itself in the regional scene? What are India’s main strategic concerns? Is it ready to assume the role of security provider in the region?