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India-ASEAN Summit: India Showcasing The “Act East” Strategy”

India-ASEAN
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Andrew Korybko |

Next week’s India-ASEAN Summit is expected to showcase New Delhi’s “Act East” strategy of engagement with the regional bloc as Prime Minister Modi courts allies in his country’s bid to compete with China. The Indian capital will host all 10 ASEAN leaders on 25 January, and the day afterwards they’ll all unprecedentedly be present as chief guests for the country’s Republic Day parade in a strongly symbolic move demonstrating the importance that India places on this relationship.

India has enjoyed ancient civilizational ties with the countries of Southeast Asia for millennia, and it’s only natural that it’s becoming more active in restoring these long-lost relationships that were abruptly disrupted by colonialism. New Delhi isn’t just interested in reviving historical interest in this subject on the people-to-people level, but has a forward-looking vision for taking everything further on the state-to-state one by embracing a slew of connectivity projects.

As India grows into a “global power”, as “Israeli” Prime Minister Netanyahu heralded it as during his six-day trip to the country earlier this week, it’ll inevitably expand its influence into ASEAN and enter into strategic competition with China.

India recently rebranded its former “Look East” strategy of ASEAN engagement to “Act East” in emphasizing the country’s proactive intentions, and the flagship project of this strategy is the Trilateral Highway between itself, Myanmar, and Thailand in eventually linking together the South and Southeast Asian mainland economic cores.

Read more: APEC signals US’ waning influence in Asia

India announced last year that it will be joining forces with its Japanese ally to unveil the so-called “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor”, also known as the “Freedom Corridor”, which might see New Delhi participate in Tokyo-led projects connecting the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea. Therein lays the unstated bone of contention with China, however, since Beijing’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity seeks to redirect all trading routes through the People’s Republic in one way or another, and the Indo-Japanese “Freedom Corridor” stands to challenge that right on China’s own doorstep.

New Delhi isn’t just interested in reviving historical interest in this subject on the people-to-people level, but has a forward-looking vision for taking everything further on the state-to-state.

Moreover, India’s “Act East” strategy isn’t just limited to the socio-economic realm but also has a very real military component such as its reported missile relationship with Vietnam. On top of that, India is in talks with Vietnam over investing in offshore energy deposits located in contested South China Sea territory, something that Beijing vehemently objects to but at the moment appears to be unable to stop.

Read more: Is India eyeing to become a new power in Asia Pacific?

As India grows into a “global power”, as “Israeli” Prime Minister Netanyahu heralded it as during his six-day trip to the country earlier this week, it’ll inevitably expand its influence into ASEAN and enter into strategic competition with China, though it’s too early to say whether the nature of their rivalry in this realm will remain “friendly” or not.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, journalist and a regular contributor to several online journals, as well as a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia.


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