India has strived for strengthening its relationship with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprising of Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. The upgradation of India entering into a Strategic Partnership with ASEAN in 2012 was a natural progression to the ground covered since India became a Sectoral Partner of the ASEAN in 1992, Dialogue Partner in 1996 and Summit Level Partner in 2002.
The Look East Policy of India has now developed into the Act East Policy and this was once again witnessed during the 16th ASEAN India Summit which was held on 3rd November 2019 which was chaired by General Prayut Chan-o-cha (Ret.), Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand. The Summit was attended by all Heads of State/Government of ASEAN Member States and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Secretary-General of ASEAN also attended the Summit.
At the 16th ASEAN India Summit, Indian PM Narendra Modi remarked that ASEAN was at the core of India’s Act East Policy and that an integrated, organized and economically developing ASEAN was in India’s basic interest. Modi called for strengthening India-ASEAN partnership in the areas of maritime security, blue economy and humanitarian aid. To quote the Indian PM “1 welcome the mutual coordination of the Indo-Pacific Outlook between India and ASEAN. India’s Act East Policy is an important part of our Indo-Pacific vision. ASEAN is and always will be the heart of our Act East Policy. Integrated, organized and economically developing ASEAN is in India’s basic interest. We are committed to further strengthen our partnership through stronger surface, maritime and air-connectivity and digital-link. $ 1 billion line of credit will be useful for physical and digital connectivity. Our intention is to greatly increase the traffic of people for study, research, trade and tourism”.
India and ASEAN reaffirmed their commitment to continue the implementation of the Delhi Declaration, as the outcome of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit to mark the 25th Anniversary of ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations in January 2018, in order to further strengthen and deepen the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership in the coming years.
Both India and ASEAN expressed satisfaction at the implementation of the Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity (2016-2020) which lays out priorities and measures to be undertaken by both sides to further deepen and enhance their political-security, economic and socio-cultural ties as well as to realise the full potential of the ASEAN-India strategic partnership in all areas of common interests. The 16th Summit also looked forward to a new Plan of Action (2021-2025) as a guiding document to further enhance ASEAN-India cooperation in areas of mutual interest, and continue bringing about tangible benefits to the peoples of both sides as well as contributing to the promotion of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.
During the 16th Summit, ASEAN Leaders appreciated India’s active participation and positive contribution to ASEAN-led mechanisms, including the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus).
India and ASEAN agreed to continue utilising these mechanisms to effectively respond to traditional and non-traditional security challenges. Both recognised the threat terrorism posed to global peace and emphasized the need to enhance ASEAN-India collaborative efforts in countering terrorism, radicalization, violent extremism, and transnational crimes.
The 16th ASEAN India Summit also stressed on the importance of maritime cooperation and reaffirmed the commitment to strengthen ASEAN-India maritime cooperation through existing relevant ASEAN-led mechanisms. The Summit took note of the successful convening of the 3rd ASEAN-India Workshop on Blue Economy on 12 September 2019 in Bangkok, which facilitated the exchange of knowledge and experience between ASEAN and India on recent developments and enhanced cooperation in the Blue Economy relating to the sustainable use of marine resources, maritime connectivity and diplomacy and looked forward to continued cooperation in this area.
India and AEAN have developed robust economic relations. Two-way merchandise trade between ASEAN and India grew by 9.8 per cent from 73.6 billion USD in 2017 to 80.8 billion USD in 2018. The recovery of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows from India in 2018, amounting to 1.7 billion USD, placed India as ASEAN’s sixth largest trading partner and sixth largest source of FDI among ASEAN Dialogue Partners.
On socio-cultural cooperation, the Summit expressed its appreciation for India’s initiative to provide 1,000 PhD scholarships to ASEAN students in the area of technology. The Meeting also discussed cooperation on youth and women empowerment, human capital development, smart cities network, as well as cooperation to address transboundary environmental challenges, climate change, and disaster management.