News India Times January 26, 2018 6 Cover Story – that’s all you need to know After taking office, Modi took a pro- active approach to ASEAN. The country's search for economic space with the 1990s liberalization resulted in the ‘Look East Policy.’ That policy has today matured into a dynamic and action oriented ‘Act East Policy' articulated by Modi at the 12th ASEAN India Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar's new capital, in November, 2014, just months into his administration. WALKING THE TALK While India will not be a member of ASEAN, it is trying to build relations at the institutional level and the individual coun- try level, Dhume notes. Important change elements in India's ASEAN relationship had already been jumpstarted by the Modi administration, noted Gupta. By making the ASEAN policy pro-active, New Delhi stands to reap benefits way beyond the more incremental pace of the past, he said, adding, "The strategy itself is not new but has a new invigorated focus." For instance, Modi has traveled far more extensively in the region than Indian lead- ers before him, and with more clearly tar- geted economic objectives. "Even though India has for a long time talked about it (engaging Southeast Asia), now it is finally walking the talk," Gupta said. India-ASEAN trade and investment rela- tions have been growing steadily, with ASEAN being India's fourth largest trading partner. Bilateral trade stood at approxi- mately US$ 76.53 billion in 2014-15. India's imports from ASEAN are higher by several billions than its exports to the region in recent years, which reality may explain Modi's focus on the economics of the relationship. According to an analysis by Pyaralal Raghavan in the Times of India, India’s exports to ASEAN were up significantly in the initial years -- $18.1 billion in 2009-10 to $ 33.1 billion in 2013-14. But they fell to $ 25.1 billion in 2015-16. The share of Indian exports to ASEAN rose to as high as 16.9% by 2012-13, but dropped to it has 9.5% by 2015-16. Foreign Direct Investment has also not been in India's favor, MEA figures show. Gupta recommends India be even more engaged economically than before, with the region, and promotes APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping, as one of the solutions. The 21-member APEC stretches all the way from Southeast Asia to Peru, taking in seven ASEAN members and major economies including Australia, China, Russia, Japan, Canada and the United States. Dhume on the other hand, contends APEC is a complex relationship and the more appropriate organization where India can get results is RCEP or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership of which India is a member. The RCEP also includes all the ASEAN members and Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand and aims at equalizing eco- nomic disparities and broadening and deepening engagement in the economic development of the region, the RCEP web- site states. ENERGIZING DIPLOMACY Dhume lauded the policy vigor adopted by New Delhi in more recent years. "Looking toward East Asia is more an example of how the Modi administration has energized Indian diplomacy. It is a symbol of greater ambition. This is a ques- tion of trying to do more in this region, not that theWest has become less important," says Dhume. Modi has ratcheted up this relationship even as President Donald Trump put India front and center in the Asian power equa- tion, renaming the region "Indo-Pacific" from the older "Asia-Pacific" in Washington's strategy. Washington now wants to develop a quadrilateral alliance in the region with India, Australia and Japan. A stronger relationship with the U.S. gives India a strong hand to play with ASEAN, becauseWashington remains the dominant power in Asia, and ASEAN looks to the U.S. for direction. "IfWashington indicates a larger role for India, it strengthens India's hand," Dhume opines. Gupta reverses the equation. India's current assertiveness vis-a-vis ASEAN, strong positions it has taken even in areas where personal interests are not so directly connected, is a result of its own strong eco- nomic growth, Gupta contends. "India's more confident and engaged outlook and strong economy has led other countries (including the U.S.), to include it in their strategic equation," contends Gupta. One outcome isWashington switching terminology in its strategic vision to "Indo Pacific" from "Asia Pacific" changing the frame of reference and "sud- denly making India the anchor rather than the peripheral country in the region," Gupta said. Yet, while India has begun the process, it needs to play a more active role in Asia and South East Asia, and express its own positions and principles as it has begun doing on wanting "open" seas and the rule of law to govern the seas. All this is transpiring in the backdrop of increasingly aggressive postures adopted by the Chinese leadership in the region, which worry nations of ASEAN and others. Despite this posturing both in the oceans and on India's land border, New Delhi's strong position open oceans and the rule of law, harkens to an independ- ence and strength, an awareness that appeasing China seldom assures a positive outcome, Gupta notes. Meanwhile, alongside the development of the "Quad" alliance proposed and initi- ated by the U.S. last year, hovers in the background, and shows a yearning for reviving an idea that appeared to have died in 2007, Gupta says. Continued From Page 5 Eastward, Ho! Reuters Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) meets Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. By Ela Dutt I ndia's 25-year relationship with ASEAN, an organization that was founded in 1967, could be counted among its foreign policy successes. Based on concrete five-year "Plan(s) of Action" under the rubric of "Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity," the latest being the 2016-2020 plan, the relationship covers political and security concerns, eco- nomic, socio-cultural cooperation, con- nectivity and a host of other areas. India's relationship with ASEAN dates back to 1992, growing frommere- ly a "sectoral" dialogue to a "full" dia- logue partnership in December 1995. The relationship was further elevated with the convening of the ASEAN-India Summit in 2002 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, from when the ASEAN-India Summit has been held annually. "All these took place in a decade, which clearly signifies the importance of the dialogue partnership to ASEAN and India and the progress made in the cooperation," the organization says on its website. At the 13th ASEAN-India Summit held in Kuala Lumpur in November 2015, the ASEAN leaders welcomed Modi's “Act East Policy” and noted the initiatives potentially complemented their own efforts. "Economics is more important than culture for these young economies - looking to build jobs, and interested in trade and manufacturing," said Sadanand Dhume, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Modi mirrored the goals expressed by ASEAN leaders -- economics was his focus as well. "The substance of our strategic part- nership covers all three major segments of ASEAN activities-security, economic and socio-cultural. And, the ASEAN India Plan of Action for the period 2016-2020 has served us well in fulfill- ing our objectives. We have already implemented 54 out of 130 activities identified in the Plan of Action," Modi said in his 2016 address to ASEAN lead- ers. "Enhancing connectivity in all its dimensions- physical, digital, econom- ic, institutional and cultural-is at the heart of India’s strategic partnership with ASEAN. And, readiness to link our economic success, and share develop- ment experiences with ASEAN nations, especially the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam) countries, drives our engagement," Modi asserted. ASEAN-India Relationship Built On Measurable Plans Of Action