Global Economy

India-ASEAN: Moving towards comprehensive strategic partnership


The year 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of dialogue relations between ASEAN and India. A relationship that started in early 1990s, with the inception of new global realities, now has turned into a robust, strategic partnership. In the sideline of the Special ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers Meeting in Delhi on 15 June, the Minister of External Affairs (MEA) in collaboration with the ASEAN-India Centre (AIC) at Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) organised the 12th Delhi Dialogue (DD XII).

Delhi Dialogue is India’s premier annual track 1.5 international conference bringing together dignitaries, senior officials, business leaders, scholars, academicians and eminent persons of India and ASEAN to discuss ways to further strengthen the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership. Launched in 2009, eleven editions of the Dialogue have been held so far and the 12th one just concluded on 16-17 June 2022. Over 200 participants including 16 leaders and senior officials and 50 senior research scholars and diplomats attended the 12th edition of the DD XII. DD XII’s theme was “Building Bridges in Indo-Pacific”. This is highly appropriate at a time when Indo-Pacific countries are coming together to build a rules-based global order, to bring climate sustainability and to strengthen lives and livelihoods.

Foreign policy dimensions have been changing fast, so also the agenda of Delhi Dialogues. DD XII had seven plenary sessions and one ministerial on contemporary issues of the Indo-Pacific. It was great show as well as a dialogue which had made a collective effort to bring scholars, practitioners, thinkers and diplomats together from India and Southeast Asia.

Indo-Pacific is an interconnected geography where ASEAN is at core. In recognition of the centrality of ASEAN in India’s Vision of the Indo-Pacific and in commemoration of the thirty years of ASEAN-India relations, the objective of the current edition of the Delhi Dialogue was to identify further areas of cooperation leading to further strengthening of the strategic partnership between India and ASEAN.

Both ASEAN and India believe that openness, inclusiveness, rules-based order, freedom of navigation and peaceful settlement of disputes lie at the very core of the Indo-Pacific. There is considerable convergence in both the Indian and the ASEAN conception of the Indo-Pacific. Both India and ASEAN emphasize connectivity in the Indo-Pacific and underline cooperation over rivalry. India is consciously working with ASEAN towards a vision of an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific in tandem with initiatives such as the Act East Policy (AEP), and Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), to ensure Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). India and some of the ASEAN countries are also members of the recently launched the IPEF.

What the Indian Foreign Minister said at the special ASEAN-India ministerial: “Under the current global uncertainties, as we review our journey of the last 30 years and chart our path for the coming decades, it is important that we identify a new set of priorities while ensuring the early realization of our ongoing initiatives.” This DD XII has come out with new agenda and a set of recommendations. Today’s DD XII has opened up fresh and contextual perspectives on ASEAN-India relations

The Covid-19 pandemic has seriously impacted the economies of Indo-Pacific. Challenges have multiplied manifold but it has also opened up new opportunities for cooperation. The international community is now more concerned about sustainability, environment, healthcare, digital connectivity, cyber security, resilient global and regional value chains and education. Dr Prabir De, who was coordinating the DDXII, told us “Building Bridges in the Indo-Pacific at such a challenging time is aimed to pave the way for deeper integration by narrowing the differences between the nations. In this Delhi Dialogue, speakers from the ASEAN member states and India shared their perspectives on these crucial issues together and discussed the most pressing challenges of our time.”

In Indo-Pacific region, the value lies in its core underlying idea which is that it is predominantly maritime in nature and is also the centre of geo-politics. Concept of competition, control and conflict is not seen to work here. Land boundaries could be easily demarcated, but such is not the case in case of oceans. Sea is life line of trade and 50 per cent of global trade passes through Indo-Pacific. Free, open and inclusive seas are important. Transnational nature of challenges and no nation can tackle them alone given their maritime geography.Cooperation is the only way forward. Problems of land spill over to the seas and inter- and intra- land disputes are major challenges. While attending the DDXII, Admiral R HariKumar, Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) said “Maritime security is becoming a collective responsibility. Terrorism at sea, drugs, smuggling, natural disasters etc. affect all in the region. Maritime security may include coordinated patrols, bilateral and multilateral excises.” ASEAN and India need to inculcate habits of cooperation by forward leaning and strengthen institutional mechanisms

Prevention of regional hegemony to maintain peace and stability is needed. Ambassador Pou Sothirak said “Dialogue on hard security issues should be initiated by India.” Common interests should be promoted rather than focusing on individual visions. Collective dialogue is required. Synergy is required for expanding cooperation between India and ASEAN.

India does not see Indo-Pacific a club of limited members but sees it as an inclusive region. Extended global supply chains have crumbled due to pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine. The post-pandemic lessons has impacted humanity all across the globe as there was a disruption of all nature (supply side, food, vulnerabilities, health care etc.,) and Ukraine crisis has called for nationalism and protectionism Cooperation in Indo-Pacific can help in this regard.

Makato Kojima suggested that we should ensure the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region, it is vital to maintain or bolster its free and open maritime order. The pandemic necessitates the need to think about alternate supply chains, connectivity and infrastructure development.Therefore, strengthening regional/physical connectivity (India – ASEAN, Indo-Pacific) is a prominent link for development.Enhancing policy prioritization for sustainable finance and growth through five key enablers, namely, resilience building, market solutions and development, infrastructural enablers, capacity building and broad stakeholder collaboration is essential

Roland Rajah of Lowey Institute said “India – ASEAN partnership has strategic importance in the Indo-Pacific region and the regions also require Regional Trading arrangements.”Building back stronger from the pandemic requires both factor market reforms and banking sector reforms. Both of the reforms are institutionally and politically difficult in certain ways. “However, climate change reforms (green structural reforms) along with digitalization/possibilities that digitalization provides need big push.” said Sabyasachi Kar, Professor at the IEG.

ASEAN and India should continue with facilitation of trade, investment and value chains in the post-pandemic recovery and rebuilding. “China Plus One approach on diversification of trade, resilient supply chain has now become an intrinsic part. Resilience is an important component of international trade” said by Rajeev Kher, Former Commerce Secretary. QUAD started as a security formation is now infused with economic content, and the IPEF launched by the US has gained centre stage. Special remarks was delivered byASEAN Secretary General Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi. There is a need to make the market open and make use of non-tariff options to boost exports, make movement of goods made easyand ultimately promote trade in the region.

Trade hostilities between some countries are likely to increase. Dato Ramesh Kodamal, Co-chair, AIBC said “ASEAN-India FTA has not been reviewed for the last 10 years, and the review is needed for trade to move forward”.“Resilient supply chains are needed for resilient future.Australia imports around 90 per cent of medicines and therefore becomes vulnerable in case of a supply chain disruption.” said by Dipen Rughani, Founder and CEO of Sydney-based Newland Global Group.

Global order is changing very fast. There is a change in the global governance of power, which has disrupted or set a push back against globalization due to some extent. The political will is strong. Asia – Pacific order may slowly but surely be giving way to the Indo – Pacific. Union Minister of State Rajeev Chandrasekhar said “India’s Digital India Programmeacted well as a response to the pandemic. Therefore Digital Economy, Digital Cooperation and Digital Partnership which ensures quality, depth, longevity and sustainability is crucial.”

ASEAN-India digital partnership is important as a link to trade-security partnership. There are tremendous opportunities for Indian and ASEAN countries to capitalize in tech as the future of tech is real. “Indo-Pacific countries require investments in building the digital infrastructure and services to more inclusiveness across counties within country too.” said by Mana Sothichak of the Lao PDR. Telecommunications play a significant role in shaping the digital financial architecture. The TCIL is working on two important digital initiatives like e – vidya bharathi and e – arogya bharathifunded by MEA.

Renewable sources provide the cheapest energy and we need cost effective storage. Indo-Pacific region has the potential for energy growth. Energy is the prime contributor for all activities, speed and scale needs to be present in making a transition to renewable energy. Union Minister of Power, New & Renewable Energy R K Singh said “Energy is essential for growth and development is not possible without energy”.

Development requires carbon space for the developing countries. India is working towards providing energy to all. Energy trade is present with all neighbouring countries including Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and energy trade is expected to happen with Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

India and ASEAN need to collaborate on energy transition,where countries share similarities in both potential and challenges. India has already taken steps towards solar energy with the ISA and initiative of One World One Sun One Grid (OWOSOG). ASEAN

has huge potential in line with India’s initiative OWOSOG. At the same time, monetary and capacity building collaboration are required.

Energy insecurity, food insecurity, water insecurity coastal flooding, urban heat stress and wildfires are likely to be major issues. Build bridge between India-ASEAN to adapt to climate change and mitigation. “Indo Pacific is a high-risk region and need to turn to green sources is required.” said by Hezri Adnan, Executive Director of Kuala Lumpur-based think-tank MIER, International cooperation is required in the field of energy such as ASEAN-India Green Fund and ISA initiatives.

India and ASEAN has taken initiative towards achieving Net Zero targets in the last COP26. India’s ranking in climate change performance has improved since 2014 because of greater investment in renewable energy. India and ASEAN must aim to realign their energy, innovation and trade policies. Establishing solar and green hydrogen value chains is another feasible option. Thuta Aung, Executive Chairman of the The Mandalay Forum for East Asian Studies said “Solution for next 10 years should be based around Crafting Climate Cooperatives”.

It is necessary for the public and private sector of ASEAN, India, and East Asia to “Work together” to the improvement of environment for digitalization. The technical issues in materializing the ASEAN – India cooperation fund have to be streamlined.

In his Special Remarks by SA Vigneswaran, Malaysian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to India and South Asia said “There is a need for India to cooperate with ASEAN. ASEAN-India One Stop Information Gateway may be set up for addressing concerns of the MSMEs. Implementation of activities should be done through ASEAN parliamentarians also to make it more effective”. Malaysia is with India in building deeper partnership with ASEAN as well as Indo-Pacific.

In his Valedictory Address, Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, Union Minister of State of External Affairs and Education said “Need to work on ways to develop suggestions into tangible outcomes”. In the middle of global challenges, ASEAN-India partnership is a source of balance and harmony in the system.Nonetheless, India must deliver more through the comprehensive strategic partnership, which has been adopted at the special meeting of ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers.



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