International Relation between India and ASEAN

International Relation India-ASEAN

International Relation between India and ASEAN

India’s relationship with ASEAN is a key pillar of it’s foreign policy and the up-gradation of the relationship into a Strategic Partnership 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. Commerce, Culture and Connectivity are the three pillars of India’s robust engagement with ASEAN. Under the ‘Act East Policy’, India not only expected to bolster its economic engagements with the region; it yearned to emerge as a potential security balancer as well.

The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises of Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. India’s focus on a strengthened and multi-faceted relationship with ASEAN is an outcome of the significant changes in the world’s political and economic scenario since the early 1990s and India’s own march towards economic liberalization. India’s search for economic space resulted in the ‘Look East Policy’, which has today matured into a dynamic and action oriented ‘Act East Policy.



India’s relationship with ASEAN has not always been close. The geopolitics of the Cold War placed ASEAN and India in opposing ideological blocs. The formation of ASEAN itself was viewed by India as a U.S. measure to contain communism, which was on the rise due to the spillover from the Vietnam War.

India’s friendship treaty with the Soviet Union in 1971, its stance on the Vietnam War, its recognition of Hang Samrin’s regime in Kampuchea (Cambodia), its vehement criticism of the American presence in Diego Garcia, India’s Peaceful Nuclear Explosion of 1974 have created fissures in the already tense ASEAN-India relationship.

ASEAN and India had similar interest on the issue of the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) in the Indian Ocean Region and India had modest bilateral relations with a selected few ASEAN countries in the economic sphere. Throughout the Cold War era, ASEAN-India relations were dominated by tensions and mutual suspicion on both sides. The long unfriendly relationship was an opportunities due to political mistrust, economic inconsequentiality, and occasional military threats.

Changes in strategic factors like the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the parallel forces of globalizations and regionalization, the rise of China, isolation at the international level, rising balance of payment crisis, the Asian Financial Crisis etc. has changed India’s perception regarding the value of regional organizations and compelled India to move to actively engage in regional organizations.

Prime Minister Narasimha Rao begin India’s Look East policy and in 1992, India became a dialogue partner across limited sectors in ASEAN; it achieved the status of full dialogue partnership in 1995. The next year, India was given the opportunity to appear in the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) and became a full member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Since then, ASEAN-India relations have continued to mature, apart from the brief period of 1997-2001, when events like India’s nuclear tests and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 saw a marginal dip in engagement.

The year 2017, India and ASEAN are observing 25 years of their Dialogue Partnership, 15 years of Summit Level interaction and 5 years of Strategic Partnership, which would culminate in a Commemorative Summit on the theme “Shared Values, Common Destiny” on 25 January 2018.


Geo-Political Security: Geo-Politico security cooperation is a key cause of the mutual relation. Rising export of terror, growing radicalization through ideology of hatred, and spread of extreme violence define the landscape of common security threats to our societies. India has been attending annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) since 1996 and has actively participated in its various activities. The ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) is the highest defence consultative and cooperative mechanism in ASEAN. The ADMM+ brings together Defence Ministers from the 10 ASEAN nations plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States on a biannual basis.


Economic Cooperation: India-ASEAN trade and investment relations have been growing steadily, with ASEAN being India’s fourth largest trading partner. India’s two-way trade with ASEAN now stands at approximately $76 billion and India is also a part of the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which, if implemented, will cover almost 40 percent of the total world trade. The ASEAN-India Free Trade Area has been completed with the entering into force of the ASEAN-India Agreements on Trade in Service and Investments on 1 July 2015.

India’s export to ASEAN has increased to US$ 31 billion in 2016-17 against India’s import from ASEAN of US$ 40.63 billion in 2016-17.

Investment from ASEAN to India accounting for 12% of investment flows into India since 2000. FDI outflows from India to ASEAN countries, from April 2007 to March 2015, was about US$38 billion.


Connectivity: ASEAN-India connectivity is a priority for India as also the ASEAN countries. In 2013, India became the third dialogue partner of ASEAN to initiate an ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee-India Meeting. While India has made considerable progress in implementing the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Project, issues related to increasing the maritime and air connectivity between ASEAN and India and transforming the corridors of connectivity into economic corridors are under discussion. A possible extension to India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam is also under consideration. A consensus on finalising the proposed protocol of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicle Agreement (IMT MVA) has been reached. This agreement will have a critical role in realizing seamless movement of passenger, personal and cargo vehicles along roads linking India, Myanmar and Thailand.


ASEAN-India Projects: India has been cooperating with ASEAN by way of implementation of various projects in the fields of Agriculture, Science & Technology, Space, Environment & Climate Change, Human Resource Development, Capacity Building, New and Renewable Energy, Tourism, People-to-People contacts and Connectivity etc.

Space Project envisaging establishment of a Tracking, Data Reception/Data Processing Station in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and upgradation of Telemetry Tracking and Command Station in Biak, Indonesia; Setting up of Centres of Excellence in Software Development & Training in CLMV countries; e-Network for provision of tele-medicine and tele-education in CLMV countries, Quick Impact Projects in CLMV etc.


Strategic Role

The rise of China has compelled India to put forth its best efforts to engage with ASEAN as a regional grouping. The ASEAN countries have always looked to India for balancing against China. For India to be a regional power as it claims to be, continuing to enhance its relations with ASEAN in all spheres must be a priority.

India has attempted to demonstrate its ability to play a dynamic role in the region. India sent a strong signal to China by mentioning the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, respecting United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).


Significance to India

ASEAN countries, particularly Myanmar, Vietnam & Malaysia can potentially contribute to India’s energy security. The highly underdeveloped NE States of India, which lie at the gateway to a region offering unlimited economic opportunities, will witness an economic transformation.

Trade between India and ASEAN comprises 10.12% of India’s total trade with the world. Conclusion of a balanced Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement will further boost our trade and investment ties with the region. Cooperation in areas such as maritime security including freedom of navigation, drug trafficking and cyber-crime.

With ‘Make in India’ emerging as a key campaign for manufacturing, developing new global value chains in partnership with the economies of ASEAN would bring benefits to both sides. India is also expected to play a significant role in upholding the security and stability of the region, which India needs to get ready for.


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a regional intergovernmental organisation comprising ten Southeast Asian countries which promotes Pan-Asianism and intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, security, military, educational and socio-cultural integration amongst its members and other Asian countries.
  • Since its formation on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, the organisation’s membership has expanded to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
  • Its principal aims include accelerating economic growth, social progress, and sociocultural evolution among its members, alongside the protection of regional stability and the provision of a mechanism for member countries to resolve differences peacefully.
  • ASEAN member countries covers a land area of 4.4 million square kilometres, 3% of the total land area of Earth. Their territorial waters important in terms of sea lanes and fisheries.
  • Member countries have a combined population of approximately 640 million people, 8.8% of the world’s population.
  • The Group’s combined nominal GDP is more than USD $2.8 trillion, making it the sixth largest economic entity in the world.
  • Due to its global influence and regional success, ASEAN has been credited as one of the world’s most successful and influential organisations, and an “emerging powerhouse”.
  • ASEAN created the first regional community in Asia, an achievement hailed as “Asian miracle” by many, and serves as an international role model of seeking strength and harmony among countries of diversity and differences.
  • The organisation’s ASEAN Plus Six mechanism is the main foundation of East Asian Community and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest economic bloc.
  • ASEAN is an official United Nations Observer, as well as an active global partner.

Membership: 10 states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam )

Observers: 2 ( Papua New Guinea and East Timor Timor Leste)

ASEAN Plus Six: 10 ASEAN countries and six coutries viz. India, Australia, New Zealand, People’s Republic of China, Japan, and South Korea.