India’s Look East Policy

Look East Policy UPSC

The disintegration of Soviet Union, the end of cold war, the intensification of the process of the globalization, liberalization and privatization led to the fundamental changes in the global political and economic architecture. The demise of communist economies of Soviet and other East European countries led to the final victory of capitalist path of development anchored on the ideology of neo-liberalism. It prompted the famous commentator Francis Fukuyama to term this victory as the ‘End of History’. Politically, the US remained as the only super power of the world, though the emergence of certain other countries like china, Germany and Japan was also visible. While the end of cold war eased global tensions on old issues and some of them like end of apartheid, nuclear arms race etc were even resolved, some of the new problems like the US hegemony and weakening the UN mandate ernerged. The new global economic and political conditions had deep .impact on the domestic and foreign policies of global actors. The inter¬state relations were drastically restructured. India was no exception to it. In domestic front, India initiated massive programme of economic liberalization, with the twin objectives of achieving rapid economic growth and close integration with the global economy. In external front too, it brought about major changes in the content as well as direction of her foreign policy. These are: shaking of cold war ideological hangover with greater pragmatism, developing close relations with the US and launching the Look East policy for closer engagement with the East Asia and South-East Asia. Thus, the Look East policy, initiated in 1991 by the then Prime Minister Narsimha Rao is the product of the post-cold war global conditions. The main objectives of this policy are: to develop close economic as well as strategic relations with the countries of this region and to avail better opportunities of market, capital and technology for the rapid and sustained economic, growth of the country This policy has been implemented in two phase so far. The first phases of this policy covers the period from 1991 to 2003. During this phase the policy mainly focused on the development of trade and investment linkages with the members of ASEAN. The Second phase of this policy covers the period from 2003 to the present. During this phase the content as well as the reach of this policy has been expanded in the sense that now it focuses on both the ASEAN as well as non-ASEAN countries of East Asia. Again, besides economic relations, it is equally focused on the deepening of the strategic relations in this region. It is a well known fact of history that India had developed close cultural and religious links with the countries of South-East Asia and East Asia during ancient period. Since the 6th century BC, Buddhism has flourished in many countries of the region like Tibet, Thailand, Myanmar, Japan and Korea. Hindu religious myths and symbols are very popular in Indonesia. During Middle ages, Indian kings gained influence in this region as the Hindu temples of Barabadur in Java, Indonesia and Angkorvat temple in Cambodia bear testimony to it. The trade and commercial relations also flourished between India and the countries of this region during ancient and medieval times as culture follows the trade routes. In modern times, Japan displayed a sympathetic attitude towards Indian freedom struggle. The India National Army, organized by Subhash Chandra Bose with the help of Japan, fought British forces during the World War II with the military assistance of Japanese forces. There always remained a sense of Asian Solidarity during the period of colonialism as Indians rejoiced the victory of Japanese forces against Russian Army in 1905, which was a European power. The Indian cultural Ambassador Rabindranath Tagore visited many countries of this region like Korea, Japan, and Indonesia and left a deep impression on the people of these countries. After the independence, India made serious efforts to consolidate the feeling of Asian Solidarity India organized the two Asian Relations Conferences in 1947 and 1949 with this objective. The second Conference demanded the liberation of Indonesia. During Korean War,1950-53, India played a significant role not only in resolving the conflict, but also in proving humanitarian assistance. In 1955, during Bandung Conference, India played a leading role in cultivating Afro-Asian unity. However, with an impressive record of close historical relations, India could not cultivate close relations with the countries of this region for many, decades. Thus , the moot question remains as to why India failed to develop close relations with the countries of this region during long period of cold war. The answer to this question lies in the cold war politics of this region during 1950-1990. period. After the end of World War II, the cold war between the US bloc and the Soviet bloc gradually engulfed all regions and issues of international politics. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, the US emerged as the resident power in this region. It developed close military ties with Thailand, S Korea, Philippines and Japan, established military bases in Japan and Philippines, and established a military alliance, SEATO in 1954, all in an effort to contain the Soviet communist influence in the region. Thus, the Truman Doctrine was implemented in the South East Asia also. The formation of ASEAN in 1967 was also viewed as the anti-communist design in the region. On the other hand, India followed the policy of Non-alignment, which was independent of Super Power rivalry. However, in the subsequent years, particularly after the Indo – Pak war of 1971, Indian policy was perceived to have made a tilt towards Soviet Union. In these circumstances India had neither the desire nor the opportunity to develop close relations with the countries of this region, dominated by American influence. Thus the logic of cold war dictated the nature of India’s relations as well as involvement in this region. It is in this background that the end of cold war in early 1990s opened new opportunities before India to restructure her relations in this region. The search for better trade and economic opportunities as well as India’s desire to play a greater role in the global affairs also prompted India to seek greater involvement in this region. It was in this background that India launched its Look East Policy in 1991.The vigorous implementation of this policy in the last two decades demonstrates that the policy has three broad dimensions:

  1. Efforts to develop broad economic and strategic relations with ASEAN as an emerging group of nations.
  2. Making sub-regional initiatives like BIMSTEC or MEKONG¬-GANGA Cooperation for developing close ties with countries at sub-regional level.
  3. Consolidating bilateral relationship with the non-ASEAN countries of this region, particularly Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

India and ASEAN

With the exception of European Union, ASEAN is the most successful example of economic cooperation at regional level. It was established in 1967 by the five countries of the region under the Treaty of Bangkok, signed by Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore on 8 August, 1967. At present, there are 10 members in ASEAN. In addition to the above five members, Brunei joined in 1984,Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar ii 1997 and Cambodia joined in 1999. The Bangkok Declaration, 1967 outlined the following four objectives of ASEAN:

  • To Promote economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the member countries
  • To ensure peace and stability in the region
  • To Provide a, forum for the discussion and peaceful resolution of differences among member countries
  • To promote. cooperation among member states in economic, social and cultural fields.

For a decade or so after its establishment, ASEAN was not active due to the Vietnam war 1973-76 and resulting tensions and uncertainties in the region. It organized its first summit in Bali, Indonesia in Feb. 1976 to lay down the framework for cooperation in the region. The Treaty of Amity and cooperation (TAC) and the CONCORD-1 signed during this summit framed certain fundamental principles for the mutual cooperation and stability in the region. These principle guide even today the distinct approach of ASEAN to regional cooperation and often referred as the ASEAN Way. The ASEAN Way is characterized by the following norms and principles:

  1. Mutual respect for the sovereignty, national identity, equality and territorial integrity of all nations
  2. Non-interference in the internal affairs of each other
  3. Settlement of mutual differences and disputes by peaceful means
  4. Right of every member to lead its national life without external subversion or coercion
  5. Cooperation among the member states
  6. Refraining from use of threat or use of force against each other

indiaasean It should be noted that these principles underlying the ASEAN Way have helped the AEAN to isolate itself from bilateral, domestic and regional tensions and differences and to focus its energy on launching a viable process of regional cooperation. This is the secret Of the relative success of AEAN to achieve its objectives. After the end of cold war, ASIAN also intensified its efforts for regional cooperation and integration. It has expanded its membership, and activities as well as regional reach in the post-cold war era of globalized world. It expanded its activities in the field of security cooperation and community building efforts with the help of new mechanisms. ASEAN Regional Forum was created in 1994 to discuss security related issues in the region. India is the founder member of East Asia Summit, which was launched in 2005 to start the community building process in East Asia. India takes active part in the annual East Asia Summits held along with ASEAN Annual Summits. Both the US and Russia has also been included in the East Asia Summit in 2010. It expanded its regional reach also by developing regional and bilateral linkages with other countries and groups, which have major role to play in the peace, prosperity and stability in the region. Both ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit are driven by ASEAN and all three together may be termed as ASEAN System. The improvement in relations between India and ASEAN are the core element of India’s Look East Policy, 1991. The Indian Premier made a successful visit of this region in 1992 and India became a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN in the same year. The status of India was elevated to the full dialogue partner in 1995. There was a temporary setback to expanding relations as the US, Japan and other leading counties imposed sanctions against India in reaction to the nuclear tests conducted by her in 1998.The ASEAN became reluctant as its member follow the US ,line in strategic matters. In fact, the ASEAN was founded as a check to the spread of communism in East Asia. Its activities and functioning have been influenced by the logic of cold war politics and resulting regional problems. As the US and Japan lifted sanctions against India in 2000, the prospects for cooperation between India and ASEAN became brighter. In 2002, both decide to hold regular annual Summit meetings to strengthen the mutual cooperation. Since 2000, nine annual Summit meetings have been held between the two. Usua4ly these meetings are held at the same place• and time where annual ASEAN summits are organized. The Ninth Indo-ASEAN Summit was held at Bali, Indonesia in October, 2011. The 10th anniversary India-ASEAN Summit is scheduled to be held 2012 for the first time in India. In the past one decade, both have expanded the areas of cooperation in such fields as trade, investment, security culture, tourism and science and technology The bilateral trade between India and ASEAN was $2.9 billion in 2001, which reached to.$ 43 billion in 2009-10.Trade between India and ASEAN increased by 24 percent in 2010 and reached to $51 billion in 2011. Both have decided to increase the bilateral trade to $70 billion by the year, 2015.The total foreign direct investment from ASEAN in India reached $14.25 billion by 2011, which is 10.3 percent of the total foreign investment in India. India-ASEAN FTA: India has signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with ASEAN on 13 August, 2009, in Bangkok to boost the trade between the two. It came in to force on 1 January, 2010. This FTA covers the trade in goods only. This is considered a milestone in the bilateral relations of the two. The FTA was concluded after the protracted negotiations between the two sides. The main points of this-FTA are given below: 1. The FTA covers 4000 goods and products. It does. not cover services and investment. 2. The tariff. in 3200 products will be reduced by the year 2013. And the tariff in remaining 800 products will be reduced by the year 2016. 3. A total of 489 goods are excluded from the category of tariff concession and 590 goods are excluded from the category of tariff elimination. These goods are automobiles, farm products, auto parts, machinery, chemicals, crude oil and textile products. In addition both sides have also maintained a sensitive list of certain products, which are not covered for tariff reduction. India has signed similar FTAs with Singapore and Malaysia. The negotiations have been intensified to sign FTA with ASEAN in the field of services and investment as the 2010 FTA covers trade in goods only. The FTA in services would enhance India’s’, economic presence in the region as India enjoys better position in the production and supply of services. ASEAN has also signed such FTAs with China, Japan and South Korea. The ASEAN members are not even in the scale of development. The CLMV countries-Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are the less developed partners of ASEAN. India has adopted a proactive approach towards them to initiate development partnership with CLMV countries. India has launched various human resource development programmed such as training, project development, teaching of English language and development of entrepreneurship in these countries according to their development needs. On security and political matters, both signed are keen in cooperating to develop a security architecture in East Asia for the sake of peace, stability and prosperity in this region. India has become the member of its security organ ASEAN Regional Forum in 1996. Both share some common security concerns like security of sea lanes, terrorism, and smuggling of drugs and arms. Piracy is posing a serious problem for the security of sea routes. However, ASEAN has not shown much progress in the field of security matters. Most of the members of ASEAN rely on the US for developing and maintaining security order, in the region. The US still continues to be resident power in the region. Second Phase of Look East Policy: India’s Look East policy is neither confined to economic cooperation nor it is restricted to the cooperation with ASEAN only. In fact, this policy has been implemented in two phases – first phase from 1991 to 2003 and second phase from 2003 till present. While the first phase was confined to economic issues and cooperation with countries of ASEAN region, the second phase of this policy is broader in its outlook. In the second phase, the strategic issues are also included along with economic issues for cooperation. It seeks to develop close relations with other countries of the region like South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. These countries are not the members of ASEAN. India has developed close economic ties with Japan and South Korea. India has also initiated some collective regional measures in pursuance of her Look East Policy. Two such measures deserve special mention. BIMSTEC: With the help of Thailand, India moved ahead to launch Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technological and Economic Cooperation or BIMSTEC in 1997. Initially it included five members-Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Later Nepal and Bhutan also joined this organization, raising its membership to seven nations. The membership of BIMSTEC is cross cutting with that of ASEAN and SAAR C. Hence it is projected as a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia. The First Summit meeting of BIMSTEC was held in 2004 at Bangkok. In this meet, 13 areas of mutual cooperation were identified and each area was assigned to one member for leading in cooperative activities. The thirteen areas with their lead countries are:

  • Environment, Transport and Communications, Terrorism-India
  • Tourism and Fish Production-Thailand
  • Agriculture and Energy-Myanmar
  • Technological Cooperation-Sri Lanka
  • People to People Contact and Poverty Alleviation-Nepal
  • Cultural Cooperation-Bhutan
  • Trade and Investment-Bangladesh

The Second Summit of BIMSTEC was held after four years in 2008 in New Delhi, In this summit leaders resolved to enhance physical connectivity through land, air and sea routes for the promotion of cooperation in the field of culture, tourism and people to people contact. They also decided to develop a common viewpoint with respect to pressing global issues like climate change, trade negotiations etc. At present, the total intra-BIMSTEC trade is only 1.7 billion Dollars, which needs to be increased. Mekong- Ganga Cooperation: The second initiative taken by India for multilateral cooperation in the region is known as Mekong ¬Ganga cooperation. It was established in 2000 by the six countries of the region-India, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. It has identified four areas for cooperation among tI4 member countries. These areas are: Tourism, Culture, Education and Transport. At present, the focus of this organization is to develop rail and road connectivity among nation of this group so that cooperative ventures may be implemented among the members. India has taken lead role in implementing various road link projects as well as human resource development programmes in this region. India’s Look East Policy is viewed as highly successful by many observers as well as the Indian government. India has received support and encouragement from the countries of this region. The US has openly encouraged India to playa leading role in this region. The US President Obama during his India visit remarked that he expects a larger role for India in East Asia. However, this has a flip , side also. Many observers feel that the encouragement of India by the US to play a larger role is intended to balance China’s already dominating position in the region. Thus, India faces a sort of competition from China in this region.

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