The recent visit of PM Narendra Modi to South Asian countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore will define new countours of “Act East” Policy of India and will further enhance cooperation between India and the ASEAN. Cultural affinity that the two regions share can be the cementing factor for augmenting the relationship which has now reached a strategic level described by PM as the “warmest and closest”.
In the last two decades, since India jettisoned its historical baggage and started to engage with the whole world, ASEAN turned out to be a major vantage point which made India to explore the Indo Pacific region hitherto outside its purview. Also, India-ASEAN trade and investment relations since then have been growing steadily, with ASEAN being India’s fourth largest trading partner. India’s trade with ASEAN has increased to US$ 70 billion in 2016-17 from US$ 65 billion in 2015-16. Not only economically, ASEAN has strategic, military, cultural and people to people contacts.
Today, four years into his term, Indian PM Narendra Modi has already visited eight out of ten ASEAN countries. This reflects the strategic importance of this region in India’s foreign policy. The 2015 upgradation of “Look East” to “Act East” policy with ASEAN was undertaken because of the growing tentacles of China in the region. But one thing is certain that the geopolitical scenario of Indo Pacific will be definded either by the engagement of India with ASEAN or by the expansive unilateralism of China in the region. Nevertheless ASEAN will be a focal point for both India and China, regardless of the prevailing circumstances.