(Article) CSM - February 2013: India’s Role in Promoting Asean Co-operation

INDIA’S ROLE IN PROMOTING ASEAN CO-OPERATION

ASEAN is a regional intergovernmental organization formed by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand through the Bangkok Declaration which was signed by their foreign ministers on 8th August, 1967. Brunei joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995. Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999. Papua New Guinea also has observer status. Its main objectives are to accelerate economic growth, Social progress and cultural development to ensure the political and economic stability of the South East Asian region.

In the beginning India did not have cordial relations with ASEAN due to certain doubts and suspicions on both sides. While India was suspicious of underlying American diplomacy, ASEAN was wary of India due to its closeness to Russia. For example, in 1982 India supported Hague Samarin government in Combodia which had the support of Vietnam, whereas ASEAN recognized the Democratic Kampuchean coalition- the opponent of Hague Samarin. Though India always wanted to join the ASEAN in view of its steady economic progress, Indonesia. Philippines and Thailand were not in favour of India joining ASEAN, because it feared India’s hegemony due to its sheer size and population.

India-ASEAN relations, as they exist today, are in some ways, a, reconfiguration of age-old ties that date back 2,000 years. Only the modes of trade have changed. Instead of the silk route, countries now use tech-oriented routes to link up. ASEAN, the latest version of what was the Asian trade network ages ago, is an effort to establish cooperation in the economic, social, cultural, technical, educational and other fields among its member countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. For a relationship that began warming up only about a decade ago, the India-ASEAN partnership has been trotting at quite a fast pace. India became a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1992. The sectors were trade, investment, tourism and science and technology.

Mutual interest led ASEAN to invite India to become a full dialogue partner of ASEAN during the fifth ASEAN summit in Bangkok in 1995 and a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (AREF) in 1996.
India signed an agreement in October 2003 for a free trade area (FTA) with Thailand. Under the agreement, 84 items can be imported from Thailand from April 2004 at 50 percent of the normal rate of duty prevailing in India. The pact with Thailand is to be followed by a similar agreement with Singapore and, ultimately, the entire ASEAN region and India is committed to aligning its peak tariff to East Asian levels by 2005. India has also been engaged in negotiations to form ‘a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with Singapore. Sub-regional cooperation has accelerated too. The Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and the BIMST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Economic Cooperation) are indicators to this effect. In 2003, India acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in South-East Asia, signed a declaration to combat international terrorism and agreed on comprehensive economic cooperation to step up their current trade turnover of S 12 billion. Among ASEAN members, Singapore and Malaysia have been India’s most prominent trading partners and India’s trade with Laos has been the least in valve terms.

Trade Cooperation

The deepening of ties is beginning to show in the intra-country trade figures. India-ASEAN trade in 2010-11 was about $51.10 billion, over six times the 2003-04- trade figure of $9.78 billion. India- ASEAN trade during the calendar year 2009 was - exports $ 17.3 billion and imports $ 23.8 billion and during 2010 - exports $ 22.3 billion and imports $ 27.8 billion. India’s trade with ASEAN had increased by 30 per cent in 2010- 2011, crossing the $50-billion mark, and with such a rate of growth, the target of $70 billion by 2012 would be feasible. India’s trade with ASEAN has increased by 30 per cent in 2010-2011 and has crossed the $50 billion mark. According to the prime minister, “With such a rate of growth we should be able to achieve our trade target of $billion by 2012. Pushing for greater physical connectivity between India and ASEAN, ‘remains the strategic objective70.’ There are several proposals under consideration with regard to land and sea connectivity, which include the India- Myanmar-Thailand Highway, its extension to Laos and Cambodia and the development of a new highway also linking Vietnam.

Growth in India’s exports to ASEAN in recent years has been much higher in comparison to other destinations. As expected, trade relations have led to a spurt in people-to-people links, giving a boost to tourism. It will only grow further when India and the ASEAN countries establish the planned road and rail links between them To take this step further, a motor car rally has been organised by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CID in close cooperation with the member-states of the ASEAN and the ASEAN Secretariat. At this point, India is poised at a strategic moment from where it can pitch for better cooperation with the ASEAN countries.

Links with ASEAN countries

The ninth India-Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit was held in Bali, Indonesia on November 19, 2011. Addressing the summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that greater physical connectivity between India and the 10-member grouping remains New Delhi’s “strategic objective.” The prime minister listed proposals, among others, for an India-Myanmar-Thailand highway and its extension to Laos and Cambodia, and the development of a new highway also linking Vietnam. He also referred to a study on a Mekong-India economic corridor, which proposes to link corridors in the peninsular, and possibly the north-eastern, regions of India with the East Asian region.

The prime minister further urged ASEAN to take considered decisions to link the peninsular region with the North-east. He added: “I would suggest that all these different proposals should be studied in an integrated manner by our officials, so that we take considered decisions to optimize our resources and efforts.”

Implementation of ASEANIndia Plan

The successful implementation of the ASEAN-India Plan of Action for 2004-10 listing specific items of cooperation was followed by an 82-point Plan of Action for the period 2010-2015, about the ambitious document adopted at the Hanoi Summit in 2010. India has forwarded a number of cooperative projects as part of this plan as well as part of the $50 million ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund to the ASEAN Secretariat.

Other Developments

In addition to the expansion of India-ASEAN cooperation in the fields of science and technology, space and information technology, several projects were under implementation under the ASEAN-India Science and Technology Fund. Based on the feedback from the ASEAN, India’s Department of Space has revised its proposal for a five-year project for establishing a tracking and reception station and data processing facility for the ASEAN countries and training of ASEAN personnel. India will convene a meeting of heads of space agencies of India and ASEAN in early 2012.

The summit also discussed the security-related issue including maritime security, counter-terrorism, training, exercises and disaster management. The prime minister has proposed to hold the ASEAN-India Commemorative
Summit on December 20-21, 2012 in New Delhi.

India is now looking to the IT and energy sectors to up the tempo of investments. ONGC has put in $200 million in an upstream gas project in southern Vietnam. The oil and gas major has already started getting revenue from its investment, and is generating cash. flows of around $6 million flowing in from the sale of gas to the downstream industries in Vietnam. So, overall India-ASEAN relations are on the right track and its future prospects appear to be bright in view of the bilateral trade links.

Shri Anand Sharma, Union Minister of Commerce & Industry, signed the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement in Goods following the meeting of the ASEAN-India Economic Ministers, held in Bangkok. The meeting was hosted by Thailand, the then Chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping that completed four decades of its existence in 2007. As part of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, the Trade in Goods Agreement will integrate the two globally important economic blocks for mutually beneficial economic gains. ASEAN is a major trading partner for India and accounts for about 10% of its global trade. In the last financial year, bilateral trade between India and ASEAN was more than US $ 40 billion. India and ASEAN have set an ambitious target of achieving bilateral trade of US $ 50 billion by 2010, which is already achieved. The current Agreement which comes into force from 1st January 2010 would help achieve this target.

The Trade in Goods agreement focuses on tariff liberalization on mutually agreed tariff lines from both the sides and is targeted to eliminate tariffs on 80% of the tariff lines accounting for 75% of the trade in a gradual manner starting from 1st January, 2010. The Agreement has provided flexibilities to India and ASEAN countries to exclude some of the products from the tariff concessions or eliminations to address their respective domestic sensitivity. India on its part has excluded 489 items from the list of tariff concessions and 590 items from the list of tariff elimination to address sensitivities in agriculture, textiles, auto, chemicals, crude and refined palm oil, coffee, tea, pepper etc. ASEAN countries have also maintained similar exclusion list from the proposed tariff concessions or eliminations.

The exchange of tariff concessions between India and the ASEAN Member Countries would lead to growth in bilateral trade and investment resulting in economic benefits to India and the ASEAN Member Countries. Indian exporters of Machinery and machine parts, Steel and steel products, agriculture products such as Oilcake, Wheat and Buffalo Meat, Auto Components, Chemicals and Synthetic Textiles would gain additional market access as a result of tariff liberalisation by ASEAN. Indian manufacturers would also be able to source products at competitive prices from the ASEAN countries.

The Agreement also provides for bilateral safeguard mechanisms to address sudden surge in imports after the Agreement comes into force. In such an eventuality if it hurts a domestic industry, safeguard measures including imposition of safeguard duties may be put in place for a period up to 4 years. The flexibility to invoke the safeguard measures will remain available for both the sides for a period of 7 years to 15 years from the date, the Agreement comes into force. The signing of the Agreement signals India’s firm commitment to its ‘Look East’ policy of building upon its historical links with the countries of the Southeast Asian region and further deepening and widening this partnership.

India- SEAN Future CRUCIAL FOR ASIA GROWTH

India-ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) relations are a reflection of the complementariness of interests between the two entities. As India chooses to embark on a benign projection of its rising power, it has become imperative to chart a foreign policy commensurate with its ambitions in Asia and the world.

For India’s power to be accepted in the Asian Continent, it needs to look beyond its immediate neighbours in the sub-Continent, and diversify and cement its relations mainly with the South- East Asian nations, the very essence of its Look East Policy and its continuing effort to sustain and improve ties with a regional body like ASEAN.

India’s strengthening relations with the individual countries of the ASEAN and the regional body at large is mutually reinforcing. The foreign policy vision of a rising India should reflect an enlargement of vision and a continuous effort towards cultivation of resources to increase its zone of influence, albeit in a more diplomatic and friendly manner without evoking sentiments that could brand India as a meddling power. Undoubtedly, this is basically where India could chart out a more benign space for itself in the South-East Asian region despite the overwhelming presence of the Chinese power. As Krishna said, “We feel that the principles of State sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of others must be the bedrock of our cooperative endeavours.”

India’s strategic and diplomatic maneouvers in South-East Asia are signs of its intent to play a more substantial role in Asia. This ambition is a result of New Delhi’s rise as one of the major players in the world and a healthy competitor to rising China. Since the liberalization of the Indian economy and the proposition of India’s ‘Look East Policy’ in the early 90s, policy-makers in New Delhi have increasingly tried to tighten and expand relations with the South-East Asian countries.

India-ASEAN relations have gradually evolved and matured over the years, corresponding with the changed nature of international politics in the post Cold-War era along- ith New Delhi’s deliberate attention towards the East and South-East Asian countries. Over the years, India’s relations with the ASEAN have reached a full dialogue partnership from a sectoral one. Moreover, regular India- ASEAN summits since 2002 have substantially added to the seriousness of the ties and provided a platform for regular, sustained negotiations and deliberations. The trajectory of the relationship has been essentially encouraging with relations having diversified, covering political and security dimensions. India has been an active participant of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and many other efforts towards regional integration.

The multitude of regional organization that have been on the advent since the end of the Cold War are symptomatic of the interconnectedness of economies and other forms of interest among different countries, specifically within the same geographical region. The complex inter-dependence among many countries is the nature of international politics in the 21st century and it is very normal that countries within the same region and also beyond would build bridges and try to amplify the convergences among them. In an era when shocks in a country can have viral-like repercussions in many others around the world, countries need to come together more than ever before, looking for uncharted territories and moving beyond the conventional zone of interest. New Delhi’s continuing success with the ASEAN countries is germane to both to the growth and sustenance of India as a major economy in the world and also salient from the view of keeping alive some healthy competition in the Asia given the fact that China is being projected as the next great power in the international system.

The shifting nature of power is something constant in international politics, and the 21st century is being already labelled an Asian century, in which the two rising giants, India and China will definitely play a big role. As the saying goes: With great powers, comes great responsibilities, India is at a great juncture in its history, travelling an upward journey to major power status. Clearly, Indian policy-makers should create such a scenario where India’s arrival as a major power in the international system should not be seen as a liability but as an asset by the ASEAN countries. In recognizing India’s stature in regional Asian and international politics, these countries should see a reflection of their rising opportunities for their own countries in an inclusive, healthy and peaceful Asian order. To make them realize their own success in the success of India would indeed be the litmus test for present and future Indian policy-makers.

Md. Israr

 

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