ASEAN-India Summit

ASEAN-India Summit

Context: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, had a primary focus on strengthening India’s engagement with the significant group of ten Southeast Asian nations. This visit occurred just before India was set to host the G-20 summit in New Delhi, where India held the presidency.

More about the news:

  • Mr. Modi’s presence at the annual ASEAN-India summit aimed to solidify traditional ties with neighbouring Asian economies, especially during a period marked by increased uncertainty in global trade.
  • The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) pointed out in its June 21 ‘Global Trade Update’ that the outlook for global trade in the second half of 2023 was pessimistic due to various negative factors, including downgraded global economic forecasts, persistent inflation, financial vulnerabilities, and geopolitical tensions.
  • Against this backdrop, the joint leaders’ statement at the ASEAN-India summit on ‘Strengthening Food Security and Nutrition in Response to Crises’ highlighted the shared concerns in the region regarding heightened global food insecurity.
    • This insecurity had been exacerbated by factors such as the conflict in Ukraine, climate change, and national policies responding to inflationary pressures.
    • India’s recent restrictions on rice exports had raised concerns, as the prices of this regional staple were reportedly nearing a 15-year high.
    • Additionally, the looming threat of El Nino, historically associated with disruptive weather events, added to the region’s worries, making ASEAN leaders understandably cautious.
  • Mr. Modi’s emphasis on the necessity for a rules-based post-COVID-19 world order and a free and open Indo-Pacific was clearly targeted at certain members within the Asian bloc who had been increasingly uneasy about China’s recent assertiveness and territorial claims in the South China Sea.
  • The Prime Minister’s implicit message to ASEAN members was that India was a more reliable, long-term strategic and economic partner, with no territorial ambitions that might cause discomfort.
  • India also aimed to position itself as a voice to amplify the concerns of the Global South, emphasizing that such cooperation would be mutually beneficial.
  • For India, dealing with an underwhelming free trade agreement (FTA) with the 10-nation ASEAN grouping posed challenges.
    • While trade volume with Eastern economies had increased, it was largely skewed, with imports far exceeding India’s exports.
    • The widening trade deficit, coupled with concerns that Chinese products were taking advantage of lower tariffs under the FTA to enter the Indian market, led to a review of the agreement, expected to be completed in 2025.
  • In the interim, India needed to maintain close engagement with ASEAN members, both as a trade hedge against the slowdown in its primary Western markets and to underscore its significance as a steadfast ally.
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About ASEAN: 

  • ASEAN, short for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is a regional alliance with the primary goal of fostering economic and security collaboration among its ten member states: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • ASEAN came into existence in 1967, in Bangkok, Thailand, following the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (also known as the Bangkok Declaration) by the founding nations of ASEAN, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
  • ASEAN’s motto is “One Vision, One Identity, One Community.”
  • The ASEAN Secretariat is headquartered in Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • The institutional mechanisms: 
    • ASEAN Summit: The member states convene annually to discuss regional issues and set policy directions.
    • ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC): The ACC oversees the implementation of ASEAN agreements and decisions.
    • ASEAN Secretariat: Based in Jakarta, Indonesia, this body supports and facilitates ASEAN’s activities and initiatives.
    • ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF): ARF serves as a platform for dialogue and cooperation on political and security matters among ASEAN member countries and their partners.
    • Decision Making: Decision-making within ASEAN is achieved through consultation and consensus among member states.

The fundamental principles of ASEAN are as follows:

  • Mutual Respect: Member states must mutually respect the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations.
  • Non-Interference: ASEAN adheres to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of its member states.
  • Peaceful Dispute Resolution: Differences or disputes are to be settled in a peaceful manner.
  • Renunciation of Force: Member states renounce the threat or use of force.
  • Cooperation: Effective cooperation among member states is a fundamental principle to achieve ASEAN’s objectives.

The origin and evolution of ASEAN can be summarized as follows:

  • Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), 1961: ASA was established by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand to promote economic, cultural, and social cooperation.
  • Bangkok Declaration, 1967: The formal establishment of ASEAN occurred through the signing of the Bangkok Declaration.
  • First ASEAN Summit, 1976: Member countries pledged to work toward regional peace and stability.
  • Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), 1976: TAC laid the groundwork for peaceful relations and cooperation among member states.
  • ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), 1992: AFTA aimed to create a free trade area among member countries.
  • ASEAN Charter, 2008: The ASEAN Charter provided a legal framework for the organization and strengthened its institutional structure.
  • ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), 2015: AEC sought to integrate the economies of member countries and promote regional economic growth.
  • ASEAN joins Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), 2020: ASEAN member states became part of RCEP, a free trade agreement.

ASEAN possesses several notable strengths as a collective of nations:

  • Regional Stability: ASEAN has played a pivotal role in advancing peace and stability in its region, exemplified by the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
  • Economic Growth: With a combined population exceeding 630 million people in 2021, ASEAN represents a dynamic and rapidly expanding market for trade and investment. It has also emerged as a major centre for manufacturing and trade, ranking as the world’s fourth-largest exporter.
  • Cultural Diversity: ASEAN’s rich diversity in terms of cultures, languages, and religions fosters opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and cooperation.
  • Strategic Location: ASEAN’s strategic position at the intersection of major trade routes, particularly the vital Strait of Malacca, underscores its significance as a hub for trade and commerce.

India and ASEAN share cooperation in various domains: 

  • Annual Summits: India and ASEAN hold annual summits to strengthen their partnership.
  • Trade and Investment: A free trade agreement (FTA) between India and ASEAN has boosted trade and investment. ASEAN is India’s fourth-largest trading partner.
  • Regional Connectivity: India is actively involved in enhancing connectivity with ASEAN through projects like the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project.
  • Defence and Security: Both sides have increased defence cooperation through joint military exercises and forums like the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+).
  • Education and Research: The ASEAN-India Centre at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) facilitates research and studies on ASEAN-India relations.
  • Delhi Dialogue: An annual forum for discussing politico-security, economic, and socio-cultural issues between ASEAN and India.
  • Funding: Financial assistance is provided through the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund, ASEAN-India S&T Development Fund, and ASEAN-India Green Fund.

Despite progress, several issues and challenges persist in India-ASEAN relations:

  • Trade Imbalances: India faces a growing trade deficit with ASEAN, raising concerns about the benefits of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement.
  • Bilateral Focus: India tends to engage with ASEAN countries more on a bilateral basis, missing opportunities for multilateral cooperation.
  • Competing Agreements: Participation in other regional agreements, like RCEP and CPTPP, diverts attention and resources from ASEAN-India relations.
  • Chinese Presence: The presence of China in the region limits ASEAN’s ability to fully harness India’s potential for regional stability.
  • Limited Connectivity: Despite efforts, physical and digital connectivity between India and ASEAN countries remains constrained, affecting trade, investment, and people-to-people ties.

Way forward: 

Strengthening India’s role in maritime security in the Indo-Pacific can address regional concerns and contribute to stability. Also, expanding the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) concept to include ASEAN countries as part of a QUAD+ arrangement can bolster regional security and cooperation. There is also need of measures to address the trade deficit to ensure mutual benefit from trade agreements.

Prelims Previous Year Questions: 

Q1. India is a member of which among the following? (2015)

1.Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
2.Association of South-East Asian Nations
3.East Asia Summit

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 3 only
(c) 1, 2 and 3
(d) India is a member of none of them

Answer: (b)

Q2. The term ‘Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership’ often appears in the news in the context of the affairs of a group of countries known as:

(a) G20
(c) SCO

Answer: (b)

Mains Previous Year Question (2017)

Q. Indian Diaspora has an important role to play in South-East Asian countries’ economy and society. Appraise the role of Indian Diaspora in South- East Asia in this context. (15 marks; 250 words)

Source: The Hindu

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