- Economic Relations: While ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner, India’s trade with ASEAN stands at approx. 10.6% of India’s overall trade.
- Indo-pacific: India’s Act East Policy is an important part of its Indo-Pacific vision and ASEAN is the core of the Act East Policy.
- Counter aggressive China: China is engaged in territorial disputes with many ASEAN nations in the South China Sea and is locked in a bitter border row with India in eastern Ladakh.
- Geo-Strategic Significance: to facilitate rule-based order and to maintain freedom of navigation cooperation in the region is an imperative.
- Connectivity: With ASEAN nations can allow India to improve its presence in the region especially with respect to India’s North-eastern states via road-rail connectivity with ASEAN countries.
- Socio-Cultural Cooperation: – Various programs have been organised to enhance people-to-people contacts. India has invited the ASEAN students each year for Students Exchange Program.
- Security: Collaboration is necessary to counter insurgency in Northeast, combat-terrorism, tax evasions etc. Main forum for ASEAN security dialogue is ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) is the highest defence consultative and cooperative mechanism in ASEAN. ADMM+ brings together Defence Ministers from 10 ASEAN nations plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia, and USA on a biannual basis.
- Economic challenges: India has an unfavorable balance of trade with ASEAN nations. India has pulled out of RCEP deal, as it would deepen its trade deficit with China and the ASEAN nations.
- Delayed Projects: India is committed to connectivity projects like India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway. However, timely completion is an issue.
- Ineffective Negotiations: Many bilateral deals with these nations are yet to be finalized, leading to the halting of various aspects of diplomatic ties.
India needs a close diplomatic relationship with ASEAN nations both for economic and security reasons. Hence,
- Stronger strategic, security & economic ties will create greater interdependence between India and ASEAN members. This will serve as an effective counter to China’s growing clout in the region.
- Explore opportunities in enhancing physical & digital connectivity between India and ASEAN.
- India must speed up work on connectivity projects, such as India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and building new trade and transport linkages with all ASEAN Nations.