Evolution of ties INDIA – ASEAN

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From 1940 to 1962 , in this period the most imp development was the emergence of NAM and Decolonization process that a has started in the region

Decolonization was a long drawn process in Southeast Asia. The period b/w 1940 and 1950 was very important and Indian Foreign policy during this time was promotion of decolonisation during this period. There was two important reason behind decolonisation support from India 

  • Indian nationalist elite had campaigned against imperialism everywhere on moral grounds as it not only brings economic and political exploitation but also promotes racism
  • On strategic ground, India’s  policy of independent foreign policy can only be promoted  via decolonisation in Asia 
  • There was danger of continuation of foreign rule after WW2 as testified via use of Indian force by British to restore French colonial rule in Indo-China. As a consequence independent India came in support for decolonization as seen by his support for the cause of Indonesian nationalist movement. 
  • As Dutch tried to recapture its control over Indonesia India made huge diplomatic contribution at the level of UN and also Indian air force made several sorties in the region to supply basic material when the Dutch have imposed an air blockade BIJU PATNAIK personally flew to Sumatra to fly Indonesian PM SUTAN SYAHRIR and gave him refuge in India.
  • India and Indonesia soon started defence cooperation after their independence with Indonesian military officers began their training in Indian military bases.
  • India played key diplomatic role on decolonisation of Indo-China wherein it headed International commission of supervision and control 


At the time of independence South East Asia was India’s third largest trading partner. However New Delhi’s adoption of autarkic economic policies for its industrial development and economic growth began to limit the economic interaction at a time region was experimenting vigorous export oriented policy. Thus it became clear that Indian and south east Asian economies were not complimentary to each other’s and by 1960’s India has lost its advantageous economic post in south east Asia 

People of Indian Origin

Burma had the largest no.  of Indian immigrants. However as a consequence of Burma for BURMANS policy the govt disposed many Indians especially Chettyar community from South India. Since Burma was facing internal insurgencies , Nehru raised the issue only at non-official level as a result of which several thousand Indians returned to India . This India let strategic concerns override the interest of Indian community

Malay became racially overwhelmed by the Indians and political leadership ignored the policy of utilising Indians in south east Asia as the foreign legion of India thus govt of Malaya tased a no. of legislation and began legal discrimination against the Indian community 


  • Nehru envied India playing a leading role in revival of Asia. Before indolence Nehru authorised the Indian council of world affairs.
  • Nehru also played a vital diplomatic role in ICSC plus Nehru personal stature in West was so high that western leaders view him as their interlocutor with Asia . British PM Winston Churchill referred to him as ‘LIGHT of ASIA’
  • However India’s and Nehru’s bid to play a role of leader in the south-east Asia was not well received , delegates were concerned that end of European nationalism might lead to an era of Chinese and Indian imperialism
  • Further India perception of Southeast Asia as and extension of India as western scholars and even Nehru believed that India at one point of time was in control of the territories of south east Asia exemplified the concern
  • India autarkic domestic and economic policies further meant that it has little to offer to Southeast Asia adding to which India’s disastrous military defeat at the hand s of chain in 1962 washed of its claim to provide military security to recently independent Southeast Asian states

1962 till the end of Cold War

  • Cold War dominated the international environment. As USA from 1964 became more involved in Vietnam it face stiff diplomatic opposition from the Indian side. However this opposition from India created difficulty in establishments of relationship with ASEAN which had a pro-western tilt.
  • The relation deteriorated further when INDONESIA threatened to open a second front during 1965 war against Pakistan
  • Indian navy decision to control the job of British navy in 1967 East Of Suez further created suspicion in the minds of Indonesia and other Southeast Asian states
  • India further signed 20 yr peace treaty with Soviet and defeated Pakistan in a major 1971 war  led to suspicion in the ends of Southeast Asia about India’s intention along with Soviet at a time USA was retreating from the region under Guam doctrine. Though Southeast Asia became critically important for India in the aftermath of 1971 war it was not able to give the region its due support because of the Oil-shock and economic boom in gulf that followed thus deviating its attention toward the west i.e. Look West
  • India’s recognition to KAMPUCHEAN GOVT after Vietnam invasion was particular setback for the region as Southeast Asia was vary of Vietnams military power and turned a negative attitude towards the Indian about its design of GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY as it observed during Maldives and in case of Sri Lanka


  • LEE KUAN YEW (PM OF SINGAPORE) was one of the greatest admirer of India and wanted it to play a greater role
  • He advocated India to conduct Nuclear test after Chinese nuclear test of 1964  further urged India to adopt ASIAN MONROE DOCTRINE  to prevent poaching in India


  • India did not received invitation from ASEAN as Sukarno’s  Indonesian viewed Indonesia as a rival in the region
  • Further Gandhi came up with proposal of regional grouping in Asian in late 1960’s that sound similar to collective security system being proposed by Soviet Union.
  • Southeast Asian leaders were of the view that India was doing bidding for the soviets in south and Southeast Asia
  • Southeast Asian naturally thought that India was undermine Asean by promoting alternative
  • Thus for India- Asean relations Cold War was a period of missed opportunities, mistrust, misperceptions and bungling diplomacy.


  • Indian-Soviet treaty has come to an end and kind of was desperately searching for new-partners in new strategic environment.
  • South east Asia emerged as a natural candidate as India was looking at the east since 1980’s plus Indian active diplomacy during Cambodian crisis has provided worthy inputs about southeast Asian countries having favourable and unfavourable disposition towards India
  • At the same time China was becoming assertive in the region with claim on south China sea in form of spartley and paracel island and under this looming uncertainty Southeast Asia looked towards India as a potential balancer of Chinese power in the region.
  • In 1991-92 India unveiled its dedicated look eats policy for the region , the nations started conducting joint naval patrols.
  • Singapore utilised missile launching facilities at Chandipur,  India further leased KALAIKUNDA Air base to Singapore. Thus Indian defence diplomacy was actively pursued with regions of SINGAPORE , VIETNAM, THAILAND and MALAYSIA
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