Advancing India’s ‘Act East’ policy and the Indo-Pacific outlook, the Sixth Roundtable of the ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks (AINTT) was held last week virtually. This year’s discussions focussed on “ASEAN-India: Strengthening Partnership in the Post-COVID Era”. AINTT was conceptualised by India in 2009 and aims at bolstering ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership by addressing the knowledge gap and offering policy recommendations on possible areas of cooperation. External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Thailand Don Pramudwinai and Secretary General of ASEAN, Dato Lim Jock Hoi participated in this year’s rountable.
Dr. Jaishankar argued that the pandemic has emphasised the deeply competitive international politics on the one hand and the stress on multilateralism on the other. One of the primary questions remain how COVID-19 will shape the world order. India and Southeast Asia have mutuality of interest in globalisation. In his remarks, the External Affairs Minister underscored the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic to global economy. The estimated loss may be between US$ 5.8-8.8 trillion or roughly 6.5-9.7 percent of the global GDP. Such a challenge calls for “collective solutions”.
COVID-19 has accentuated the risks innate in the world economy with regard to concerns over supply chain resilience and diversification. Economic security is a key component of national security which encompasses trade and technology. In this context, Dr. Jaishankar further stated that the concept of strategic autonomy is important in global supply chains and there is a need for broader rebalancing and making an equitable world. De-risking health and building a self-reliant India is a priority. The vision of self-reliant India is not an advocacy of isolationism or protectionism but it urges that “a self-reliant India has more to offer to the world”. As potent economic forces, both ASEAN and India need to shape the future of Asia in the post-COVID world.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister of Thailand, Don Pramudwinai, in his remarks underscored the “value of sharing” in ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership. He suggested five key areas of cooperation including supply chain, regional connectivity and infrastructure including through the India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway Project; human capital development; regionalism and sub-regional cooperation, for instance, Ayeyawady-Chopraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) and Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC); maritime environment and disaster management; and research and development of anti-viral medicines and vaccines.
While this edition of AINTT was virtual, the last five roundtables were hosted at New Delhi, Vientiane, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. This edition of the AINTT was co-organised by the Ministry of External Affairs of India, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand in collaboration with Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), ASEAN Studies Centre (ASC), and Chulalongkorn University. Main themes of deliberation included: “Changing Landscape of Global Order and ASEAN-India Relations in the Post COVID-19 Era”; “Emerging Value Chains: Opportunities for ASEAN and India in the Post COVID-19 Era”; “New Normal and Promoting ASEAN-India Partnership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)”; “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI)”: “Complementarities and Cooperation; and Way Forward for ASEAN-India relations”.
Southeast Asia is the key pillar of India’s Act East Policy. There is mutuality of interests in securing a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific order. There is convergence with respect to common principles such as ASEAN centrality in India and ASEAN’s approach to Indo-Pacific and both sides are working relentlessly to bolster maritime cooperation, physical and digital connectivity, blue economy and humanitarian aid. India’s strategic engagement with South East Asia is based on 3 C’s — Commerce, Connectivity and Culture, and India will continue to invest in ASEAN with the objective of elevating the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership to newer heights.
Script: Dr. Titli Basu, Strategic Analyst on East & South-East Asia