Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the 17th ASEAN-India Summit virtually at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is ranging across the region. The economic and trade relations are under stress as the pandemic has had an impact on the economic performance of many of the South-east Asian countries and India. In this context, Prime Minister Modi emphasized on the connectivity initiatives between India and ASEAN on all formats including physical, social, digital, financial and maritime. The connectivity projects are fast emerging as a fundamental focus point for countries to push for economic dynamism such as investment, job growth, and tourism. By offering US$ one billion Line of Credit to the ASEAN connectivity project, India has offered substantial financial commitment to its promises, which underscores New Delhi’s increasing desire to improve connectivity among ASEAN countries and between India and the ASEAN.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities in the current economic realities of the region, such as dependence on a single supply chain. The need to diversify supply chains and increase its resilience has become a top priority for Asian countries, and is crucial for ushering in post-COVID economic recovery in the countries of the region. This should lead to trade and investment initiatives among India and ASEAN; and thus the need to have a cohesive policy towards the economic integration of the region. This is reflected in the push to move forward on the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity (2021-2025). The ASEAN-India Plan of Action for 2021-2025 for implementing the objectives of this initiative was adopted in the virtual summit and would be instrumental in strengthening a wide-range of cooperation in political, security, maritime, transnational and counter-terrorism, economic, financial, energy, transport, food, agriculture, forestry, information and communication technology, science and technology, tourism and connectivity.
The summit also saw India sharing its belief that the need for synergies between the national and regional policies of India and ASEAN. Mr. Modi stressed on the need to converge initiatives such as India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific, which aims to work towards the vision of pushing India-ASEAN cooperation through connectivity, maritime cooperation, UN sustainable development goals, and economic, and other possible areas of cooperation. As a result, India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative aims for a safe and secure maritime domain, where emerging strategic challenges pose new challenges not just for India but also for the ASEAN countries. Therefore, there is need for a stable Indo-Pacific region. This would require India and ASEAN countries working closely together to meet common challenges and create avenues to have connectivity and cooperation under a rules-based system, especially in the region. As the pandemic exposed many of the fault lines in the region, the Plan of Action, has the right ingredients to enable India and ASEAN to make use of their mechanisms to engage in a more coordinated fashion towards both economic as well as political and security domains.
The India-ASEAN summit has strongly expressed India’s desire to closely cooperate with ASEAN countries and the centrality of the region in its initiatives. India’s strategic interest is keeping the ASEAN region stable and safe, especially the South China Sea. It would need engagement through the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative with ASEAN. Aligning the goals of ASEAN’s policies with Indian policies becomes significant. The extensive cooperative engagement enables both economic and maritime security to the country and a platform to discuss and come to a common understanding on issues such as rules-based order and a free and open Indo-Pacific.
India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific envisions a multitude of engagement in political, economic and security fields that is kept inclusive and pluralistic. The shared prosperity is not a buzz word but is buttressed by concrete policy initiatives and political will. Hence, the ASEAN-India virtual Summit showed India’s commitment to the world and New Delhi’s efforts in bringing more coordinated policies for the region.
Script: Dr. M S Prathibha, Strategic Analyst