How can India-ASEAN tie up help to counter China's growing influence in Southeast Asia? Discuss highlighting challenges towards that.
India has been pursuing an “Act East” policy of developing political and economic ties with Southeast Asia, but its efforts have been tentative and far trail China, whose trade with ASEAN was more than six times India’s in 2016-17 at $470 million.
A tie up between India-ASEAN will aid in countering the china’s growing influence in the region.
Greater presence of India in the South East Asia will act as deterrence to China. India needs cooperation of ASEAN in this regard. With US supporting greater role for India by endorsing Indo-pacific, support by ASEAN will strengthen the resolve.
Protecting the Channels of trade and communication
China’s unilateral aggression in the region of South China Sea has created a sense of insecurity in the region. Committed to freedom of navigation and security of sea lanes, India is willing to join Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to jointly patrol the critical Malacca Straits which provides access to South China Sea and facilitates more than $ 3 trillion each year. Singapore has supported the Indian proposal and is even willing to sign the logistics agreement with India for the refueling of ships of each other’s navy. This will aid in resisting china from unilateral provocations which can threaten freedom of navigation.
There is a growing uncertainty regarding US commitment to regional security. This may be exploited by China to assert its supremacy in the region. Cooperation between India and ASEAN will aid in countering China and its unilateral assertions.
India’s Act East Policy is shaped around the ASEAN, and its centrality in the regional security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region is evident. The regional security architecture looks to address the concerns of both ASEAN and India. For India, it is about safeguarding its borders and seeking greater strategic and maritime cooperation with other countries to counter China’s expansionist push in the Indo-Pacific region. A number of ASEAN countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have territorial disputes with China over South China Sea. This presents a unique opportunity for India to pitch itself as a balancing force to China over the issue.
China’s Trade relations
The China-ASEAN trade constitutes more than 15.2 % of the grouping’s total trade as compared to a meager 2.6% for India-ASEAN trade with bureaucracies on both sides refusing to budge from their past positions. While China-ASEAN trade continues to grow, India-ASEAN trade is showing a dip. Under these circumstances, Beijing with its trade and connectivity levers will continue to hold a veto over India-ASEAN relations.
Even though the ASEAN nations doesn’t doubt India’s intentions and potential there are doubts over about India’s capacity to transform its potential into actual capacity.
India is often regarded as Passive participant by the ASEAN member countries due to delays in implementation of initiative like Kaladhan multimodal project and India-Thailand-Myanmar highway project.
India assures the ASEAN of its steady support towards achieving a rules-based regional security architecture that at best attests to the region’s interests and its peaceful development. This makes India and ASEAN natural partners, as India looks east ASEAN is looking west towards India.