Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)

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  • Prospects and Challenges of ASEAN

    Regionalism has been an important force in international relations since 1945. The aim of this article is to make an assessment of one of the major regional organisations from the Asia Pacific, the ASEAN, or Association of South East Asian Nations. The article attempts to give readers an overview of the problems and prospects of the ASEAN. Although the ASEAN has been successful to a large extent as a regional body, regionalism in South East Asia has been considerably undermined by a number of factors since its creation in 1967.

    November 2013

    Kunal Dhabekar Asked: Is Chinese assertiveness in ASEAN an opportunity or a challenge or both for India?

    Rup Narayan Das replies: The answer to the question is implicit in the question itself. Yes, the Chinese assertiveness in ASEAN is both a challenge and an opportunity for India. By Chinese assertiveness we mean China’s aggressive posturing on South China Sea and East China Sea issues. The two issues are different. Both, however, involve claims and counter-claims of territorial sovereignty. The claim of sovereignty also pertains to jostling for natural resources, including rich deposits of hydrocarbon. They also involve the issue of freedom of navigation. Managing China’s posturing poses a challenge to the countries of the reign. These challenges can be met strategically and diplomatically. India’s benign presence and role in the region will be reassuring to the countries of the region. An inclusive and transparent security architecture will go a long way in mitigating the persistent security dilemma.

    On the other hand, China’s emergence as the world’s second largest economy offers India and the countries in the region an opportunity to engage with China, thoughtfully and imaginatively, for a mutually beneficial and win-win relationship. This is easier said than done, though. However, going by the immediate past experience, such as China’s role earlier in the Asian financial crisis and later in the world financial crisis, the economies of the region can be integrated through free trade agreements of various kinds, both bilaterally and multilaterally, for a mutually beneficial relationship in terms of trade and investment. But the interest of the domestic economy needs to be protected, and the pace and speed of economic integration accordingly determined.

    India's approach to Asia Pacific

    India's approach to Asia Pacific

    This policy brief discusses some of the key trends in the Asia Pacific and sets out a long-term approach for India so as to maximise its security and developmental opportunities.

    September 19, 2013

    Akhila asked: What is Trans-Pacific Partnership? How is it important to India?

    Rukmani Gupta replies: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (or the TPP as it is generally known) is a free-trade agreement being negotiated between 11 countries of the Pacific rim including Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States of America and Vietnam. Japan is the 12th country that has entered into the negotiations to join the TPP. The US administration under President Barack Obama seems to have prioritised the TPP as the economic component of its "rebalancing" to Asia strategy.

    Some have suggested that the TPP would compete with existing and proposed free trade arrangements in Asia and pose a challenge to the economic unity between the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) states since some of them are members of the TPP and, moreover, the ASEAN itself is involved in negotiating a large trade agreement – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or the RCEP. The RCEP involves negotiations between 16 countries - the 10 members of the ASEAN and six regional partners (India, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand).

    There is clearly an overlap in the membership of these two trade agreements. However, this does not necessarily imply that the goals of the two agreements are antagonistic. The TPP seeks to vastly reduce tariff levels among member countries and standardise policies on various issues including safeguarding intellectual property rights. The ambit of the RCEP is not quite as vast. The two can therefore be seen as different rungs on a free-trade agreement ladder. Although some American officials have stated that the US would welcome India’s participation in the TPP, India has not made any official statement on the issue suggesting such a move. It may be reasonable to expect that it will take some time before India would be amenable to joining a trade agreement such as the TPP, whose scope extends well beyond other trade agreements India has partnered in.

    Sino-ASEAN Strategic Partnership: The Missing Trust

    The China-ASEAN strategic partnership marked its 10th year recently but given China’s maritime assertiveness in South China Sea, mistrust remains between China and ASEAN, prompting many to review China’s rise.

    August 07, 2013

    Sunil Meruva asked: What are the implications of the India-ASEAN FTA in services and investment for the Indian economy? What has been the Chinese response to growing Indian presence in the ASEAN?

    Jagannath P. Panda replies: In order to craft a more decisive policy towards Southeast Asia, India capitalizes on maximizing trade and economic contacts with the ASEAN, which is the prime multilateral body that connects Asia’s three key regions together: South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. The thrust has been to capitalise on the ‘strategic partnership’ between India and the ASEAN. Though trade and economic relationship, key to the India-ASEAN partnership, has been growing, it is yet to realise its fill potential.

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently described the growing India-ASEAN relationship and partnership agreement as “transformational”, aimed at pushing India-ASEAN trade to almost $200 billion in the next decade; setting a realistic target of $100 billion trade by 2015. The last one-decade trade contacts between the two sides suggest that bilateral trade and economic contacts have been on ascendancy, mainly since the FTA has come into force between the two sides (See the chart below).

    (Note: Trade Figures are in approximate and compiled from open sources)

    While air and road infrastructure linkages could be one viable way to maximize the trade, the focus should also be on maritime engagements. Bilateral trade and economic engagements between India and the ASEAN has been the main hallmark of this relationship over the years. After the signing of the FTA in goods between India and the ASEAN, the bilateral trade has massively increased to 41 per cent during the year 2011-12, almost reaching $80 billion. The December 2012 India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit saw the signing of the FTA on services and investment, which would certainly help in further maximizing the trade and economic engagement in times to come. Besides, the FTA on services and investment will certainly be beneficial to the Indian economy, especially in terms of further integrating India into the Southeast Asian economies.

    For both China and India, the primary contention in their engagement with ASEAN is: who will have an edge in the ASEAN-led regional politics? Both are concerned about the geographic scope of the Asian community building. Chinese officials and scholars are worried about India’s recent revitalized approach towards the ASEAN and South-East Asia. Chinese officials do notice India’s presence and activities in the region quite seriously. If India manages to integrate itself more actively with the ASEAN and South-East Asia, ASEAN and India will be in a win–win situation when countries in the region start looking for India’s greater role, particularly in terms of economic integration at least if not in other areas, undercutting China’s influence in the region. Beijing, it may be noted, had vigorously opposed India’s association with the East Asia Summit (EAS). China has always pointedly avoided advocating a leading role for ASEAN+6 or EAS, canvassing to limit the dialogue to ASEAN+1 and ASEAN+3.

    Amol asked: Has India neglected Brunei which can be a partner in India's energy security among ASEAN countries?

    Rahul Mishra replies: Ever since the inception of Look East Policy, India has strived to seek a balance in terms of multilateral and bilateral engagement with countries of the Southeast Asian region. Even in terms of implementing the Look East Policy, no country has been given priority over the other.

    As far as ties with Brunei is concerned, regular visits by the leaders from both the sides, including the May 2008 visit of the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam, Hassanal Bolkiah, to New Delhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with the Sultan on the sidelines of the 10th ASEAN-India Summit in Cambodia in November 2012, testify the warmth in bilateral ties. Prior to the 10th ASEAN-India Summit, the then Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna had visited the country in October 2012. One of the objectives of his visit was to explore the possibilities of a long-term LNG supply from Brunei, which was also the country coordinator for India in the ASEAN in 2012.

    The India-Brunei energy cooperation is going smoothly and the two countries are exploring the possibility of further cooperation in this regard. In fact, the energy sector holds lion’s share in the India-Brunei trade. Out of the total US $500 million trade, energy sector contributes about US $400 million. However, India and Brunei are also mulling over the possibility of diversifying and increasing the share of other trading goods, which includes joint venture investments in hotel industry and infrastructure development. Brunei is particularly interested in investing in the Indian hotel industry, which is open to 100 per cent foreign direct investment.

    ASEAN without accord

    The Kingdom of Cambodia, chair and host of the 10 member-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), hosted the second ASEAN Summit in its Peace Palace building at Phnom Penh from July 9-13. The Summit convened its signature assemblage—the 45th ASEAN Foreign Minister’s Meeting (AMM)/Post Ministerial Conference (PMC). Apart from this annual feature, the Summit also saw the participation of ASEAN partners from 17 countries under the aegis of 19th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), 13th ASEAN Plus Three (APT) and the 2nd East Asia Summit (EAS).

    July 30, 2012

    Sumit asked: What could be the reasons for the unproductive functioning of SAARC while other regional associations like ASEAN and SCO have led to effective cooperation?

    Smruti S. Pattanaik replies: First, I don’t agree that the SAARC has been unproductive for a number of reasons. Any analysis of the SAARC should take into consideration the bitter partition that the Sub-continent witnessed and the accompanied mistrust and suspicion that made normal state-to-state relations a complicated affair. The relevance of the SAARC should be seen in the following manner: (a) It provides a platform for the regional countries to meet and discuss issues confronting the region. (b) The smaller countries of the region can play a visible role by setting regional agenda in spite of 'big India's' presence. (c) It has helped in expanding areas of cooperation that require collective regional effort, including certain non-traditional issues like terrorism, drug smuggling, etc. (e) Meeting of leaders on the sidelines of the SAARC summits have often helped in ironing out bilateral differences.

    The ASEAN countries did not have contested ideologies, such as the one based on two-nation theory. The countries comprising ASEAN came together to defend themselves from the communist threat. Such external threat was absent in the case of SAARC. Rather, India was considered as a threat by some member countries. Thus, SAARC and ASEAN cannot be compared. Similarly, SCO is relatively a new organisation established in 2001. I don’t think SCO has been effective in terms of forging a common policy on Afghanistan. There is contestation between China and Russia as the latter feels that China is expanding its influence over Central Asia which is its legitimate sphere of influence. Though the forum speaks of countering terrorism; it is yet to have any comprehensive policy to deal with the post-withdrawal situation in Afghanistan.

    Myanmar’s Critical Role in Bolstering India’s Look East Policy

    Cooperation with India will help natural resources-rich Myanmar develop its true potential. And cooperation with Myanmar will help India transform the North-East, bolster its Look East Policy, and help it emerge as a major Asian power

    February 02, 2012