India’s ASEAN overtures a calculated answer to China’s unrestrained expansionism in the Asia-Pacific region

By inviting ASEAN leaders on Republic Day, India has reiterated its intent in creating ASEAN the core of Asia’s drive towards peace and prosperity. China’s relentless march across land and ocean via One Belt, One Road is usually believed to be a trial to contain New Delhi’s talents and influence. India’s sense of civilisational pride and assurance as an rising power will ne’er permit it to just accept China’s dominance in its own neighbourhood. Over the past few years, India has been creating concerted tries to strengthen its infrastructure, and its border posture has also become stiffer by standing up to China’s incursions. New Delhi has already taken decisive steps to offset China’s power by getting nearer to Washington and Tokyo, who have their own reasons to stay China’s power in check. The new formed Quadrilateral comprising India, Japan, Australia and the USA may be a significant step therein direction.

Nevertheless, the Modi government realises that these steps won’t satisfy. India can ought to expand its reach not simply to militarily counter China’s alarming projection of regional and international power, however also to present an alternate growth model (centred on soft power) to China’s centralised and authoritarian one so as to assert Asia’s natural leadership. Here comes the role of India’s strong stretch to ASEAN. New Delhi is anxious to assure ASEAN leadership that its participation in Quadrilateral isn’t equivalent to diverting its attention far from ASEAN.

India’s limited capacity to supply market access and security guarantees have usually bred a palpable sense of disillusionment on both sides. This needs to change, and vigorous efforts got to be made to align the interests and expectations of both sides. In November 2017, when India and Singapore signed an agreement to strengthen maritime security in the Straits of Malacca, Beijing quickly expressed its displeasure and issued a demarche to Singapore. Clearly, ASEAN countries are progressively looking to India to help ensure smooth access to vital ocean routes, whereas degrading the vulnerability quotient inherent in the face of China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China ocean. As Vietnam and Philippines are grappling to secure some disputed areas from China’s encroachment, ASEAN would like India to focus more on enhancing connectivity and development of ocean lanes.

India cannot afford to stay ambiguous as way as Chinese expansionism in Asia-Pacific is concerned. China invariably views Asia-Pacific coinage as a right away threat to its hegemony in Southeast Asia. Thus, New Delhi has to back its words with action on the ground, together with tangible outcomes from defence and security cooperation with ASEAN. With growing american short-sightedness and unpredictability under the Donald Trump administration, ASEAN is keen to examine India’s emergence as a possible counterweight to China. but Beijing can possibly aggressively reach out to ASEAN countries once their leaders depart from New Delhi for making an attempt to step out of the middle Kingdom’s ambit. it’s hoped that Modi has given them enough assurance of India’s support, putting to rest all fears of consequences.

During his address at the India-ASEAN summit in Nov 2017, Modi powerfully pitched for establishing a rules-based regional security design in the Asia-Pacific region — now central to international politics — displaying convergence of strategic interests between India and other major powers. distinctive terrorism and extremism as major challenges facing the region, Modi appealed for developing a standard approach for countering terrorism, an indirect reference to China’s uncritical support to Pakistan. His stress on freedom of navigation, an irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, and a thorough probe into North Korea’s nuclear proliferation linkages were clearly aimed at exposing China.

The Delhi Declaration — issued after Thursday’s plenary session with ASEAN leaders — clearly underlines India’s issues on the problem by mentioning “cross-border movement of terrorists and foreign terrorist fighters” and creating a commitment to counter the challenge through “close cooperation”. The declaration can further recreate India in its bid to get Masood Azhar listed as a global terrorist, and to put a lot of pressure on Pakistan to take action against Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed.

ASEAN is India’s fourth-largest trading partner, accounting for over 10 % of India’s international trade. Despite growing trade linkages between India and ASEAN, poor physical connectivity remains a key challenge to satisfy greater ASEAN expectations of integration with India. Modi government’s shift in emphasis by moving India far from SAARC to BIMSTEC and BBIN will be seen as an integral part of AEP. Connecting India’s northeast with its nearest eastern neighbours and more with Southeast Asia would open up a lot of trade routes, guaranteeing larger economic opportunities for the region.

There is an pressing need for both India and ASEAN to leverage existing platforms to strengthen collaboration in cyber security methods including security cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. there’s immense potential for India-ASEAN collaboration in both ocean-centred security cooperation and economic development also as in making a collective vision for a rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific region, that can’t be allowed to stay captive to China’s unrestrained expansionism and unilateralism.

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