Event ReportsPublished on Feb 10, 2014
Mr. Sanjay Bhattacharya, Joint Secretary (South), Ministry of External Affairs, says "the need of the hour is an enhanced Look East Policy that is more in time with the current global setting".
India needs enhanced Look East Policy

A senior official in Ministry of External Affairs has stressed the need for an enhanced Look East Policy that is more in time with the current global setting.

Initiating a discussion on India’s Look East Policy at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi, on February 10, 2014, Mr. Sanjay Bhattacharya, Joint Secretary (South), Ministry of External Affairs, said "the need of the hour is an enhanced Look East Policy that is more in time with the current global setting".

Mr. Bhattacharya said Look East policy has mainly three broad dimensions -- the interplay between the global economic environment and development, the parameters of the Look East Policy, and what the future holds in terms of this Policy.

He gave an overview of the first dimension -- the current stage setting in relation to China, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore. He claimed that the term Asia-Pacific ought to be used in this context, and not Indo-Pacific, as the latter is a restrictive term. He talked about the strategic transformations in these specific countries. China is on the track of modernisation as far as its potential and capabilities are concerned. Thus far, the region has been familiar with China’s economic growth, but now other countries in the region have the opportunity to partake in China’s military modernisation.

Mr. Bhattacharya pointed out that with the government of Abe in Japan came a new definition of what Japan wishes to be. Further, he said that Australia has an enhanced defence posture, which includes acquisition and coordination, and Vietnam has a more determined position with respect to China. The Philippines and Singapore are providing facilities for other nations’ deployment. According to Mr. Bhattacharya, these are the major strategic transformations that have taken place in the region.

An economic shift, he said, and the American rebalancing has brought about new developments in the region. This has led to higher rates of economic growth, promoting the share of GDP in favour of countries in the region. The tapering off of the Global Crisis has had a direct impact with an increase in flow of technology, thereby reviving innovations. There is a closer interdependence between markets in Asia-Pacific and the West. Within Asia, there is more cooperation, an interlinking of supply chains, and promotion of Free Trade Areas (FTAs). The maritime debate is becoming increasingly important, and talks involving commerce and resources are picking up pace as well.

Mr. Bhattacharya pointed out that since the 90s reform and liberalisation, India has come a long way in terms of the traditional notion with which she viewed the Look East Policy and relations with other countries of the ASEAN group. From an approach based only on geography and economic policy, India has diversified into mirroring the ASEAN pillars of security and politics, and cultural ties. Thus, he stressed, importance is being given to the interplay between renewed strategies and evolving economic policies.

The parameters of the Look East Policy were highlighted next. The first, according to Mr. Bhattacharya, is the political and security pillar. Countries in the region have increased cooperation to improve security ties. This includes methods to counter transnational crimes such as terrorism, narcotics trade, trafficking, piracy, and etcetera. Healthier partnerships are developing due to a continuously changing legal architecture, which includes mutual legal systems and enhanced extradition. Further, naval training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief are improving as well.

Second is the economic pillar. A regime of agreements is coming up to make business easier with necessary government support. There is an increase in the number of FTAs between India and the region, including those with Japan, Korea, Male, and Thailand. Singapore is India’s leading trade partner, with the second largest FDI, and largest outward FDI. The integration of ASEAN, Mr. Bhattacharya said, has led to more investments rather than trade, along with double taxation. Also, with Indonesia and Australia exporting technology to India, the energy sector is gaining momentum. In the new economic scenario, companies get to interact directly with one another, thereby creating a different realm altogether, which gives business more leverage.

Mr. Bhattacharya talked about the cultural pillar as being the third important component of evolving ASEAN relations. He said that this cultural aspect involves people-to-people interactions and has a modality and utility of its own. Archaeological identification of World Heritage Sites has helped promote tourism in the region, and paved way for educational endeavours. He took the example of setting up of traditional handloom museums that have been successful in spreading regional awareness. However, he pointed out that infrastructure projects continue to be bottle necks. Further, ASEAN’s master plan on connectivity has seeped into Indian foreign policy. This includes the trilateral highway, open skies for 18 designated ASEAN countries, better connectivity with other SAARC countries, and etcetera. The Mekong-Ganga Cooperation is another example that was cited to explain the developing alliances in the region.

Mr. Bhattacharya concluded by briefly discussing a futuristic perspective with respect to India’s Look East Policy. He said that focus is now shifting to economic partnerships through special packages which consist of B-to-B initiatives thereby giving more leverage to companies to do business in the ASEAN region. In terms of connectivity, apart from the Northeast as a gateway, India is now exploring other options such as maritime and coastal routes, and open skies. He also talked about the demographic structure in India, where the youth is fairly large, and how development of skills will prove to be beneficial in the latter half of the century. His final remark was about expanding the ASEAN network in an increasingly exciting world- politically, economically, and culturally.

(This report is prepared by Tarini Mahajan, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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