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Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said India will consider whether its concerns and interests in trade in goods, services, and investments are being fully accommodated when he attends the meeting of the RCEP there. PM Modi was in Bangkok to participate in the 16th ASEAN-India Summit. He attended the 14th East Asia Summit and the 3rd Summit meeting of nations negotiating a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In his departure statement, Prime Minister said ASEAN related Summits are key elements of India’s foreign policy, most notably our Act East Policy. Highlighting the importance of East Asia Summit, Prime Minister said it gives an opportunity to present our vision for the Indo-Pacific region. The Prime Minister added that during the visit, he will also hold bilateral meetings with a number of other world leaders present in the Thai capital for related summit meetings.

Look East policy:

  • India’s Look East policy is an effort to cultivate extensive economic and strategic relations with the nations of Southeast Asia to bolster its standing as a regional power and a counterweight to the strategic influence of the People’s Republic of China.
  • Initiated in 1991, it marked a strategic shift in India’s perspective of the world.
  • It was developed and enacted during the government of Prime Minister Narsimha Rao and rigorously pursued by the successive administrations of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
  • The success of Look East policy enthused the Mandarins of South-Block to develop the policy into more action oriented, project and outcome based policy.
  • After a couple of decades, India’s Act-East Policy, which was announced in 2014 by the Prime minister Narendra Modi’s administration, became a successor to the Look-East Policy

Act East policy:

  • India’s Act East Policy focusses on the extended neighbourhood in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • The policy which was originally conceived as an economic initiative, has gained political, strategic and cultural dimensions including establishment of institutional mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation.
  • Act East Policy has placed emphasis on India-ASEAN cooperation in our domestic agenda on infrastructure, manufacturing, trade, skills, urban renewal, smart cities, Make in India and other initiatives.
  • Connectivity projects, cooperation in space, S&T and people-to-people exchanges could become a springboard for regional integration and prosperity.
  • The Objective of ”Act East Policy” is to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop strategic relationship with countries in the Asia-Pacific region through continuous engagement at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels thereby providing enhanced connectivity to the States of North Eastern Region including Arunanchal Pradesh with other countries in our neighbourhood.
  • The North East of India has been a priority in our Act East Policy (AEP).
  • AEP provides an interface between North East India including the state of Arunachal Pradesh and the ASEAN region.
  • Various plans at bilateral and regional levels include steady efforts to develop and strengthen connectivity of Northeast with the ASEAN region through trade, culture, people-to-people contacts and physical infrastructure (road, airport, telecommunication, power, etc.). Some of the major projects include Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project, the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project, Rhi-Tiddim Road Project, Border Haats, etc.

Strategic angle of act east policy:-

  • Indo pacific :-
    • For India, the centrality of ASEAN and Southeast Asia is essential for peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. Its engagement with the 10-nation bloc is at the core of New Delhi’s strategic perspective for the region and its ‘Act East’ policy.
    • Widening the security cooperation under the proposed quadrilateral coalition, officials of India, the US, Japan and Australia had held extensive talks on the sidelines of the ASEAN summitin Manila for pursuing common interests in the strategically important Indo-Pacific region.
  • China factor:-
    • China’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea and growing influence in the Indian Ocean region, India’s focus on act east policy is necessity.
  • Maritime goals:-
    • India and the ASEAN countries are maritime nations, and their goal is to evolve a regional architecture based on the twin principles of shared security, and shared prosperity.
    • Both India and ASEAN share a common vision for global commerce and the maritime domain.
  • Both the parties working closely with the regional bloc in a range of activities like developing a blue economy, coastal surveillance, building off-shore patrolling capabilities, hydrographic services, and information sharing for increased maritime domain awareness.
  • ASEAN:-
    • Both India and ASEAN have a common vision for the future, built on commitment to inclusion and integration, belief in sovereign equality of all nations irrespective of size, and support for free and open pathways of commerce and engagement.
    • Along the way, from dialogue partners, ASEAN and India have become strategic partners.
    • Both have broad-based partnership through 30 mechanisms. Partnership in ASEAN-led institutions like the East Asia Summit, ADMM+ (ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus) and ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum) is advancing peace and stability in the region.
    • Range of key issues including effectively tackling threat of terrorism, boosting maritime security cooperation and enhancing connectivity were the other areas of deliberations at the India-ASEAN commemorative summit .
    • For Asean, India not only offers a huge domestic market with growing aspirational middle class but also a growing working population which is not the case with other economies such as Korea, Japan or China where the working population is on the decline.
    • Focusing on trade in services with Asean will give India an opportunity to use its competitive strength to become a services export hub to the Asean region.
    • Further, being a part of the AEC (Asean Economic Community), RCEP and having strong relations with Asean through the existing FTA will not only facilitate further economic reforms in India but also assist the country in establishing itself as a growing economic power in Asia.
  • Indonesia:-
    • Indonesia remains a key player within Southeast Asia for several reasons. Most clearly, Indonesia will be essential in extending India’s maritime outreach. It has a total of maritime areas of 6,400,000 square kilometers, including its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
    • The distance from India’s Andaman Islands to Indonesia’s Aceh province is barely 80 nautical miles, underscoring the importance to both India and Indonesia of the importance of enhanced maritime cooperation for the continuing peace, stability and economic prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.
    • The two navies have partnered in naval exercises for several years now with naval ships patrolling between the Andaman Sea and Malacca Straits.
    • Both countries emphasise also the importance of rule of law, in particular the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS)
    • Indonesia has also shown some interest in joining the Bay of Bengal initiative, which appears sensible both from an economic and security perspective.
    • India has also shown interest in joining the Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP), a four-nation arrangement between Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand for exchange of intelligence, and coordinated air and sea patrol through the Malacca Straits.
  • Vietnam has extended an Indian oil concession in the South China Sea to India.
  • Singapore:-
    • Singapore is a window to the heritage of India’s ties to the region, the progress of the present and the potential of the future. Singapore was a bridge between India and ASEAN.
  • RCEP:-
    • India is also interested in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, seeking a comprehensive, balanced and fair agreement for all 16 participants.
  • Myanmar and Thailand:
    • Stronger relations between India and Myanmar have also helped to quell insurgency and extremism in the north-eastern states of India. Peace, stability and security of north-east India will be further preserved and promoted with more robust ties and understanding with Myanmar
    • Connectivity projects, viz., the Trilateral Highway between north-east India and Myanmar and onwards to Thailand (and Laos and Vietnam) as well as the Kaladan multi-modal transit and transport project, have been under implementation for several years


  • India has a trade deficit with all RCEP countries which is around 107B$.
  • RCEP has not addressed India’s needs in services, skilled labour mobility.
  • Our past experiences in 17 FTA’s countries shows that we are not able to take full advantage of it.
  • We have not taken any major measures since early 1990’s.
  • China is surrounding India by building ports.

Way forward:

  • Success of Act East policy will also define the difference we are able to make to the life and commerce of our people in the north-east because there the connectivity becomes extremely important.
  • We are already doing that but more needs to be done in collaborating with countries in South China Sea.
  • India must continue to focus on further strengthening collaboration with ASEAN nations and others.
  • India’s bureaucratic shift is an important move to articulate its regional policy more cogently, coherently and with a renewed sense of purpose.
  • Partners must work to promote economic revival, seek strategic cooperation to fight terrorism, and enhance maritime security and defense cooperation.
  • Soft power such as Buddhism, tourism, people-to-people contacts, and cultural ties with the region must continue to be harnessed.
  • Beyond, but linked to ASEAN, India must further strengthen strategic and economic ties with the U.S., Japan, Korea, Australia, and also with China.
  • Important sectors like technology transfer, civilian nuclear cooperation, defence, and innovation should be given priority
  • Continuous engagement with China too is necessary to expand cooperation, particularly on the economic front.