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.
India has upgraded its relations to strategic partnership with Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Republic of Korea (ROK), Australia, Singapore and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and forged close ties with all countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Further, apart from ASEAN, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and East Asia Summit (EAS).
India has also been actively engaged in regional fora such as Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).
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.
Objectives of the Policy :
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.)..
The ASEAN-India Plan of Action for the period 2016-20 has been adopted in August 2015 which identifies concrete initiatives and areas of cooperation along the three pillars of political-security, economic and socio-cultural.
On the Civilizational front, Buddhist and Hindu links could be energized to develop new contacts and connectivity between people.
On Connectivity, special efforts are being made to develop a coherent strategy, particularly for linking ASEAN with our North East. Measures, including building transport infrastructure, encouraging airlines to enhance connectivity in the region, contacts between academic and cultural institutions are underway.
Our economic engagement with ASEAN has been stepped up – regional integration and implementation of projects are priorities.
The ASEAN-India Agreement on Trade in Service and Investments has entered into force for India and seven ASEAN countries from 1 July 2015.
The ASEAN-India Trade Negotiating Committee has been tasked to undertake a review of the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement.
India has also invited ASEAN member states to participate in the International Solar Alliance.
Closer cooperation in combating terrorism, collaborating for peace and stability in the region and promotion of maritime security based on international norms and laws are being pursued.
Evaluation of Act East Policy (AEP):
The renewed focus of the AEP are evident in the extensive high-level visits—by India’s president, vice president, and prime minster to nine of the 10 ASEAN states—over the last 23 months. In addition to reviving the economic partnership, India has focused on promoting connectivity with other ASEAN states through Myanmar and Thailand.
AEP has imparted greater vigour to India’s ties with ASEAN. Relations with ASEAN have become multi-faceted to encompass security, strategic, political, counter terrorism, and defence collaboration in addition to economic ties.
AEP has sought to significantly expand its geographical coverage beyond ASEAN alone, to include other countries like Japan, Australia, Pacific Island nations, South Korea, and Mongolia. India’s partnership with Japan has witnessed the most dynamic growth.
India’s AEP has also impacted relations with the United States.
By aligning India’s Act East Policy with the U.S. pivot to Asia, India seeks to expand its geo-strategic space to contend with China’s growing assertiveness and foster balanced relations.
Road Connectivity and Trade:
India helped Myanmar in completing 160 km of the Tamu– Kalewa–Kalemyo sector of the proposed Trilateral Highway that seeks to link India, Myanmar, and Thailand.
By pursuing the Mekong–India Economic Corridor (MIEC) project, India seeks to get access to Laos,Cambodia, and Vietnam.
BCIM economic corridor, a highway linking Kolkata in India to Kunming in Yunnan province of China
The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit TransportProject, between India and Myanmar access to sea ports in Bangladesh that would link the North East to South East Asian countries, and also to mainland India.
Concerns and Challenges:
Better road connectivity need not lead to improved trade and economic development .Better connectivity can promote not only legal trade, but also prop up illegal trade in drugs, small arms, and human trafficking .
Trade and business, not connected to the lives and to the day-to-day needs of the people, may prove to be counterproductive.
Almost all the corridors proposed as part of the sub regional initiatives pass through ethnically volatile and militant prone areas.
On the Indian side, the roads would pass through areas where the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Naga, Kuki and Meitei militants are operating
One of the few mega biodiversity regions in the world might be impacted by pollution and fragmentation of habitat .
All countries of the region, except China are dependent on external funding or are required to allocate significant proportion of their budgets for these projects, which is a tough task.
India must continue to focus on further strengthening collaboration with ASEAN nations and others. 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.
Iimportant 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.