Friday, March 20, 2020
Indias Look East Policy
India's Look East Policy IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s Look East Policy IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s Look East Policy is an effort being made by the Indian government to cultivate and strengthen economic and strategic relations with the nations of Southeast Asia in order to solidify its standing as aÃ regional power.Ã This aspect of IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s foreign policy also serves to position India as a counterweight to the strategic influence of the Peoples Republic of China in the region. Initiated in 1991, it marked a strategic shift in IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s perspective of the world. It was developed and enacted during the government of Prime MinisterÃ P.V. Narasimha RaoÃ and has continued to enjoy energetic support from the successive administrations ofÃ Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi, each of whom represents a different political party in India. IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s Pre-1991 Foreign Policy Before the fall of the Soviet Union, India made scant efforts to foster close relationships with the governments of Southeast Asia. There are several reasons for this. First, due to its colonial history, IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s ruling elite in the post-1947 era had an overwhelmingly pro-Western orientation. Western countries also made for better trade partners as they were significantly more developed than IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s neighbors. Second, IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s physical access to Southeast Asia was barred by MyanmarÃ¢â¬â¢s isolationist policies as well as BangladeshÃ¢â¬â¢s refusal to provide transit facilities through its territory. Third, India and the Southeast Asian countries were on opposing sides of the Cold War divide.Ã IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s lack of interest in and access to Southeast Asia between its independence and the fall of the Soviet Union left much of Southeast Asia open to ChinaÃ¢â¬â¢s influence. This came first in the form of ChinaÃ¢â¬â¢s territorial expansionist policies. Following Deng XiaopingÃ¢â¬â¢s ascent to leadership in China in 1979, China replaced its policy of expansionism with campaigns to foster extensive trade and economic relations with other Asian nations. During this period, China became the closest partner and supporter of theÃ military juntaÃ of Burma, which had been ostracized from the international community following the violent suppression of pro-democracy activitiesÃ in 1988. According to former Indian Ambassador Rajiv Sikri, India missed a crucial opportunity during this period to leverage IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s shared colonial experience, cultural affinities and lack of historical baggage to build strong economic and strategic relations with Southeast Asia. Implementation of the Policy In 1991, India experienced an economic crisis that coincided with the fall of the Soviet Union, which had previously been one of IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s most valued economic and strategic partners. This prompted Indian leaders to reevaluate their economic and foreign policy, which led to at least two major shifts in IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s position toward its neighbors. First, India replaced its protectionist economic policy with a more liberal one, opening up to higher levels of trade and striving to expand regional markets. Second, under the leadership of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, India ceased to view South Asia and Southeast Asia as separate strategic theaters.Ã Much of IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s Look East Policy involves Myanmar, which is the only Southeast Asian country that shares a border with India and is seen as IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s gateway to Southeast Asia. In 1993, India reversed its policy of support for MyanmarÃ¢â¬â¢s pro-democracy movement and began courting the friendship of the ruling military junta. Since then, the Indian government and, to a lesser extent, private Indian corporations, have sought and secured lucrative contracts for industrial and infrastructure projects, including the construction of highways, pipelines and ports. Before the implementation of the Look East Policy, China enjoyed a monopoly over MyanmarÃ¢â¬â¢s vast oil and natural gas reserves. Today, competition between India and China over these energy resources remains high.Ã Furthermore, while China remains MyanmarÃ¢â¬â¢s biggest weapons supplier, India has boosted its military cooperation with Myanmar. India has offered to train elements of the Myanmar Armed Forces and share intelligence with Myanmar in an effort to increase coordination between the two countries in combating insurgents in IndiaÃ¢â¬â¢s Northeastern States. Several insurgent groups maintain bases in Myanmar territory. Since 2003, India has also embarked on a campaign to forge free trade agreements with countries and regional blocs throughout Asia. The South Asia Free Trade Agreement, which created aÃ free trade areaÃ of 1.6 billion people inÃ Bangladesh,Ã Bhutan,Ã India,Ã Maldives,Ã Nepal,Ã Pakistan andÃ Sri Lanka, came into effect in 2006. TheÃ ASEANÃ¢â¬âIndia Free Trade AreaÃ (AIFTA), aÃ free trade areaÃ among the ten member states of theÃ Association of Southeast Asian NationsÃ (ASEAN) andÃ India, came into effect in 2010. India also has separate free trade agreements with Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. India has also boosted its cooperation with Asian regional groupings such as ASEAN, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). High-level diplomatic visits between India and the countries associated with these groupings have become increasingly common the last decade.Ã During his state visit to Myanmar in 2012, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced many new bilateral initiatives and signed around a dozen MOUs, in addition to extending a line of credit for $500 million. Since then, Indian companies have made significant economic and trade agreements in infrastructure and other areas. Some of the major projects taken up by India include the resurfacing and upgrading of the 160-kilometer Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road and the Kaladan project that will connect Kolkata Port with Sittwe Port in Myanmar (which is still in progress). A bus service from Imphal, India, to Mandalay, Myanmar, is expected to launch in October 2014. Once these infrastructure projects are completed, the next step will be connecting the India-Myanmar highway network to the existing portions of the Asian Highway Network, which will connect India to Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia.