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Arnab Sen asked: What are the contours of India's defence diplomacy in East and Southeast Asia?

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  • Rahul Mishra replies: Defence diplomacy is a tool often deployed by countries to bring about perceptual changes in their image and to strengthen relations with other countries. A number of initiatives including institutionalisation of defence dialogues and regular exchange of visits by leaders, diplomats and military personnel constitute the various facets of defence diplomacy. Joint military exercises between countries and visit of military officials to one another’s training institutions are also part of defence diplomacy. So far as India’s defence diplomacy in the Southeast Asian region is concerned, it has of late been proactive and productive.

    With its rising military and economic prowess, India is expected to play a key role in the East and Southeast Asian region. In 2012, the US Secretary of State Leon E. Panetta called India a ‘linchpin’ in the US’ rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific region (see Leon E Panetta’s speech at IDSA on June 06, 2012). A growing realisation in the Indian policy circles that India will have to assert itself as a major regional player and play the role of a credible and responsible stakeholder has led to numerous diplomatic initiatives. In this regard, defence diplomacy has played a key role in making India a key strategic partner of countries in the region including Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Vietnam. Indian defence minister’s visit to Singapore, Australia and Thailand in early June 2013 underscores the point. The signing of pacts for extension of training facilities for Singapore armed forces, extradition treaty with Thailand and substantiating defence agreements with Indonesia are latest moves on that count. Apart from regular bilateral and multilateral exercises, like SIMBEX, BOLD Kurukshetra, MILAN, Malabar, INDINDOCORPAT, etc., India’s enhanced cooperation with Indonesia, Thailand and Australia for anti-piracy operations have also added value to India’s defence diplomacy in the East and Southeast Asian region.