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Shubhendra Mishra asked: What is the strategic significance of India’s Look East Policy? Is it to counter China’s ‘string of pearls’ network?

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  • Rup Narayan Das replies: India’s Look East Policy was unveiled in early 1990s before the concept of ‘string of pearls’ gained currency. In fact, India’s Look East Policy is a resurrection and rejuvenation of India’s traditional, cultural, historical and political ties with the countries in the South East Asian region. India’s deep cultural interaction is particularly evident in Bali in Indonesia and the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia. There is also an Indonesian version of Ramayana. In modern times, India extended moral and political support to the liberation struggles in Vietnam and Indonesia. India played a key role in the Geneva Conference of 1954, which brought peace to the Indo-China region after the French withdrawal. Similarly, India played an important role in the Indonesian fight against the Dutch imperialism. Thus, India’s engagement in the region has its own imperatives.

    When India’s Look East Policy was unveiled in early 1990s, it also coincided with India’s economic reforms and liberalisation, and as such, the policy has much to do with India’s economic engagement with the region rather than to counter the ‘string of pearls’ strategy attributed to China. The ‘string of pearls’ strategy refers to China’s building of ports in Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Chittagong in Bangladesh and Sittwe in Myanmar. China has claimed that these ports have commercial purposes, but these ports have security and strategic implications for India. India has taken cognisance of such future possibilities and has deepened its comprehensive engagement with the countries of the region, particularly Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand.

    The import of India’s strategic engagement with the region can be understood from a statement by India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, made during a discussion at Carnegie Endowment in September 2010, when he stated: “We have global interest, the Chinese have global interest, all of us do. And all the major powers, as I said, are not only interdependent on each other, but also are dealing with each other across a whole range of issues, none of which recognise some artificial geographical construct like South Asia or East Asia. These are interlocking circles of security and prosperity, whichever way you look at it.”

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