9th Asian Security Conference

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  • Session VI: India and Southeast Asia

    Rapporteur Report
    by
    Namrata Goswami and Priyadarshini Singh
    February 10, 2007

    The sixth session provided an overview of issues with regard to the emerging India-Southeast Asia relationship. It also discussed possible areas of convergence on security and economic matters. One of the most significant conclusions of the session was that India is perceived to be a benign power by countries of the region. This perception thus enables the adoption of a much more pro-active role by India without provoking much concern from states in the region with regard to its motives and intentions.

    Five very interesting papers were presented during the session. Udai Bhanu Singh traced the trajectory of India-ASEAN relations from the early 1990s, which marked India’s re-engagement of Southeast Asia. He identified economic and energy security as the key foreign policy goals for India vis-à-vis Southeast Asia. He also highlighted the key challenges that India foresees in this region – terrorism, protection of the SLOCs, non-traditional security threats, and the involvement of external powers. He also emphasized that New Delhi does not want to project the rise of India as a counterpoise to China and reiterated what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said, that there is space for both India and China in the region. He concluded on the note that there is tremendous scope for further development of India-Southeast Asia relations in the defence and strategic spheres.

    Clarifying India's stand on one aspect touched upon by Udai Bhanu Singh, the Chair, Shekhar Dutt, averred that relations between India and China are progressing on a positive note and added that India does not view China-Myanmar relations with any great concern.

    Tim Huxley highlighted the significant strategic niche that India has carved for itself in Southeast Asia and contended that this is a consequence of its Look East Policy and the widening horizons of its navy. Quoting Indian historian K. M. Panikkar’s vision of a Southeast Asian collective security mechanism propelled by Indian defence leadership, Huxley argued that in recent years India has risen up to that role as reflected by the various defence and economic agreements signed between India and ASEAN in the post-Cold War period. He also drew attention to the significant shift in ASEAN’s character in the post-Cold War period: from being a purely sub-regional economic grouping, ASEAN has gradually evolved into a larger regional body with significant security interests. He indicated that India’s growing engagement with ASEAN in recent years must be viewed through the prism of this development. Huxley delineated three aspects with regard to India’s involvement in the region. First, India’s membership of a range of institutions connected to Southeast Asian governments on security matters. This includes the 1996 membership of the ASEAN Regional Forum and full dialogue partnership with ASEAN in 1997. Second is India’ bilateral security and defence engagements with important ASEAN members like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Third is India’s growing naval activities in the Indian Ocean cited as a “legitimate area of interest” in the Indian Maritime Doctrine of 2004. Huxley concluded by arguing that though Southeast Asian nations are cautious about India’s growing role because of the China factor, yet they perceive India as a benign power. Therefore, this perception accrues significant strategic benefits for India to play a larger role in the region.

    Bernard Tan focused on the evolving defence co-operation between India and Singapore. He began by situating the India-Singapore relations in the larger context of India-Southeast Asia relations. He asserted that the issue of China looms large in these relations even though it has not been spelt out in India’s Look East policy. Tan then commented that India-ASEAN relations (both at the level of a regional bloc and bilateral country specific level) are moving beyond the economic dimension to include security and strategic dimensions also. He also dwelled on the Singapore-India defence and economic relations. In conclusion, he noted that India-Singapore defence relations have tremendous potential to grow and efforts should be made by both countries to ensure that India has a role to play in the security architecture of the region.

    In her paper, “India and East Asian Economic Integration: Current Status and Future Prospects,” Amita Batra offered an India-inclusive model of Southeast Asian regional co-operation in the form of ASEAN+3+1, which includes the 10 members of ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea and India. She argued that such an arrangement could further transcend into the Pan Asian Free Trade Area under the aegis of forums like the East Asia Summit. She stated that the proposed ASEAN+3+1 comprising two of Asia’s fastest growing economies, India and China, will have tremendous clout in the global economy. The Gross National Income (GNI) of this bloc is over US $ 2 trillion, comparable to the $ 9.4 trillion GNI of the European Union. Batra also pointed out that the positive intra-regional trade indicators are fully supportive of the proposed bloc. She added, in conclusion, that China-India confrontation, most often cited by security analysts, is a myth. Rather, the two countries have come to realize the significant benefits of a policy of “convergence of interests” rather than a confrontationist posture.

    Chyungly Lee, in her paper titled “India and East Asia Economic Integration,” stressed on the need to discuss the flaws in trade and investment flows between Southeast Asian countries and specifically in ASEAN. According to her, competition and coalition are shaping the geo-economic order and not co-operation and integration. She argued that India-ASEAN relations and India-China relations would benefit the region as a whole. However, she also highlighted the fact that ASEAN-India cooperation, according to the theories of regional integration, is South-South co-operation. Therefore, instead of focusing on reduction of tariffs, a proactive approach needs to be adopted and economic investment needs to be encouraged. She also stressed that ASEAN is crucial to Southeast Asia because it is the engine for regional co-operation. Lee concluded by saying that though regional integration is beneficial for economic matters, certain core security issues like Taiwan-China crisis require a more global institution to take the lead towards conflict management and resolution.

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