India’s Maritime Diplomacy in Southeast Asia: An Assessment of the INS Sudarshini Expedition

Rahul Mishra was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • September 2013

    INS Sudarshini, India’s Sail Training Ship (STS), was sent on a commemorative expedition to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries for six months along the monsoon trade winds route to trace India’s civilisational and cultural affinities and rejuvenate trade and maritime linkages with its neighbours in the East. The voyage was part of the commemoration of the successful completion of two decades of India’s Look East Policy, 20 years of dialogue relations with ASEAN, and 10 years of India–ASEAN summit-level partnership. The expedition, a collaborative venture of India’s Ministries of Defence and External Affairs, traced sea routes developed centuries ago, linking India with countries of the Southeast Asian region. The heartening reception of the INS Sudarshini expedition across the Southeast Asian region has underscored the point that India’s maritime diplomacy has been a success in the region. The expedition also highlights the point that since India and Southeast Asia are immediate neighbours, there is a need to work towards ensuring greater connectivity between India and the countries of the region. As part of the commemoration, an India–ASEAN car rally was also organised, covering about 8,000 km and nine out of 10 ASEAN states. It is worth mentioning that India shares a land boundary with Myanmar and a maritime boundary with three Southeast Asian nations. The success of the INS Sudarshini expedition (and the India–ASEAN car rally) clearly indicates that compared to the situation during the 1980s and early 1990s, a substantive perceptual change has come about in the Southeast Asian approach towards India.