Indo-Pacific acknowledged at ASEAN Summit:
- The 34th ASEAN Summit took place recently, where the document titled ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’ was released.
- The 10-nation grouping acknowledged Indo-Pacific as concept for dialogue and cooperation.
- While ASEAN has not spelt out what it considers to geographically constitute the region, there appear to be several similarities between the Indian and ASEAN approaches to this critical subject.
Alignment between India and ASEAN in Asia-Pacific on various aspects
On ASEAN Centrality:
- ASEAN envisages ASEAN Centrality in Indo-Pacific:
- The group acknowledged that Indo-Pacific is a very important part of the globe from both a geo-political as well as geo-economic perspective.
- The group clearly wants developments here to be ASEAN-centric and even ASEAN-led.
- It also offered “ASEAN Centrality” as means of engagement with all stakeholders in Indo–Pacific, including from grouping such as BIMSTEC, IORA, East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) etc.
- It is in line with India’s position:
- This approach of ASEAN aligns closely to the Indian position.
- In 2018, the India Prime Minister in reference to the Indo-Pacific region stated that Southeast Asia is at its centre, and that AEAN has been and will be central to its future.
- Works for both India and ASEAN:
- The similarity of approach to Indo-Pacific works well for both India and ASEAN.
- The two sides already have sizeable areas of cooperation within the “ASEAN Plus India” and the East Asia Summit frameworks, and we already work together in many of the ASEAN-led platforms and vehicles of cooperation.
On rules-based regional architecture:
- ASEAN seeks rules-based regional architecture in Indo-Pacific:
- Another second objective of the ASEAN group in Indo-Pacific is to promote an enabling environment for peace, stability and prosperity by upholding a “rules-based regional architecture”.
- The new ASEAN Outlook specifically refers to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) while talking of peaceful resolution of disputes.
- This can be interpreted as being aimed at China and its aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
- Again aligned with India’s position:
- India also seeks a rule-based order which must equally apply to all individually as well as to the global commons.
- India too believes that nations must uphold international commitments, including in freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and settlement of disputes.
- Once again, there is a close harmony of views between India and ASEAN.
- ASEAN ideal of Inclusiveness aligned with India’s:
- The ASEAN Outlook clearly has an inclusive approach to the region.
- India has also stated that the Indo-Pacific region is not an exclusive club aimed at any country but must be inclusive, aiming at security and prosperity for all in the region.
- This is none other than PM Modi’s idea of SAGAR, which he has elaborated extensively in his many visits within the region, including recently at the Majlis of the Maldives.
- Once again, we see the similarities between India and ASEAN which are starkly different from the idea of a waning power taking on an emerging one in its backyard.
Towards prosperity for all:
- The ASEAN Outlook makes it clear that the objective is the continued growth and development of all countries in the region through greater connectivity, more trade and higher investment.
- Free, fair and balanced trade by sticking to the rules of the game will be very important, so that prosperity can be shared by all.
- ASEAN pressure on India to ensure completion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by the end of 2019 is a case in point. Obviously, India will sign on only when it believes it has got as much in return for what it gives.
ASEAN seeks the usage of old mechanisms:
- Importantly, no countries have been named in the ASEAN Outlook.
- It is not being positioned as a new strategy of ASEAN, but a continuation of what have been ASEAN goals and objectives for decades.
- It is clearly mentioned that no new structures will be created, but that existing ones will be optimally utilised for achieving some of the goals stated in the Outlook.
- The East Asia Summit (EAS) will be one such platform where not only are China and Japan present, but also Russia and the United States.
- The ADMM (ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting) Plus framework will also come in handy on defence and security matters.
The two can come together to better deal with the US and China conflict
- ASEAN and India both do not want to choose the side of one global power of another:
- In current international scenario, individual countries or groups of nations are now being called upon to back one side against the other.
- This is difficult for both ASEAN as well as India.
- ASEAN and India are both middle powers that do not want to be put in a position where they have to choose sides between the big players.
- Way out – Coming together of India and ASEAN:
- A harmony between the balancing powers is, therefore, the requirement of the day.
- India should quickly seize the moment of the announcement of the ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific Region’. It should institute a new dialogue with ASEAN so that we can both further calibrate our approaches in this very important matter.
- Together, we shall have more say on this subject than we have individually, and that will put us in a stronger position.
- A Track-1 India-ASEAN Indo-Pacific dialogue should be instituted at the earliest.
GS Paper II: International Relations