New friends bring new foes for India

India’s continuation of their ‘look east’ policy, and their increased involvement with ASEAN, look set to force them into making clear their position on China.

New friends bring new foes for India

The India-Asean Commemorative Summit made clear that New Delhi is looking to expand its relations with East and South-East Asian nations beyond trade to security co-operation as well. This will, however, put increasing pressure on India to take a stronger, more definite position on China

India’s ‘Look East’ foreign policy authorised by former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and diligently pursued by his successors now seems to have matured. This was most evident on December 20, 2012, when the heads of state of 10 East-Asian countries assembled in New Delhi to strengthen their ties India at the India-Asean Commemorative Summit.

The evolution of the India-Asean relationship has been primarily determined by the principle of reciprocity and this has facilitated a slow but steady deepening of relationships, beginning with India being accorded the ‘Dialogue’ status at Asean meetings. Now, it enjoys a full-fledged ‘strategic partnership’ with Asean. India’s Free Trade Agreement with Asean countries also matured on December 20, 2012, as the members agreed to include services in it, along with goods.

India-Asean relationship has also gone beyond the area of trade to include security cooperation. The Vision Statement released at the New Delhi Summit states: “We are committed to strengthening cooperation to ensure maritime security and freedom of navigation and safety of sea lanes of communication for unfettered movement of trade in accordance with international law”. However, this new dimension can be problematic and must be carefully handled by India’s foreign and security policy makers. India must keep in mind its many old conflicts with neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka in this respect.

It is one thing to issue a communiqué after a summit, demanding freedom of navigation and maritime rights under international law. But, it is quite another to deal with contentious issues regarding the rights of passage on the seas etc. These are problems that India will have to deal with, for instance, while enforcing a ‘code of conduct’ in the South China Sea where China is not prepared to concede even an inch to its other neighbours like Vietnam and the Philippines.

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Source: The Pioneer.

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