Dis­cov­ery of Asia

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Commentary -

As­sem­bling all 10 heads of state or gov­ern­ment of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South East Asian Na­tions (Asean) in Delhi, as chief guests for the 2018 Repub­lic Day pa­rade, is un­doubt­edly a big push for In­dia’s Act East pol­icy. Asean lead­ers will also be at­tend­ing the Indo-Asean Com­mem­o­ra­tive Summit mark­ing 25 years of their di­a­logue part­ner­ship. There’s no deny­ing what lends ur­gency to this con­flu­ence: Amer­ica with­draw­ing from the re­gion and China muscling in. Some par­al­lels be­tween Asean and the Euro­pean Union (EU) are in­ter­est­ing in this re­gard. Euro­pean na­tions chose to drop their dif­fer­ences and come to­gether be­cause of the ex­pe­ri­ence of two world wars. Like­wise, Asean na­tions were ini­tially brought to­gether by the fear of ris­ing com­mu­nist in­sur­gen­cies in their neigh­bour­hood in the 1960s.

A sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion looms to­day, as China’s me­te­oric eco­nomic rise is trans­form­ing into Chi­nese as­sertive­ness on ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the re­gion, to­gether with other ways of un­der­min­ing a mul­ti­lat­eral rules-based or­der. As a re­sult, de­spite Asean’s deep eco­nomic en­gage­ments with China, the bloc doesn’t want to put all its eggs in Bei­jing’s bas­ket. On In­dia’s part, boost­ing ties with Asean has mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits. Not only is greater con­nec­tiv­ity with the bloc cru­cial to de­vel­op­ing In­dia’s north­east re­gion, greater Asean in­vest­ments into In­dia can re­sult in a mul­ti­plier ef­fect across eco­nomic sec­tors.

Asean na­tions like Viet­nam are well-in­te­grated with global value chains. In­dia can tap into these to give its own man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor a boost. Sim­i­larly, fa­cil­i­tat­ing greater In­dian ser­vice sec­tor ex­ports to Asean as well as freer move­ment of peo­ple is im­per­a­tive. The ser­vices-man­u­fac­tur­ing combo can lead to a balanced trade and in­vest­ment re­la­tion­ship by draw­ing on each side’s in­her­ent strengths.

There’s also a case for boost­ing tourism co­op­er­a­tion. Many In­dian tourists have al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced high-qual­ity tourism fa­cil­i­ties in Asean na­tions. The same could be repli­cated for Asean and other tourists to In­dia by invit­ing tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity com­pa­nies from the bloc to in­vest in pop­u­lar cir­cuits, such as the one cen­tred on Bodh Gaya. There’s also scope for en­hanc­ing se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion be­tween In­dia and Asean, all of which could be used to moot the next big idea: In­dian mem­ber­ship in Asean, which would be­come one of the world’s most dy­namic eco­nomic zones. Asean favours a looser union struc­ture than EU while In­dia join­ing up would make it as po­tent as EU; mak­ing its chances of fu­ture suc­cess cor­re­spond­ingly greater.

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