One of the finest foreign policy accomplishments of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in recent years has been to reach out to East Asia, a region of great economic, political and geostrategic significance in the contemporary world. Observers say India’s East Asia policy today is on the right track.
India and East Asia have been very close to each other since ancient times. For a long time, after India emerged as an independent state, New Delhi had a policy of too China-centric in the region to pay due attention to India’s interests in other states in the region.
The scene had changed drastically since 1992 when India’s then Prime minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, announced the ‘Look East’ policy aimed at engaging more closely with the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. Rao crisscrossed Southeast Asia, building personal ties with the region’s leaders.
Indian diplomacy, during Prime Minister Modi’s administration, has given further momentum to the Rao process. During his first term in office, then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj rebranded Rao’s ‘Look East’ policy as ‘Act East’ one.
Like Rao, Modi has toured important East Asian nations to establish better relations with them. In June 2018, Modi visited Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore towards this end. He has also visited other important East Asian nations, including Japan and South Korea, to better ties with them.
The results of his trips to the region have been highly positive. India’s ties with Japan have of late attained a new high. India’s ties with South Korea are poised to grow.
On October 27 last year, Prime Minister Modi attended the East Asia Summit via a video conference hosted by Brunei Darussalam.
The forum comprises ten members of the ASEAN and eight others, namely, Australia, China, Japan, India, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States. The summit reaffirmed India’s focus on a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and stressed the synergies between ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). It emphasised the importance of a resilient global value chain and reiterated India’s commitment to providing Quad-sponsored vaccines to Indo-Pacific countries.
The observers suggest New Delhi must activate its diplomacy and reach out to the countries in the region. It could lay a special focus on Japan and South Korea, the two leading democracies in the region. To do this effectively, New Delhi must use its warm relations and clout with Tokyo and Seoul to reduce whatever friction exists between them. This would go a long way in uniting the two estranged democracies in the region and establishing India as a guru to guide the modern democratic world.
(The author is a New Delhi-based journalist)