To strengthen and encourage the defence ties between ASEAN and India, the Defence Minister of India, Rajnath Singh, is on an official visit to the Southeast Asian Nation of Cambodia from November 22nd to 23rd 2022, at the invitation of the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Samdech Pichey TEA Banh. Cambodia is the current Chair of the ASEAN and is hosting the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) this year. He also met Richard Marles, his Australian counterpart, at the summit.
The Defence Cooperation between India and ASEAN countries is geared primarily towards exchanging high-level visits, strategic dialogues, port calls, training exercises, training exchanges and provision of defence equipment.
The first Southeast Asian nation adjacent to India’s eastern border is Myanmar. The Myanmar Security Forces are looking towards India for military hardware, and India has provided them with that and has also been training their security forces. Examples include Helicopters, transport aircraft etc. Both nations have resolved to protect maritime trade and other projects under the Act East Policy (Mekong Ganga Project). The Myanmar Navy is part of India’s MILAN series of exercises.
Thailand is another littoral state in the Indian Ocean. The current defence cooperation involves regular joint exercises, coordinated maritime patrols, counter-piracy, counter-terrorism and anti-smuggling operations. Militaries and officers of both nations are training in each other’s military academies and naval exercises. Joint Working Groups have been formed as well.
Geopolitically, The Malacca Strait is an essential route of energy resources (oil and gas) supply for India, East Asian and Southeast Asian nations. Incidents of Piracy, Ransom have led the navies of India and ASEAN Nations to protect their SLOC (Sea Lanes of Communication). India’s cooperation with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore remains strategically important.
Vietnam is one of the ASEAN nations that strongly bonded with India. Both face the hegemony of China. There is a great extent of naval cooperation between the two, such as coordinated patrols between the Vietnamese Sea Police and Indian Coast Guard, Training of Vietnamese air force pilots in India. India is helping the Vietnamese to set up a domestic defence industry.
India has set up an Air Force Academy in Laos. Regular Indian military delegations have visited Laos and are working on capacity building of the Laos People’s Army. In Cambodia, there are visits of defence officials’ frequent calls at ports and training courses for the Royal Cambodian Air Force.
Defence Cooperation with the Philippines has been seen in the form of numerous port calls by the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard Ships and the active participation of military personnel in various training courses. A Joint Defence Cooperation Committee was formed between them to deepen the ties between the two further. Similar cooperation exists between Brunei and Malaysia.
At the multilateral level, India has become a member of ADMM. (ASEAN Defence Minister Meetings) Eight Plus. The primary objective is cooperative security in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, maritime security, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations.
Both India and ASEAN members have been on an upward economic trajectory. India’s efforts in defence cooperation with ASEAN also aim at addressing its strategic concerns both in the Indian Ocean littoral as well as in the South China Sea.
The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of External Affairs need to coordinate their efforts to add meaningful substance to the evolving defence and security relationship with the ASEAN members.