Ties with Asean

Indonesia hosted the 43rd Asean summit and related summits at the capital city of Jakarta. Two days before Prime Minister…

Ties with Asean

Asean summit

Indonesia hosted the 43rd Asean summit and related summits at the capital city of Jakarta. Two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to welcome world leaders for the G-20 Summit that India was hosting on 9-10 September 2023, Prime Minister Modi travelled to Jakarta to participate in several key summits, including the 20th Asean-India Summit and the 18th East Asia Summit on 6-7 September.

Like the Indian capital city of Delhi, decorated for the G-20 summit, Jakarta too was all decked up for the summits. The Asean-India Summit was the first summit since the elevation of ties between India and the Association of South East Asian Nations bloc of countries to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2022.

The summit reviewed the progress of India-Asean relations and charted the future direction of cooperation. The East Asia Summit provided an opportunity for leaders of Asean countries and its eight dialogue partners, including India, to exchange views on issues of regio- nal and global significance. For the past few years, India-Asean ties have seen a significant up-swing. The focus has been on boosting cooperation in the areas of trade and investment, besides security and defence.


The theme for this year’s summit was “Asean Matters: Epicentrum of Growth”, indicating that Asean as an organisation shall be the catalyst for regional economic growth.
Started in 2002 in Cambodia, India’s summit with the 10-member grouping consisting of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia held on an annual basis has witnessed ties grow significantly with trade and in- vestment flows making perceptible progress. Simultaneously, backed by civilizational links and the size of the Indian diaspora, the people-to-people contacts have too seen growth.

Prior to his departure for Jakarta, the Prime Minister sho-wed optimism about his plan to discuss with Asean leaders the future contours of India’s partnership with the bloc. He remarked that India’s engagement with Asean was an important pillar of its “Act East” policy. Since the elevationof the strategic partnership into a comprehensive one, there is a new dynamism in ties between the two sides. It was a good opportunity for Mr. Modi to deliberateb on issues of importance to the region including food and energy security, environment, health, and digital transformation.

Hoping that India and Asean would collectively address these global challenges, the Prime Minister presented a 12 point proposal to expand cooperation with the bloc in a range of areas such as connectivity, trade and digital transformation and called for building a rules-based post-Covid world order.

His proposal included est- ablishment of multi-modal connectivity and economic corri- dors linking South East Asia, India, West Asia and Europe and offered to share India’s digital public infrastructure with Asean partners.

Other points of his proposal included a call for a collective fight against terrorism, terror financing and cyber-disinformation, all of which are faced by the Global South and needed to be raised in multilateral fora. Two joint statements were adopted: one on maritime cooperation, the other on food security. The Prime Minister underlined the importance of securing a free and open Indo-Pacific and elevating the voice of the Global South. It is almost unanimously recognised by the full spectrum of the Indian establishment that the country’s ties with the 10-member bloc are rooted in civilizational links going back cen- turies. Over the years, the bloc has emerged as one of the most influential groupings in the region. No wonder this fact is recognised from the fact that India and several other countries including the US, China, Japan and Australia are important dialogue part- ners of the bloc. The Prime Min ister asserted that the 21st cen- tury is Asia’s century and there- fore it is necessary to build a rules-based post-Covid world order, which underpins the importance of human welfare.
Reaffirming that Asean is the central pillar of India’s Act East policy, Mr. Modi assured the members that India fully supports the centrality of the bloc and its outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

Backed by history and the geographical connect between India and Asean, the two sides share common values, regional unity, peace and prosperity and a shared belief in a multipolar world as the pulling factor.

The Prime Minister’s remarks were in consonance with India’s cherished dream of realising its belief in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam One Earth, One Family, One Future.
Mr. Modi’s 12-point road-map also included an Asean India fund for the digital future focusing on cooperation in digital transformation and financial connectivity.
He also renewed support to the Economic and Research Institute of Asean and East Asia (ERIA). The Prime Minister also offered to share India’s experience in providing affordable and quality medicines to people through Jan-Aushadhi Kendras and invited the bloc members to join the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.

In August 2023, the eco- nomic ministers of India and the bloc countries met in Indonesia. During the latest summit, both sides reviewed the India-Asean Trade in Goods Agreement (AIT- IGA), which was signed in 2009. A joint committee agreed to a regular, quarterly schedule of negotiations. It was agreed to review the Asean-India FTA in 2025. It may be recalled that Prime Minister Modi had visited Jakarta in 2018 at the invitation of Indonesian President Widodo.

In 2022, India and Asean celebrated the 30th anniversary of their ties during which leaders of both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation and elevate rela- tions to the level of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. At the bilateral level, India and Indonesia resolved to take the bilateral relationship into a new era.
Another significant announcement made by the Prime Minister in Jakarta was the deci- sion to open an Indian embassy in Dili, Timor Leste, reflecting the importance India attaches to this island nation.

Located on the southern-most edge of the Indonesian archipelago, northwest of Australia, Timor Leste joined Asean as an observer in 2022, before becoming a full member.
Thus it transpires that the 20th Asean-India Summit proved yet another significant milestone in India’s relations with the Asean bloc. India and Asean are thus well positioned to deal with contemporary challenges.

(The writer is former Senior Fellow at the PMML and MP-IDSA, both in New Delhi)