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India’s Act East Policy: Walking the Talk

Chakraborty, Debashis and Chakraborty, Anushree (2018): India’s Act East Policy: Walking the Talk.

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Abstract

After independence, for four decades, India relied on the development supports from the ‘West’, both from the West European countries and the United States as well as from the Soviet Union. While interaction with the Southeast and East Asian economies continued in international forums like the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a long-term strategic partnership was missing for various reasons.

After initiating the economic liberalization policies in 1991, the country adopted a ‘Look East Policy’ (LEP) with a two-track approach in mind. While on one hand, Japan, Singapore and South Korea were considered as source of technology and investment, high growth rate in several economies of East and Southeast Asia was instrumental in considering them as high potential export markets. India subsequently strengthened the ties with the ‘East’ by becoming Sectoral Dialogue Partner of ASEAN in 1992, covering trade, tourism, investment and science and technology.

India’s ‘Act East Policy’ (AEP) came into effect when the current Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi at his maiden visit to ASEAN-India Summit in 2014 emphasized on practicing more action-oriented policy towards ASEAN and the wider East Asia. The policy is not a strict foreign policy shift. Under close examination, AEP emerged to be continuation and further deepening of the LEP launched. While trade and investment remain central to India’s outreach to Southeast Asia, under the present NDA government, the country has emerged as the net security provider of the region. In 2015, the Prime Minister visited five East Asian countries at various occasions. There have been other high level diplomatic visits to the East, followed by the appropriate diplomatic channels. Therefore, AEP has brought a great sense of speed and priority in engaging with the East Asian countries in general and Southeast Asia in particular.

The current paper examines the opportunities that this new narrative offers for India-East Asia relations in days to come, especially in the current geo-political set-up. At the end, it attempts to seek answers to India’s drive towards greater linkages with this Asian sub-region, both in economic and strategic platforms.

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