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Asean and East Asia Could Be India's New Gold Mine


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As East Asian economies begin to emerge from the economic shadow of the 1997 crisis, there is a clear understanding that greater economic coordination among major Asian countries is essential to face the globalization challenges.

If Asia has to strengthen her economic and political weight in the world affairs, India has to be involved as an integral part of the Asia-wide cooperation. As such closer cooperation among Japan, ASEAN, South Korea, India, and China would have far ranging implications for the world.

India has be more proficient at strategic economic diplomacy and soft power skills simultaneously East Asia has to shed its cold war mind set and its insularity to grasp win-win opportunities. India’s growth strategy based on strong and increasingly globally competitive and networked domestic companies could provide a balance for highly trade and FDI dependent East Asian economies.

With successful 4th India-ASEAN dialogue meeting at Kuala Lumpur in December 2005 stage is set for a successful summit from the 14th of this month between India and ASEAN at the Philippines to be followed by the East Asia Summit.

It is seen that the Look-East policy is being pursued aggressively and has started yielding results on the economic, political and strategic fields. The policy initially started with courting ASEAN but now it has expanded to include other nations of the region such as China, Japan and Korea through the East Asia Summit.

The Look East Policy of India started in 1992 had its seeds in the end of the cold war, with the end of the former Soviet Union. In post liberalized India it is more than just a foreign policy alternative as it provided alternative development model too. To quote Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh “it was also a strategic shift in India’s vision of the world and India’s place in the evolving global economy”.

It is only since the beginning of this century, India has given a big push to this policy by becoming a summit level partner of ASEAN (2002), in forming the BIMSTEC and the Ganga Mekong Cooperation and now becoming a member of the East Asia Summit (EAS) in December 2005 and Shanghai co-operation.

India’s interaction with ASEAN in the cold war era can be described as a tale of missed opportunities. India declined to get associated with ASEAN in the 1960s when full membership was offered even before the grouping was formed. The former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in his address to the Institute of Diplomatic and Foreign Relations at Kuala Lumpur in may 2001, “India and ASEAN are on the same side of the socio-economic divide in the debate on globalization. Opening up our national economies to global markets cannot become a mantra at the cost of equitable development and social justice”.

The first India-ASEAN Business Summit was held at New Delhi in October 2002. ASEAN-India annual trade jumped 40.8 percent last year over 2003, from US$12.5 billion (euro10.6 billion) to US$17.6 billion (euro14.96 billion). That marked its biggest-ever annual rise, it's still tiny compared with ASEAN's US$136 billion (euro115.61 billion) in annual trade with the United States. As such there is a huge scope to expand it further.

Dr Singh has strongly advocated the idea of a Free Trade area (FTA) with ASEAN which was initiated by Vajpayee hopefully in the coming summit this would finally materialized. An FTA with ASEAN will give India an opportunity to look beyond trade and to areas such as science and technology, information technology, biotechnology, space technology, tourism, and human resource development. India has offered to eliminate tariffs for five ASEAN members- Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei- by 2011. The new ASEAN members- Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam- will get time till 2016 to set up FTAs with India.

With Annual trade of India with China expected to rise from the present $20 billion to $40 billion by 2010. The Indo-Japanese bilateral trade in 2003-04 stood at US$ 4 bn growing by 18 per cent then what it was in 2002-03. So far as foreign direct investment (FDI) is concerned, approvals of Japanese FDI in India during the period 1991-2004 have been in the order of US$3.2 billion accounting for around 4.8 per cent of total Indian approvals for all FDI.

Thus for India East Asia and ASEAN can be a gold mine in future.

Dr Suvrokamal Dutta

(The writer is a renowned Foreign Affairs and Economic Expert and Chairman Global Council For Peace)

Contact: Email:,


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