The ‘Look East’ policy, started decades ago transformed into ‘Act East’ policy when the BJP led NDA government came into power in 2014. The policy projects India’s affirmation that India values the Eastern neighbours and wants to engage and act more with them for mutual development.
“Look East Policy” of India was launched by the former Prime Minister P.V Narasimha Rao in 1991. The main focus of this policy was to shift the country’s trading focus from the west and neighbours to the booming South East Asian countries. Since the formation of the new government in the centre in 2014, the NDA government upgraded it to “Act East Policy”. The “Act East Policy” was launched at the East Asia Summit in Myanmar in November 2014 by Prime Minister Narender Modi.
India’s approach to Southeast Asia has been lately shifting from one dominated by trade and development to one in which strategic considerations play an important complementary role. This has taken a new form, and is now called the “Act East” Policy, marking also an expansion to include other Indo-Pacific countries.
The policy which was originally envisaged as an economic initiative, has now gained political, strategic and cultural dimensions including establishment of institutional mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation thereby clearly highlighting the new approach of India. Also, India has now upgraded its relations to a strategic partnership with Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, Singapore and ASEAN.
The policy focuses on the extended neighborhood in the Asia-Pacific region. Its primary objective is to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop strategic relationship with countries in the Asia-Pacific region through continuous engagement at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels which would eventually provide enhanced connectivity to the states of North Eastern region.
The policy has also placed an emphasis on India-ASEAN cooperation in India’s domestic agenda on infrastructure, manufacturing, trade, skills, urban renewal, smart cities, Make in India etc. Its primary objective is to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop strategic relationship with countries in the Asia-Pacific region through continuous engagement at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels.
Since then ASEAN-India engagement has become deeper and new dimensions have been added with the relationship. Down the line, ASEAN partnership has scaled new heights. India has not only developed strong bilateral relations with countries such as Bangladesh, Mauritius, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Vietnam, etc., but also steering a number of sub-regional programmes and projects such as the BBIN, the Trilateral Highway, etc., and is actively contributing to the success of several regional initia such as ASEAN, EAS, BIMSTEC, IORA, RCEP, among others.
India and other countries are also stepping up efforts to chip away at one source of ASEAN’s dependence on China – infrastructural aid. India clearly wants to help ASEAN stand up to China because it is in New Delhi’s interest. But while there is little doubt about New Delhi’s desires, ASEAN countries are likely to look for actual deliveries rather than promises. India’s repeated assertion of ASEAN-centrality has so far not given ASEAN countries – especially the smaller ones – sufficient reason to hope that India can be an effective substitute for China.
With NDA government back in power, the ‘Act East’ policy is poised to get more focus and strengthen the already growing relations between India and ASEAN nations.