As PM Modi Visits Jakarta, A Look at the History and Significance of ASEAN Bloc

India's engagement in the ASEAN bloc dates back to 1992 when it instituted its Look East Policy, which has since evolved into the Act East Policy.

Srajan Girdonia
New Update

Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a pivotal address at the annual ASEAN-India summit, articulating the need for a rules-based post-COVID world order and a robust partnership between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India.

Strengthening the Voice of the Global South

In his address, Prime Minister Modi stressed the importance of building a rules-based global order that prioritises cooperation over confrontation. He called for the strengthening of the collective voice of the Global South, underlining the pivotal role that ASEAN plays in global development. "ASEAN is the epicentre of growth, and the 21st century belongs to Asia," Modi asserted, emphasising the mutually beneficial nature of a rules-based post-COVID world order.

Prime Minister Modi also highlighted the necessity of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific. This comes amid rising geopolitical tensions in the region, especially concerning China's expanding influence. India has been a staunch supporter of the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific, and Modi reaffirmed India's commitment to this vision.

The prime minister acknowledged the enduring nature of the ASEAN-India partnership, which has entered its fourth decade. He emphasized that ASEAN occupies a central place in India's Act East policy and is integral to India's Indo-Pacific initiative.

The ASEAN - A Pillar of India's Engagement

The relationship between ASEAN and India is grounded in deep historical, cultural, and geopolitical ties. India's engagement in the region dates back to 1992 when it instituted its Look East Policy, which has since evolved into the Act East Policy. In recent years, this relationship has gained even more significance due to evolving geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region.

While economic cooperation between ASEAN and India has seen considerable success, challenges persist in the security domain, particularly in relation to China and Myanmar. ASEAN member states have often struggled to reach a consensus on matters of common concern, including their approach to China's regional influence and the military coup in Myanmar.

Prime Minister Modi's participation in the ASEAN summit underscores India's commitment to the region. His presence reaffirms India's dedication to strengthening ties with ASEAN nations and advancing shared interests in the Indo-Pacific. India's growing influence in the ASEAN region serves as a counterweight to China's expansionist policies. India's commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific aligns with ASEAN's interests, making it an ideal partner to address regional challenges.

ASEAN Takes a Strong Stance on Myanmar Crisis

In a significant development, ASEAN leaders have adopted a more assertive stance on the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. They "strongly condemned" the continuing violence in Myanmar, directly blaming the Myanmar military for the escalation of the conflict. The statement issued following the annual summit also urged the Myanmar Armed Forces to de-escalate violence and cease targeted attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure.

This represents a notable departure from ASEAN's previous approach and reflects growing concerns about the situation in Myanmar.

US Engagement in ASEAN and India

The United States' approach to ASEAN remains uncertain, leaving the bloc seeking non-aligned partners to navigate the complexities of the Indo-Pacific. India's growing stature on the global stage, its non-aligned worldview, and shared concerns about China's expansionism make it a valuable partner for ASEAN.

In contrast to India's active engagement in ASEAN, the absence of President Joe Biden and the decision to send Vice President Kamala Harris to the summit raise questions about the US commitment to the region. Some view this as an American snub to the ASEAN countries, highlighting the importance of India's role as a reliable and active partner in the Indo-Pacific.

As geopolitical dynamics continue to evolve, the ASEAN-India partnership remains critical for promoting stability, economic growth, and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. Prime Minister Modi's address at the summit underscores India's commitment to these shared goals.