Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar at a lecture in Singapore on “India, ASEAN and Changing Geopolitics”, emphasised the importance Modi administration attaches to its ‘Act East Policy’.
Delivering the lecture, Jaishankar spoke on a number of issues, including ties with China, differences with Pakistan on the issue of terrorism and touched upon the ongoing border tensions in Doklam, where Indian and Chinese soldiers have been in a standoff for around three weeks.
India and China must not let differences become disputes and should approach each other with “strategic maturity”, Jaishankar said while alluding to the Doklam crisis. The Foreign Secretary also also spoke about why groupings such as the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) are no longer effective to take forward regional interests.
On the 8th of August 2017, ASEAN would mark fifty years of coming into being. In the same year, India and ASEAN would observe 25 years of their Dialogue Partnership, 15 years of Summit Level interaction and 5 years of Strategic Partnership.
In his speech Foreign Secretary Jaishankar spelt out the many areas of convergences that take this partnership to a key strategic level saying, “Involvement with the ASEAN and the consequent development of trade and sourcing of resources from the East has significantly heightened maritime consciousness in India. This has led us not only to be more active in pursuit of maritime interests but to use the domain to add an additional layer to our policy engagement.”
PAKISTAN AND TERRORISM
Alluding to differences on India’s key concern of terrorism with countries such as Pakistan he said, “As SAARC is constrained by differences on terrorism and connectivity, attention may shift to the BIMSTEC grouping in the Bay of Bengal which is more united on the benefits of regionalism to take forward this agenda”.
Maritime concerns over China’s aggressive posturing in the Indo-Pacific is a prime concern for many of the ASEAN nations and hence India has extended ‘support’ and ‘respects freedom of navigation, overflight and commerce throughout the region’. Jaishankar said India “expects nations to resolve territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law”.
Finally, focusing on China and the confrontational relationship that the two nations have had that steers any conversation about the region to ‘the opportunities and risks that emanate from this twin rise’, Jaishankar said, “We are all aware by now of the complexity inherent in the rise of two major powers near simultaneously, that too in close proximity. That the powers in question are civilizational ones, with positive far history and difficult near history, adds to the challenge.”
The big debate is about the opportunities and risks that emanate from this twin rise. Skewing the analysis in the direction of one at the expense of the other could mislead us. In truth, the India-China relationship by now has acquired so many dimensions and so much substance that reducing it to black and white argumentation cannot be a serious proposition. It is not only that India and China have stakes in each other; the world and especially ASEAN has a vested interest in this matter”, Jaishankar added.
Highlighting the differences that exist between the two nations, India and China, and referring to the current crisis at the border tri-junction of China-India-Bhutan, Jaishankar said said, “Negotiations on the long-standing boundary dispute also still continue. Differences on issues like terrorism, nuclear energy access and connectivity initiatives have also acquired some prominence” adding that both leaders had decided in Astana that ‘India and China must not allow differences to become disputes’.
“This consensus underlines the strategic maturity with which the two countries must continue to approach each other”, he said.
ASEAN and India’s ‘Act East Policy’, including growing bilateral ties with each of the ASEAN member country is being keenly watched by Beijing and India is certainly trying to forge strong alliances and friendship as a counter to difficult neighbours.
Sources tell India Today that in a big diplomatic move to this end, India has invited all ten ASEAN nations for the 2018 Republic Day parade to mark 25 years of dialogue partnership with ASEAN. This would be a significant move given the current India-China border tensions at Doklam.