A look at India’s ‘Act East Policy’ which South Korean President termed as ‘important’

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New Delhi | July 10, 2018 3:53 PM

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.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and the President of the Republic of South Korea, Moon Jae-in jointly inaugurating the Samsung manufacturing plant, World’s Largest Mobile Factory, in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. (PIB photo)

The President of South Korea Moon Jae-in’s four-day visit to India has so far seen the leader inaugurate the world’s largest mobile factory on July 9, pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi at the Gandhi Smriti and speak of how India and South Korea have been ‘Strategic Partners’ since 2015, a result of 45 years of bilateral relations in various fields. Korea has also shown interest in India’s 100 Smart Cities mission and industrial corridors.

Moon said South Korea looks forward to working with India and the ‘Act East Policy’ of India is in tandem with what he proposed as the ‘New Southern Policy’ of Korea. Moon announced his policy that looks beyond Northeast Asia to focus on Southeast Asia, Australia, and India.

“Now 3 years have passed PM Modi’s ‘Act East Policy’ has importance to co-operation to Korea & I’m pressing ahead with ‘New Southern Policy’ that makes India Korea’s key partner for cooperation,” Moon said on Tuesday.

To explore new markets and business opportunities, countries are coming together to form various groupings. ASEAN, SAARC, EU, BRICS are some examples, which have mandates ranging from maritime security, terrorism, cultural ties to the most important aspect of trade.

The ASEAN Plus nations include India, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, China, South Korea and US. India’s Act East now envisages covering Indo-Pacific, thereby creating trade avenues. In these circumstances, the outreach of South Korea is seen as a positive development in international relations.

Here is a look at the ‘Act East Policy’, India’s outreach which envisages integrating the country with its east and beyond.

The Act East policy focuses on the extended neighborhood in the Asia-Pacific region. The primary objective is to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop a 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.

India’s northeastern region has been prioritised in the government’s Act East policy which envisages itself as an interface between India’s northeast and the ASEAN region. It is aimed at ensuring the overall development of northeastern states in terms of people to people contact, border trade through border haats, cultural ties, infrastructure projects, for example, Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport project, India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway project, Rhi-Tiddim road project etc.

The policy which was originally (1992) 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.

Moreover, India is now actively engaged in regional initiatives such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Asia Cooperation Dialogue, Mekong Ganga cooperation.

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. In the ASEAN Plus, both South Korea and India are participants, thereby making ground for more integration at the multilateral level.

The Act East, now going beyond the immediate neighbour to Indo-Pacific, has now become a significant foreign policy initiative. According to analysts, India’s consistent reach is pertinent in the backdrop of China’s outreach across the globe.

Moreover, the government’s neighborhood first approach is regarded as a crucial factor in the Act East policy, which is clearly underscored by the visiting leader by putting emphasis on it in his speech.

The swearing-in ceremony of the new government in 2014 was apparently the first event which showed India’s adherence to the policy when the leaders of the SAARC nations were invited to be part of the ceremony. Prime Minister Modi’s first visit, after taking the office, was to Bhutan, a small neighbor country. It signaled that India would move along with the region and that neighborhood first is a part of India’s diplomacy.

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