Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tour of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore has brought the government’s ‘Act East’ policy into focus, with Modi stressing on the need to have closer relationships with the east and south-east Asian nations.
What began as ‘Look East’ decades back transformed into ‘Act East’ in 2014 after the NDA government came to power. The policy came as an assertion that India values its east and wants to engage and act more.
With an aim to increase India’s soft power in the region and to increase trade between nations, the government has taken a stand with the aim to have friendly relations with all nations and increase its role in the region in terms of strategic partnership and fair trade in the backdrop of Chinese aggression.
Here is a look at India’s Act East policy strengthened by the current visit of the Prime Minister.
What is Act East policy?
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 north eastern region has been a priority in the government’s Act East policy which envisages itself as an interface between India’s north east and the ASEAN region. It is aimed at ensuring the overall development of north eastern 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.
Also, India is now actively engaged in regional initiatives such as 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.
The government’s neighborhood first approach is regarded as a crucial factor in the Act East policy. 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 in 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.