- Introduction – overview of India-ASEAN relations.
- Then, connect it with the Indo-Pacific region.
- Discuss about their cooperation on AOIP & IPOI.
India’s sectoral dialogue partnership started with ASEAN in 1992, soon after India announced its Look East Policy (LEP). The LEP was a consequence of India’s economic liberalisation. In 2005, ASEAN was instrumental in bringing India into the East Asia Summit. India and ASEAN marked their 25th anniversary with a Strategic Partnership in 2018. In 2015, ASEAN created three communities under which it organised its development and relations with its partners. These were the Political-Security Community, the Economic Community, and the Socio-Cultural Community.
India, ASEAN and the emergence of the Indo-Pacific: ASEAN was apprehensive about its relationship with China, particularly in the South China Sea. China consolidated its hold over its claims under the nine-dash line over islands and waters of ASEAN countries. Meanwhile, the Indo-Pacific concept had come to the fore. PM Modi enunciated India’s policy at the Shangri-La dialogue in 2018. Japan, Australia, & the US announced their policies too. In 2019, despite Chinese aversion, ASEAN announced an ASEAN Outlook on the Indo- Pacific (AOIP).
This was a significant landmark. At the 14th East Asia Summit (EAS) in Bangkok (2019), India announced its Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), emphasising the need to work together to seek common solutions while following a rule-based international order. The IPOI sought a safe, secure, and stable maritime domain in the region. At the 18th ASEAN-India Summit on 28 October 2021, the ASEAN-India Joint Statement on Cooperation on the AOIP for Peace, Stability, and Prosperity in the Region was enunciated.
ASEAN-India Joint Statement on Cooperation on the AOIP: The exploration of cooperation between the AOIP and the IPOI include the four priority areas of the AOIP, which are maritime cooperation, connectivity, the SDGs (sustainable development goals), and economic and related cooperation. The statement is intended as a strategic one; in reality, it is functional, focusing on aspects of the socio-cultural cooperation even more than in economic cooperation. Most of these are covered under the India ASEAN Plan Of Action 2021-2025. The enunciation of the AOIP was important from the point of view of ASEAN because it took the ASEAN-centric Asia Pacific concept to a wider concept across the Indo-Pacific.
Linkages with the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative: The Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) relooks at the Indo-Pacific to create a functionality and confidence building for a rule-based maritime order. It seeks to build practical cooperation including with Quad partners like Australia, Japan and the US besides with ASEAN. Under IPOI, bilateral goals with various partners are grouped into specific areas of cooperation within the defined pillars. These commonalities are also very well captured in the ASEAN-India Joint Statement on cooperation on AOIP, which now acts as a beacon to guide our engagement in the region.
To cooperate on the pillars of the IPOI, India identified partners for each of the IPOI pillars to generate ideas and develop studies. The partners also place seed funding into their activities, which should see expansion in the future.
IPOI is a wider partnership to nurture cooperation, and it will link with existing regional mechanisms and arrangements, including those with ASEAN through AOIP, the IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) and the Pacific Islands Forum, besides BIMSTEC (The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation). It requires an ASEAN+ approach.