17th ASEAN-India Summit: Reorientation of Strategic Diplomacy

By Dr Srimal Fernando

13 November 2020

The 17th ASEAN-India summit has taken India’s relations with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to a whole new level, reinforcing cooperation across multiple sectors. On Thursday, 12 November 2020, the Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi had the honor of co-chairing, the historic 17th ASEAN-India virtual summit along with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Speaking at the virtual Summit Modi emphasized that there are many similarities between India's 'Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative' and ASEAN's 'Outlook on Indo Pacific'.

Along similar lines, Nguyen Xuan Phuc said that his wish is for India to engage more deeply in ASEAN cooperation areas and drive back the pandemic together. He hailed India for actively carrying forward the Mekong – Ganga cooperation projects within its framework which will make practical contributions to narrowing the regional development gap.

The historical links between the Southeast Asian countries and India can be drawn from their principles of Non-Alignment (NAM) and Commonwealth of Nations. From the time of the Bandung Summit of 1955 India’s relationship with Southeast Asian countries has been strong. In recent years, ASEAN has played a prominent role in building this partnership to grow further. Since then for more than a quarter century, both sides are exploring possibilities and tapping into each other's producer markets, hence generating higher revenues.

India, with its current foreign policy of Act East, is powerfully positioned among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. India’s foreign policy principles of Non-alignment (NAM) and strategic autonomy have allowed India to maintain a pivotal position and respect among the Southeast Asian nations and beyond.

Furthermore, ASEAN-India cooperation has taken a huge leap as they successfully signed a free trade agreement, namely the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA) that came into force in 2010. India's evolving position as a major Asian power is creating a major link for ASEAN nations to gain greater access to the other eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries.

With regard to enhancing connectivity, maritime cooperation, economic diplomacy, digital, education and capacity building, they have taken a huge leap as they have successfully concluded the 17th ASEAN-India summit.

On cooperation between India and the ASEAN, the Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi clarified by stating, “ It's of prime importance for us to improve physical, economic, societal, digital, financial and maritime connections between India and ASEAN"

However over the past couple of months the regional hotspots in East Asia and in South Asia have found themselves in the forefront of challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

East Asian nations are among the world’s fastest growing countries and for the 10 ASEAN countries, India sets to be one of the largest consumer markets with a 1.3 billion population.

The 17th ASEAN-India summit brings a fresh perspective in shaping the future of the current Foreign Policy between these nations. Based on a strong footing of common values and historical links, the 17th ASEAN-India summit will create the basic necessities to influence a new geopolitical and geo-economics order in the 21st century .

Dr. Srimal Fernando is a recipient of the prestigious O.P Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and the SouthAsian University Scholarship under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation(SAARC) umbrella. Dr Fernando is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with DiplomaticWorld Institute (Brussels). He is also the winner of the 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’
award in South Africa, and has been the recipient of Global Communication Association (GCA)Media Award for 2016. In 2019 Dr Fernando was an Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA)accolade recipient