Business Standard, an Indian business newspaper in English, carried an article written by Yale-NUS College Assistant Professor of Social Sciences Rohan Mukherjee outlining the relationship India has with Southeast Asia and the challenges India might face as China moved to assert itself more strongly in Asia and beyond.
Dr Mukherjee closely examined the ‘Act East’ Policy, an adaption by current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the previous ‘Look East’ Policy of the early 1990s. Dr Mukherjee noted that the ‘Act East’ Policy itself was not novel as India’s focus remained on enhancing economic relations with ASEAN, and contributing to (and benefiting from) key discussions on regional security. He highlighted the new aspects of the ‘Act East’ Policy which was political symbolism and diplomatic drive behind India’s outreach to ASEAN countries, pointing out that Prime Minister Modi travelled to all but two ASEAN nations since becoming prime minister and had taken great care to consistently refer to ASEAN as the central pillar of the ‘Act East’ Policy.
Dr Mukherjee opined that India’s political outreach to ASEAN nations was important, given the considerable deterioration in India-China relations over the last year. A low-level tit-for-tat strategy with regard to China—a testing of each other’s waters, as it were—coupled with robust economic relations with ASEAN was undoubtedly a beneficial medium-term equilibrium for India. However, he cautioned that the Indian government “would do well to remember that from a Southeast Asian perspective, there is no single authoritative Ramayana but various retellings that incorporate local cultures, mores, and interests.”