Thursday, November 29, 2012

India - South East Asia Relations - PART 2

India is an old civilisation of sun worshippers. It has, therefore always been looking east :). Therefore India's engagement with the South East Asia, can be divided into four different waves - historical or pre-colonial, colonial, post-colonial and contemporary(which includes India's Look East Policy).


First Wave: Historical

  • Lasted from 1 AD to 12th Century AD. During this period, the first Hindu Empire (later became the Indo-China region) flourished based entirely on cultural and philosophical contacts with India.
  • The expansion of Hinduism(from India) was followed by the spread of Buddhism to the east. Religious and cultural messages travelled directly from India and China. This led to the emergence of a cultural synthesis of these two major systems of faith and belief. The popularity of the Ramayana(with varying nuances from one country to another) in the Buddhist heartland of South East Asia is a good example of this synthesis.           

  • During this period, Commerce also contributed in a significant in spread of culture from India to South East Asia. 
  • The spice trade route from West Asia and the Persian Gulf stretched over to Indonesia and even beyond, bringing in traders and travellers from one part of Asia to the other.
  • This commercial link also facilitated the spread of Islam in South East Asia. In India, Orissa's annual festival of Bali Jatra commemorates the adventures of innumerable traders who braved rough seas across the Bay of Bengal, Straits of Malacca and South China Sea to carry commerce and culture to the eastern shores of the Indian Ocean.

Second Wave: Colonial Rule - Mughals and then British

  • In this period strategic interests were brought upfront along with the commercial interests, at the cost of cultural and civilizational links.
  • Advent of Islam after the 12th century and then the colonial expansion that followed Muslim rule in India disrupted the cultural and commercial links established before that.
  • During their rule, British established India as a strategic bastion of their power and influence over Asia, as far in the east as possible - upto Hong Kong. 

Third Wave: Post Independence Period

1. Nehru's Early Eastward Policy
  • Policy had an emphasis on geography and culture, with an aim to build Asian solidarity.
  • India was on the forefront of mobilising international support on wide ranging issues - Indonesia's freedom struggle, Burma's internal security and stability, integration of China into the international community etc.
  • Indian policy makers and diplomats forcefully articulated the cause of decolonisation and development of Asian countries in all possible international forums. The first Afro-Asian Conference was held in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955.
  • Failure: Nehru's policy had a strong political content to back them but was lacking much tangible substance i.e. of commerce and economy, as was there during the first wave period. Therefore, India's efforts and initiatives with regard to Asian resurgence and Asian solidarity could not be sustained as desired. Moreover the Cold War powers ensured that such solidarity between Asian countries did not succeed. 
2. Cold War Period - Since 1960(India-China war) to about mid 1980s there was a big hiatus in India-ASEAN relationship, and was in a way co-terminus with the Cold War. Let's analyse the relationship during that time on three fronts:

(i) Foreign Policy
  • India followed the policy of non aligned (while titling a little towards Soviet Union). During Indira Gandhi times, India had even signed a friendship treaty with USSR.
  • South East Asian countries had formed ASEAN with the "non-interference" principle and focussed mainly on nation building.  
(ii) Outlook towards each other
  • India's impression of ASEAN states: During the Cold war days, India considered ASEAN as the Trojan horse of the US.
  • ASEAN impression of India: Firstly South East Asian countries were apprehensive of India’s strategies and considered its decision making process as slow, cumbersome and too bureaucratic, which ultimately affect development.[Note: Check the third point(above) under colonial period. This was one of the reason for the distrust.India’s support of Vietnam in Cambodia-Vietnam war did not go well with ASEAN states.] Secondly South East Asian countries considered Indians as too much ideologically oriented and less pragmatic.  Lastly South East Asian countries feared inclusion of India into any of their institutional arrangements would bring South Asian problems(Pakistan, Afghanistan, Srilanka etc) in their own region.
(iii) Economic Relationship
  • Not much trade happened in pre 1970s as both South East Asian and Indian’s trade policies were west oriented.
  • Towards end of 1970s ASEAN countries started organizing Preferential Trade Agreements among themselves.
  • South East Asian nation had FDI driven, export led growth strategy since the mid-1980s while India’s trade and investment policies were largely conservative. So the market driven economy ensured that ASEAN countries have trade links with those other South East Asian countries with which they had production sharing arrangements.[Note: sourcing raw material is very important] or with western countries that were their markets. India did not follow production n/w driven export growth strategies, until recently. Hence trade relations between India and ASEAN couldn't flourish during that time period.

Fourth Wave: India's Look East Policy(LEP)

Dr Manmohan Sign had commented that LEP "..is not just external economic policy but, it also marks a strategic shift in India’s vision of the world and its place in the evolving global economy."

I have discussed India's Look East Policy in detail in my next part of this South East Asia series. Read it here.

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