India aims to tighten Quad ties with ASEAN as it welcomes top diplomats

NEW DELHI — India hosts foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Thursday and Friday, as New Delhi seeks to portray itself as a stable partner for a torn bloc between the states. United and China.

Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan will co-chair the meeting, which marks the 30th anniversary of India-ASEAN dialogue and a decade of strategic partnership. This is the first such conference to be held in New Delhi.

Jaishankar, in his opening remarks on Thursday, stressed that “ASEAN’s role today is perhaps more important than ever, given the geopolitical challenges and uncertainties facing the world.”

Last week, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi told reporters that “ASEAN is at the heart of India’s ‘Act East policy’ and its vision for the Broader Indo-Pacific,” referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to promote economic, strategic and cultural ties with the 10-member bloc.

Experts say India’s reach in Southeast Asia is significant given that it is also part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, a loose security alliance with the United States, Japan and Australia.

The Quad was keen to stress ASEAN’s central role in ensuring a “free and open Indo-Pacific region”, a euphemism for containing China’s military and economic influence. Jaishankar again underscored this point in his opening statement saying, “India fully supports a strong, unified and prosperous ASEAN, whose centrality in the Indo-Pacific is fully recognised.”

Harsh V. Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank and professor of international relations at King’s College London, explained: “With all that is happening in the Indo-Pacific, [where] the Quad now plays such an important role that much of India’s policy towards the region is centered on ASEAN.”

Pant said it was important for India to meaningfully connect with ASEAN and make the case that the country could be “a reliable partner” for the bloc, in terms of economic and security cooperation.

The ASEAN-India foreign ministers’ meeting comes after anti-Islam remarks by two officials from Modi’s ruling party sparked a firestorm of criticism, including from mainly Muslim states in Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia. But tensions between Beijing and Washington weigh more heavily on the region.

China’s actions “threaten to undermine security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue last Saturday. Singapore. “Indo-Pacific countries should not be subject to political intimidation, economic coercion or harassment by maritime militias.”

His Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe offered a strong response at the same forum the next day, saying it would be “a historical and strategic mistake to insist on taking on China as a threat and an adversary, even an enemy.”

He called on the United States “to stop smearing and containing China, to stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and to stop harming China’s interests.”

As the confrontation escalates, ORF’s Pant said: “This is a particularly vulnerable time for ASEAN members as they tend to balance [their ties] between the United States and China.

According to Pankaj Jha, professor of defense and strategic studies at OP Jindal Global University in the northern Indian state of Haryana, ASEAN “cannot be openly against China, but something leaves at the end of the day, she needs an assurance or a guarantee of security”.

“So they’re trying to look at countries like Japan, India, and South Korea, which aren’t very China-centric or US-centric,” Jha said. “They provide a sort of cushion for ASEAN to really work towards their greater maritime and regional security. [goals].”

He also noted that India’s engagement with ASEAN, including this week’s foreign ministers’ meeting, is “highly critical to the Quad’s maritime and strategic footprints” in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Quad, at its May summit in Japan, launched an Indo-Pacific maritime domain awareness initiative, under which it would work with regional partners to respond to humanitarian and natural disasters, as well as to combat the illegal fishing.

The United States also launched its Indo-Pacific Economic Framework Initiative, aimed at advancing regional resilience, sustainability, inclusiveness, economic growth, equity and competitiveness. India and a number of ASEAN members – Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei – were among the first nations to sign.

“If you look at the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness or IPEF initiatives, they need that kind of connectivity, that kind of support, which is really required of ASEAN countries,” Jha said. He added that the India-ASEAN ministerial meeting will explore ways to strengthen this cooperation in the near future.

Meanwhile, responding to a question on whether Myanmar’s foreign minister has been invited to India’s meeting, spokesman Bagchi did not give a clear answer. He said Myanmar’s participation would be “in line with the ASEAN consensus in this regard.”

The bloc has largely avoided Naypyitaw’s military rule, insisting on only apolitical representation at summits in light of Myanmar’s failure to implement an ASEAN deal aimed at resolving the country’s political crisis.

Comments are closed.