Building India-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

In the forthcoming summit meeting in Cambodia in November 2022 ,India and ASEAN countries have agreed to work towards comprehensive strategic partnership. The strategic partnership would be elevated to comprehensive strategic partnership which would involve other aspects related to research on energy, health issues, collaboration in make in India projects, promoting investment between the two sides and also working on critical aspects related to technology, climate change, cultural ties and promoting tourism between the two sides.

India and ASEAN Comprehensive strategic partnership would open new vistas for the maritime domain information grid harmonisation (IORA,IONS, ARF, IFC) and help  regional navies in  law enforcement cooperation and working on HADR issues.One  of the major challenges within Southeast Asia is  capacity building in ASEAN related to maritime surveillance and security.India does maintenance of Russian weapons, stresses on the Law of the Sea and freedom of navigation and stresses on harmonisation of region views. It has been looking  for training and better strategic presence in ASEAN nations such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines.

India wants to promote better understanding about underwater maritime  warfare and synergies between IPOI and ASEAN framework and approach towards Indo- Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative.Within ASEAN as more and more countries would join maritime domain awareness under Indo – Pacific framework it would help Quad countries. India is keen on undertaking  a serious audit of maritime resources and also taking measures to protect marine resources .India wants to work with France and Australia on new renewable energy and wants to take ASEAN countries on board and is willing to  work on national seabed mineral resources in compliance with harvesting International Seabed Authority  mining reserves. Exploring capacities in seabed mining in another aspect of cooperation .

Illegal ,unregulated and unreported fishing is a major  scourge and therefore Fisheries Cooperation with ASEAN for blacklisting of vessels and protecting  sea lanes from pirates and scavengers is also in plan of action .India -ASEAN would also like to work on capacity building and resources. The two sides can also work on enabling maritime environmental resources security.The region is also facing challenges in search and rescue in case of maritime emergencies .Maritime casualties at sea have stressed on quick response and cooperation. Search and Rescue (India and ASEAN framework taking into account MH370), and look for simulation in  environmental disaster incidents and  regional responses.

India needs to work with ASEAN on resilience to natural  disasters  in coastal areas (tsunami, extreme weather) including in the  Pacific and Indian involvement in cyclone disaster assistance in SE Asia, the Pacific.Climate change and weather extremes as natural disruptors – India- ASEAN to work towards and therefore comprehensive strategic partnership is a must . Offshore carbon capture in oil and gas industry (Bay of Bengal, Maritime ASEAN  Coast), Coastal freshwater reservoirs  and explore possibilities in Offshore wind generation and even  Green hydrogen exports. India is already allocating nearly 15 billion dollars to make India  as the hub of renewable energy and alternative power generation. Few pilot projects in Andaman  and Nicobar islands is also envisaged .

India wants to work with ASEAN on  supply chain resilience to protection of trade. Security of important commodities and technologies and resilience of their supply chains; international trade information systems (e.g. customs data) .It is believed that India’s non joining of RCEP has annoyed ASEAN nations and so India wants to work on critical areas and science and space domains.

The cooperation would be primarily aimed towards connectivity both physical and digital, maritime security , working towards harmonisation of IPOI and ASEAN outlook towards Indo-Pacific, developing capacities in defence manufacturing, exploring the region for defence exports and looking to special provisions in the reviewed India -ASEAN trade and services agreements . India , as directed by other Quad members, is also looking for involving strategic ASEAN nations in the IPOI initiative .The comprehensive strategic partnership would look into constraints in earlier action plans and India is working towards the next decade of cooperation between the two sides and in this regard the Comprehensive Strategic partnership is a pre requisite .  

For India the major aspect is the deployment of resources and active diplomacy at all levels so as to create better understanding and also harness the utility of ASEAN ambassador located in Jakarta. It was suggested that India needs to look into ASEAN more as a strategic pursuit rather than a formal interactive platform. As already countries such as Japan, US,  and Australia have been working to be  the natural stakeholders in this region.

 In this context for India Vietnam is a critical country for building consensus within ASEAN . India looks towards Vietnam in four core areas ,branching out of its software industry and opening offices of its software giants in Ho Chi Minh City , helping Vietnam to become chip manufacturing hub . Secondly as part of Quad plus Vietnam should join Quad nations in select sectoral partnership and should be a member of the Indo- Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative . Thirdly,India wants to enter and appropriate logistics support agreement and explore possibilities in defence particularly training and maintenance schedules of Sukhoi aircrafts and Russian frigates and submarines in the region . Lastly, India wants to engage willing nations in hydrographic surveys and countering Chinese underwater systems .

Prof. Pankaj Jha
Prof. Pankaj Jha
Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]gmail.com