India’s Act East Policy and North East India Opportunities and Impediments
21st Dec, 2021
The focus on North East India is crucial for inclusive and balanced growth of the country, and Act East Policy is a crucial step in this direction.
- This brief attempts to analyse India’s Act East Policy, various opportunities and challenges associated with it.
- India announced ‘Look East policy’ in 1991 which was aimed at a shift in foreign policy towards ASEAN and other East Asian countries.
- Taking this forward, India announced ‘Act East policy’ in 2014 which is a step forward in this direction.
- In this background, the policy is crucial for India in general and North East India in particular.
- Understanding the opportunities and impediments for North East region, India could gain maximum from the policy.
What is ‘Act East Policy’ of India?
- It was announced by the government of India in 2014 with a strengthened focus on the eastern region of India.
- It includes countries like ASEAN, Japan, and South Korea etc.
- The key focus areas of the policy are-
- Economic ties
- Social-Cultural ties
- Political ties
- Strengthen Security ties
As against other countries, India’s leverages G2G contacts as well as P2P exchanges to meet the key areas.
India and the East
In the direction of ‘Act East Policy’, a vast array of institutional mechanisms binds India’s partnership in forums like annual summit, strategic dialogue, defense dialogue, and numerous forums on energy cooperation, counter-terrorism, U.N. reforms, cyber security, and maritime cooperation. Some of these are
- Institutional mechanisms, Regional forums-
- India is an active member of East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum.
- It is also involved in other regional forums like BIMSTEC, IORA and Mekong Ganga Cooperation.
- Infrastructure, Trade & Commerce Ties-
- India is one of the largest trading partners of ASEAN.
- ASEAN - India Free Trade Area is in effect since 2010. Some key projects are Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project, Border Haats etc.
- India and Japan have institutionalized 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.
- Both countries are also involved in Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue).
- India-Japan Act East Forum provides a platform for India-Japan collaboration under the rubric of India’s "Act East Policy” and Japan’s "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”
- Japanese Investments are flowing into vital sectors like chemical, automobile, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.
- India-South Korea
- India and South Korea have forged several bilateral mechanisms to strengthen their partnership.
- The trade between both is growing at a large pace. South Korea has a huge presence in Indian automobile market through Hyundai and in the electronics segment through Samsung, LG.
- India- Australia
- India and Australia have gotten closer strategically, in an effort to counter China.
Opportunities for North east India from India’s Act East policy-
- Economic & Connectivity-
- The region will directly benefit from the economic projects with ASEAN like Kaladan multi modal project and Free trade agreement with ASEAN.
- Infrastructure connectivity projects like Urja Ganga project will connect North east Grid with National Grid. National waterway 2 will boost affordable intra-region connectivity.
- The ASEAN region and Japan can act as a ready market for industries in the North east region.
- The ancient cultural connectivity between North east region and ASEAN will act a key for people to people connectivity and promote regional peace and inter-government relationship.
- Further, India has historical connectivity with Eastern region through spread of Buddhist values in South East Asia, Japan and China.
- The eastern region is significant in the changing geopolitical scenario in which significance of Indo-Pacific is growing. North east is the key to connect with the region in the changing scenario.
- The border dispute as considered by China in the North east region required better cooperation with other regional countries and also boosting infrastructure in the region.
- Multiple means of Institutional framework are promoting India’s cooperation with the region which acts as a bridge among nations.
- India has been cooperating with not only democracies but also Military rule in Myanmar reflects flexibility in partnership.
- India has been able to do surgical strikes in Myanmar against anti India groups due to smooth cooperation between the two.
Impediments for North East in harnessing opportunities-
While the policy is well intentioned, there are certain challenges that need to be tackled at domestic as well as international levels to make it a success. Some of the impediments are-
- Chinese intervention in the region as the country considers some areas as part of China.
- China has gained round among ethnic Chinese across the region. It is also assumed that certain anti- India groups has linkages with groups in Myanmar and China
- Naga peace talks have not been successful and people protest against AFSPA regularly.
- First, unstable political environment in the region pushes away economic investments in the region from the eastern partners.
- Second, the pandemic has further tightened the domestic spending in the region.
- China views India as a rival in the Indo pacific region and it pushing infrastructure connectivity in border areas at a faster pace. Secondly, deep pockets of China make it easy to connect the region through its projects like Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- Inadequate connectivity of the region with the mainstream.
While there are a lot of domestic and regional challenges, ‘Act East policy’ act as a catalyst to connect the North eastern India with the ASEAN and beyond. Some more steps can be taken in this direction-
- Moving along the policy of Non-aligned movement, India can chalk out its own way in connecting with the region that can boost industrial growth in the region.
- Highlighting the cultural ties along the Buddhism and Hinduism, and the current connection through Indian diaspora, India can have better people to people contacts than China in the region.
- Student exchanges with partner countries mainly from the North east, can promote better cooperation and remittances in the region.
- Lastly, investing in domestic political issues and resolving anti India sentiments can lure sustainable political investments in the region.
North east region with its ethnic, cultural and border connections can act as a gateway to the eastern region and make ‘Act East policy’ a success.