Opinion

Will the Trump presidency mean a change in India's Act East Policy in 2017?

Will the near parity that the US and China share turn into a keener contest?

The year 2017 may change some equations in the East Asian region. Will the near parity that the United States and China currently share turn into a keener contest? Will strained relations between India and China persist? Donald Trump’s election as the next US president casts the spotlight squarely on these inter-state relationships

An orthodox way of looking at India’s foreign policy is to see it as obsessed with “two-and-a-half countries”: the United States, China and Pakistan. This completely ignores the fact that the nation’s foreign policy is anchored in a broad and expanding worldview, stretching from Fortaleza to Fiji. One of its major components is the policy towards East Asia, usually known as the Act East Policy. Even as 2017 opens, this is the apt moment to reflect on its efficacy and what it can expect to achieve in the new year.

What also occasions this exercise now is that India’s dialogue partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which began in 1992, will complete 25 years this year. Likewise, its summit partnership, launched in 2002, and strategic partnership, established in 2012, are also set to complete 15 years and five years, respectively. The Indian government is likely to host a commemorative India-Asean summit later in the year, which will be preceded by an ambitious series of events and activities marking the historic milestone in the two sides’ journey together.

To comprehend and appreciate how India’s relationship with Asean and the larger East Asian region may evolve in the future, one needs to decode a term that figures in many analyses – “geopolitical environment”. A close look at developments in the region (and the world) since 2009, climaxing in the election of Donald Trump as the next US president, sets a new stage in which several inter-state relationships will need to be examined afresh.

Important equations

The region’s geopolitical dynamics will be largely moulded by four bilateral relationships and the well-being of one regional institution, Asean. Of the four relationships, the most important one is the US-China equation. At the global level, the US still retains its No 1 spot, but in Asia – especially East Asia – the perception is one of near parity between China, the challenger, and the US, the defending champion, a contest in which the latter has met with several setbacks.

It is in this backdrop of the Obama legacy that Trump enters the White House. The central question is whether the new administration will be tougher or softer on China. Scholars differ, for they have very little to go by except their own intuitive insights. Probably a likely scenario of uncertainty and unpredictability may prevail in which US-China tensions could rise in the short term.

As for the US-Japan relationship, one would rate high the prospect of it growing stronger because China’s assertive behaviour and the growing menace of North Korea as a nuclear weapons power, with fast expanding missile capacity, will impart a strong impetus to the Washington-Tokyo alliance.

The other two relationships are between India and China, and India and Japan. An objective view suggests that in the past two and a half years, the first has become strained, whereas the second has grown stronger. This trend became quite apparent in 2016, and will continue in the coming months. This makes it necessary for New Delhi to make a special effort to initiate a dialogue with the Trump team (which it has already done) and to sustain it politically so that India-US cooperation gathers further momentum in the future.

As regards Asean, a glaring irony marked its voyage through 2016. At the year’s beginning, it turned itself with much fanfare, from an association into a community with three pillars: political-security, economic, and socio-cultural. But, on the other hand, in dealing with China and its continuing flouting of international law in respect of the South China Sea, Asean displayed its utter vulnerability and state of disarray. This trend may continue unless the US, Japan and India work in unison to provide it strong support, thus empowering it to cope with the hegemon next door.

Looking beyond

All this points to a clear conclusion: the Act East Policy needs to be further strengthened. Its strategic dimension and objective to enhance maritime security cooperation with interested Asean and extra-Asean powers should be accorded priority. While for diplomatic reasons, our faith in “Asean Unity and Centrality” may remain unchanged and our participation in the plethora of its institutions may continue, New Delhi should pay higher attention to deepening and diversifying a few key bilateral relationships: Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, and Indonesia and Myanmar too.

India also needs to look more seriously at the existing agenda of cooperation, covered by the Act East Policy. Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations should be brought to a swift conclusion in 2017, a goal that could not be met in 2016. Two initiatives launched by the Narendra Modi government, namely a special Line of Credit of $1 billion for connectivity projects with Asean countries, and a Special Purpose Vehicle of $100 million for industrial projects in CMLV (Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam) countries, should be operationalised as soon as possible. The visibility of two institutions set up recently – Asean-India Centre, New Delhi, and Asean Study Centre, Shillong – may be enhanced. As to the two flagship projects, that is the Trilateral Highway project and Kaladan Multi-modal Transport project, they, it is hoped, will be ready before the end of the decade.

Finally, recent feedback from the strategic community and media in our northeastern states indicates a continuing feeling of discontent over progress in forging links with Southeast Asia, particularly Myanmar. This needs to be addressed more effectively and holistically. The occasional car rally is welcome, but may not be enough.

This article was first published by Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read the original article here.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

We asked them and here's the verdict: Scotch is one of the #GiftsMenLove

A handy guide to buying a gift for a guy.

Valentine’s day is around the corner so men and women everywhere are racking their brains for the perfect present. Buying a gift for men though can be a stressful experience. Be it a birthday, celebration or personal milestone, many men and women find it difficult to figure out what their male friends or significant others want. That’s why TVF decided to perform a public service and ask the guys directly what they loved. So, the next time you’re running around to buy a gift for a man, just pick something from the list below and thank us later.

Watches: A watch can complete a man’s ensemble and quickly become a talking (or bragging) point at a party. If your man loves classics, a vintage HMT (if you can find one) with a metal strap should be your brand of choice. For fun-loving guys, try a Swatch watch with a pop-coloured leather strap or even a watch with Swarovski crystal studded dials from a variety of watchmakers. Fossil’s unconventional dials will delight a creative or artistic soul. Alternatively, the G-shock collection by Casio is reasonably priced, waterproof and perfect for those who love adventure sports. If your man is a fitness enthusiast, surprise him with an excellent fitness band from GoQii.

Image Credits: Pexels
Image Credits: Pexels

Whisky: A well stocked bar is every man’s pride and joy. Whisky, especially scotch is an extremely popular gift with men. It is a gift that can be displayed with pride and shared on occasions with friends and family. Scotch is any whisky (single malt or blended) that comes from Scotland, is usually aged for at least three years (often more) and distilled twice. Each region in Scotland produces whisky with a distinct flavor. Spirits from Islay, like Laphroaig, tend to have a strong peat flavor while single malts from Speyside tend to be lighter and sweeter. Connoisseurs will sing praises of the golden colour of blends like Johnny Walker or Black and White, and the smoky taste of Scotch whiskies like Black Dog. If your partner is truly mad about malts, go the whole hog and surprise him with a malt tour in Scotland - the ultimate whisky experience.

Image Credit: Pexels
Image Credit: Pexels

Jackets: For a more personal touch, a jacket can be quite an apt gift. A romantic-at-heart will love a traditional bandhgala while bike enthusiasts swear by their weather-worn leather jackets. Blazers are great day-to-night apparel, looking perfectly at home in the office or in a bar. You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to brands and designers: high street labels like Blackberry’s and Zara offer trendy outerwear at affordable prices. Custom made jackets like the ones from Raymond’s Made-To-Measure collection or the Bombay Shirt Company are also a great option, if you really want to get creative with the design.

Sunglasses: If your friend is a globetrotter, a smart pair of shades will delight him like nothing else. Whether he is sunbathing in the Maldives, chasing zebras in Tanzania or skiing in Courchevel, this travel accessory adds an instant glam quotient to almost every type of holiday. Recent sunglass trends have been a major throwback to retro shapes inspired from Hollywood films like Tom Cruise’s aviators from Top Gun, Steve McQueen’s Persols from The Thomas Crown Affair or the wayfarers sported by the lead actors in The Blues Brothers. You’ll find many variations at high street brands like H&M and Diesel but if you can stretch the budget, pick up a good quality pair from Burberry or Louis Vuitton. Better yet, buy a unisex design that you can borrow when your heart desires!

Image Credits: Pexels
Image Credits: Pexels

Headphones: Most guys love their music, whether their choice of genre is soft rock, hard metal or folk fusion. So, it makes sense that headphones are on the list of the most popular gifts loved by men. Make sure you know what you’re looking for when it comes to buying headphones. For style combined with comfort, Skull Candy headphones come in a fun palette of colours. For amazing sound quality and pumping bass, you can opt for Shure or Sennheiser; they may look basic but deliver on their audio capabilities. Audio-Technica headphones are also gaining a cult following among audiophiles for their excellent sound clarity. If your man listens to music while working out, get the Jabra Sports in-ear headphones which are made for the gym. Though it feels pragmatic, this gift will be treasured by all music lovers.

So, take a pick from this list and the guy you gift will be indebted to you for life! For more great gifting ideas, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of LiveInStyle and not by the Scroll editorial team.