India and ASEAN

ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)

  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand.
  • It was established with the signing of an ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) by the ministers of the founding countries.
  • Its founding countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
  • Eventually, Brunei Darussalam then joined on 7 January 1984, Viet Nam on 28 July 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar on 23 July 1997, and Cambodia on 30 April 1999, making up to ten Member States of ASEAN.

Aims and objectives of ASEAN:

  • As per the ASEAN Declaration, the aims and purposes of ASEAN are as follows:

Socio-economic and Cultural growth:

  • To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the Southeast Asian Nations.

Encourage regional peace and stability:

  • To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.

Promote mutual collaboration and assistance:

  • To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields.

Facilitate training and research facilities:

  • To provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional, technical and administrative spheres.

Growth of agriculture and industries and related sectors:

  • To collaborate more effectively for the greater utilisation of their agriculture and industries, the expansion of their trade, including the study of the problems of international commodity trade, the improvement of their transportation and communications facilities and the raising of the living standards of their peoples.

Promote Southeast Asian studies:

  • To promote Southeast Asian studies among one and all.

Uphold relationship with international and regional organisations:

  • To maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes, and explore all avenues for even closer cooperation among themselves.

India and ASEAN

  • India’s focus to strengthened and multi-faceted relationship with ASEAN started since 1990’s.
  • It all started with the country’s search for economic space which resulted in the ‘Look East Policy’ which today has been matured to ‘Act East Policy’.
  • Apart from ASEAN, India has taken other policy initiatives in the region that involve some members of ASEAN like BIMSTEC, MGC, etc.
  • India is also an active participant in several regional forums like the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting + (ADMM+) and Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF).

A chronological overview of how the India-ASEAN started:

  • 1992: It was on 28 January 1992 at the 4th ASEAN Summit in Singapore that a decision to establish a Sectoral Dialogue Partnership between ASEAN and India was made.
  • 1996: Since then, two sides became full dialogue partners in 1996
  • 2002: Summit partners in 2002 and
  • 2012: Strategic Partners in 2012.
  • 2017: The year 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the ASEAN-India Dialogue Partnership.
  • As for today, there are 30 dialogue mechanisms between India and ASEAN, including a Summit and 7 Ministerial meetings in a wide range of sectors such as Foreign Affairs, Commerce, Tourism, Agriculture, Environment, Renewable Energy and Telecommunications.

Progress of India-ASEAN made so far: (Updated till December 2017)

Plan of Action:

  • After the first Plan of Action (POA) in 2004, the 3rd POA (2016-20) was adopted by the ASEAN-India in August 2015.
  • ASEAN and India have identified priority areas for the period of 2016-2018.

Economic ties:

  • ASEAN is India’s 4th largest trading partner and India is ASEAN’s 7th largest trading partner accounting for 10.2% of India’s total trade.
    • India’s trade with ASEAN has increased to US$ 70 billion in 2016-17 from US$ 65 billion in 2015-16.
    • India’s export to ASEAN has increased to US$ 31.07 billion in 2016-17 from US$ 25 billion in 2015-16.
    • India’s import to ASEAN increased by 1.8% in 2016-17.
  • ASEAN and India have been also working on enhancing private sector engagement.

Socio-Cultural Cooperation: 

  • India has been organizing a large number of programmes to boost People-to-People Interaction with ASEAN. Such as:
  • Inviting ASEAN students to India each year for the Students Exchange Programme, Special Training Course for ASEAN diplomats, Exchange of Parliamentarians and so on.


  • In 2013, India became the third dialogue partner of ASEAN to initiate an ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee-India Meeting.
  • Since then the two entities have been exploring possibilities and means to support the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC), and physically connect it with India.
  • India has made considerable progress in implementing the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Project.
  • Issues related to increasing the maritime and air connectivity and transforming the corridors of connectivity into economic corridors between ASEAN and India are under discussion.
  • A possible extension to India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam is also under consideration.
  • A consensus on finalising the proposed protocol of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicle Agreement (IMT MVA) has been reached.
  • This agreement will have a critical role in realizing seamless movement of passenger, personal and cargo vehicles along roads linking India, Myanmar and Thailand.
  • Line of Credit of US$ 1 billion has been announced to promote projects that support physical and digital connectivity between India and ASEAN and a Project Development Fund.

ASEAN-SAARC and India: a quick analysis

  • Even though the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC, 1985), geographically proximate to ASEAN, started its journey with similar aspirations but over time it has failed to deliver.
  • Following are the differences between the two entities:

Range of Issues:

  • ASEAN: In its first two decades, ASEAN focussed on a limited range of issues, but over time its mandate expanded and now includes climate change, disaster management, counterterrorism, drugs and human trafficking.
  • SAARC: But, in the case of SAARC, political squabbles, deep mistrust and military conflict between India and Pakistan have frustrated regional cooperation.


  • ASEAN: Trade in ASEAN has grown rapidly and it has focussed on promoting rapid economic growth and modernisation.
  • SAARC: On the other hand, trade amongst the SAARC members stands at 3.5% of their total volume of trade.
  • Moreover, initiatives under the South Asian Free Trade Association have failed to make much headway.
  • Subregional initiatives like the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicle Agreement also has stalled.


  • ASEAN: The Federation of ASEAN Travel Associations (FATA) has called on the ASEAN nations to waive entry requirements amongst the member states.
  • Projects aimed at promoting the region as a tourist destination have also been undertaken.
  • SAARC: On the other hand, the SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme only allows certain categories of dignitaries to be exempt from visas, excluding ordinary citizens from accessing unimpeded travel in the region.
  • It is difficult for Indians to enter Pakistan and vice versa.
  • Even citizens of other SAARC countries who have visited either India or Pakistan before and now wish to travel to the other face hassles during visa issuance by either country.


  • Giving substance to ASEAN-India relations through connectivity will gradually change the geopolitical landscape of this region.
  • The initiated projects will also help India to remove physical impediments to trade with ASEAN countries and further integrate the two regions for better economic and security relations.
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