India and the 10-member ASEAN grouping are set to take their ties to a strategic level at a two-day summit which began in New Delhi on Thursday. The summit is expected to give a boost to India's Look East policy.
This is the first time India is hosting a summit with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) where it has decided to engage in intense bilateral diplomacy and take its relationship to a higher level.
Bigger role for India
All heads of state and governments of this influential grouping except Philippines which was represented by its vice president are expected to adopt a statement that will chart the future direction of ASEAN-India relations. This includes diverse areas such as trade, energy, security and cultural connectivity.
Analysts feel that this alliance, established in 1967, wants New Delhi to inject some life into the several bilateral defence agreements it has signed with the group's member states. The grouping also wants a more focused Indian defence policy in Southeast Asia, which can stabilize the regional security environment in partnership with other major powers.
"The ASEAN is becoming the test-bed for India’s potential role as a provider of security to other nations and as a swing state in the Asian balance of power," C. Raja Mohan, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think-tank told DW.
"In seeking a larger role from India in regional security, the ASEAN has no illusion that India is the white knight that will ride to the rescue of the region threatened by China," he adds.
The high point of the summit is expected to be the formal announcement of the conclusion of negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on services and investment, a crucial step that will hasten India's engagements with this economically vibrant region.
Vibrant economic ties
The FTA in services and investments will have to be ratified by all the individual countries for it to be set in motion.
ASEAN-India trade has been growing steadily. Since 2009, when India implemented its first free trade agreement in goods with the ASEAN as a whole, bilateral trade has increased by more than 37 percent.
Trade is estimated to be around $79 billion during 2011-12 and the two sides have set a target of $100 billion by 2015.
“I think there are going to be three positive takeaways from this summit: a conclusion of the FTA, infrastructure development such as energy pipelines and greater maritime cooperation,” Srikanth Kondapalli, Professor in Chinese Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University told DW.
Other areas which will receive a fillip are agriculture and tourism. Both sides are planning exchange visits of farmers to study each other's farming methods and will detail steps for cooperation in food security. In the field of tourism, India and ASEAN inked in January of this year a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on tourism and also agreed on a visa on arrival with seven of the 10 ASEAN countries.
The 10 nations in this grouping include Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. India became a sectoral dialogue partner of the grouping in 1992 and was elevated to full dialogue partner in 1995 in recognition of its rising stature and economic potential. Since 2002, the two sides have been holding annual summits.