New Delhi: India looks at aggressively pursuing its Act East policy with a decision to invite ASEAN nations for the Republic Day celebratios next year. Sources say the "commemorative event is under works." At a time when India and China are engaged in a stand-off at the tri-junction with Bhutan in Doklam area, this move assumes even greater significance.
Interestingly, some ASEAN countries are themselves engaged in a tussle with China over territorial claims in South China Sea. China claims that virtually all of the strategically vital sea even those approaching the coasts of South-east Asian nations like Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam belong to it. Philippines dragged China to the International tribunal in The Hague over the dispute. The court ruled against China in July last year. The China Daily, touted as a government mouthpiece, called the decision "outrageously one-sided". China had even refused to participate in the proceedings.
According to the Government of India, the country hopes to forge stronger ties with ASEAN countries with the hope that it creates "an interface between North East India including the state of Arunachal Pradesh and the ASEAN region". Arunachal Pradesh too has seen Chinese aggression with many blaming the slow pace of infrastructure development in the border areas vis-a-vis the rapid pace of development on the Chinese side. Hence, this attempt by India to ramp up work in the state is crucial keeping in view the boundary dispute with China.
From Look East, India stepped up its engagement with the South East Asian countries to Act East. There was a clear intent to engage with the ten ASEAN countries not just to promote economic cooperation and cultural ties but also to develop a “strategic relationship with countries in the Asia-Pacific region,” according to MoS, External Affairs VK Singh in his reply to Parliament in 2015. In the same reply, Ministry of External Affairs highlighted that India had also invited ASEAN member states to participate in the International Solar Alliance which it had co-launched with France on 30 November, 2015 at COP-21.
“On strategic issues, we have increasing convergence on security interests with key partners both in bilateral and multilateral format. Closer cooperation in combating terrorism, collaborating for peace and stability in the region and promotion of maritime security based on international norms and laws are being pursued.” In October last year, on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Goa, the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical Economic Cooperation) countries were invited for the outreach event. This included countries from the South Asian region.