Historical Background

  • The disintegration of Soviet Union, the end of cold war, the intensification of the process of the globalization, liberalization and privatization led to the fundamental changes in the global political and economic architecture.
  • The demise of communist economies of Soviet and other East European countries led to the final victory of capitalist path of development anchored on the ideology of neo – liberalism.
  • The new global economic and political conditions had deep impact on the domestic and foreign policies of global actors. The inter–state relations were drastically restructured. India was no exception to it.
  • In domestic front, India initiated massive programme of economic liberalization, with the twin objectives of achieving rapid economic growth and close integration with the global economy. In external front too, it brought about major changes in the content as well as direction of her foreign policy.

Evolution of Look East Policy

  • Look east policy was initiated by PM Narsimha Rao in 1991.
  • The main objectives of this policy are –
  1. To develop close economic as well as strategic relation with countries of this region.
  2. To avail better opportunities of market, capital and technology for the rapid and sustained economic, growth of the country.
  • This policy has been implemented in two phase so far.
  • The 1st phase of this policy covers the period from 1991 to 2003.
  • During this phase the policy mainly focused on the development of trade and investment linkages with the members of ASEAN.
  • The 2nd phase of this policy covers the period from 2003 to the present.
  • During this phase, the policy mainly focused on the both ASEAN as well as non-ASEAN countries of East Asia.

India’s approach after Independence

  • After the independence, India made serious efforts to consolidate the feeling of Asian solidarity, India organized the two Asian relations conferences in 1947 and 1949 with this objectives.
  • The 2nd conference demanded the liberation of Indonesia.
  • During Korean war, 1950-53, India played a significant role not only in resolving the conflict, but also in proving humanitarian assistance.
  • In 1955, during Bandung conference, India played a leading role in cultivating Afro-Asian Unity.
  • After the defeat of Japan in 1945, the US emerged as the resident power in this region. It developed close military ties with Thailand, South Korea, Philippines and Japan, established military bases in Japan and Philippines and established a military Alliance, SEATO in 1954, all in an effort to contain the Soviet Communist influence in the region. Thus, the Truman Doctrine was implemented in the South East Asia also.
  • The formation of ASEAN in 1967 was also viewed as anti – communist design in the region.
  • On the other hand, India followed the policy of Non – alignment, which was independent of super power rivalry.
  • In this background, India launched its Look East Policy in 1991 after end of cold war in search for better trade and economic opportunities as well as India’s desire to play a greater role in the global affairs.
  • The vigorous implementation of this policy in the last two decades demonstrates that the policy has three broad dimensions –
  1. Efforts to develop broad economic and strategic relations with ASEAN as an emerging group of nations.
  2. Making sub – regional initiatives like BIMSTEC or MEKONG – GANGA cooperation for developing close ties with countries at sub – regional levels.
  3. Consolidating bilateral relationship with non – ASEAN countries of this region, particularly Japan, South Korea and Australia.

India and ASEAN

  • With the exception of European Union, ASEAN is the most successful example of economic cooperation at regional level. It was established in 1967 by five countries of this region under the treaty of Bangkok, signed by Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore on 8 august 1967. At present there are 10 members in ASEAN.
  • The improvement in relations between India and ASEAN are the core element of India’s Look East Policy.
  • The Indian premier made a successful visit of this region in 1992 and India became a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN in the same year.
  • The States of India was elevated to the full dialogue partner in 1995.
  • The 10th anniversary Indian – ASEAN summit was scheduled to be held 2012 for the first time in India.
  • In past one decade, both have expanded the areas of cooperation in such fields as trade, investment, security, culture, tourism and science and technology.
  • The bilateral trade between India and ASEAN was $2.9 billion in 2001, which reached to $42 billion in 2009-10. This again increased to $70 billion in 2015.
  • The total FDI from ASEAN in India reached $14.25 billion by 2011, which is 10.3 % of the total foreign investment in India.

Indian – ASEAN FTA

  • India has signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with ASEAN on 13th august 2009, in Bangkok to boost the trade between the two. It came in to force on 1st January 2010.
  • The FTA covers the trade in goods only. This is considered a milestone in the bilateral relations of two.
  • India has signed similar FTAs with Singapore and Malaysia. The negotiations have been intensified to sign FTA with ASEAN in the field of services and investment as the 2010 FTA covers trade in goods only.

India – CLMV Countries

  • The CLMV countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are the less developed partners of ASEAN.
  • India has launched various human resource development programmed such as training, project development, teaching of English language and development of entrepreneurship in thses countries according to their development needs.
  • On security and political matters, both signed are keen in cooperating to develop security architecture in East Asia for the sake of peace, stability and prosperity in this region.
  • With the help of Thailand, India moved ahead to launch Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi – Sectorial Technological and Economic cooperation or BISTEC in 1997.
  • In 2nd summit of BIMSTEC which was held in 2008 in New Delhi. They discussed to enhance physical connectivity through land, air and sea routes for the promotion of cooperation in the field of culture, tourism and police – to – people contact.
  • They also decided to develop a common view point with respect to pressing global issues like climate change, trade negotiation etc. At present, the total intra – BIMSTEC trade is only $1.7 billion, which needs to be increased.

MEKONG – GANGA Cooperation

  • The second initiative taken by India for multilateral cooperation in the region is known as Mekong – Ganga cooperation.
  • It was established in 2000 by six countries of the region – India, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
  • There are four areas of cooperation are tourism, culture, education and transport.
  • At present, the focus of this organization is to develop rail and road connectivity among nation of this group.
  • India has taken lead role in implementing various road link projects as well as human resource development programmes in this region.

Role of Current Modi government

  • This government replaced Look East Policy by Act East Policy.
  • One of the major policy initiatives taken by Modi government is to focus on its immediate neighbors in South Asia.
  • Later his govt. asked Indian scientist to take the endeavor to develop a dedicated SAARC satellite to share the fruits of the technology like tele–medicine, e – learning etc. with the people across the south asia to complement the currently operating Indian Technical and Economic cooperation in this region.
  • On the back of growing Chinese naval activity in the Indian Ocean region, which India considers its area of supremacy, the Modi administration have introduced Project Mausam which is believed to rival the Chinese Maritime Silk Road (MCR) initiative.


  • India’s Look East Policy is viewed as highly successful by many observers as well as the Indian govt. India has received support and encouragement from countries of this region.
  • The US has openly encouraged India to play a leading role in this region. The US president Obama during his India visit remarked that he expects a larger role for India in East Asia.
  • However, this has a flip side also. Many observers feel that the encouragement of India by the US to play a larger role is intended to balance China’s already dominating position in the region.



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