Asia today stands at a geopolitical intersection with increasing shift in economic powers, growing strategic disability and subverting unilateral contentions grounded on unsettled historical differences.[i]
In the midst of manipulation of power projection in Asia lies India’s unique geostrategic position to augment interstate cooperation in South, South East Asia, and the IOR (Indian Ocean Region), which is India’s contiguous region, not only geographically but also culturally and historically. India has common features with all its immediate neighbours, which they don’t share in such magnitude or depth among themselves. Consequently, making India believe its approach towards expansion of its ambitious Act East Policy and Indo-Pacific prospects is promising.
India’s commitment to engage with ASEAN countries economically, strategically and culturally under the umbrella of AEP is evident, especially due to the Indian Prime Minister recent visits to Lao, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Myanmar. Furthermore, his visit to Australia and Fiji has expanded the horizon of AEP to the contiguous Indo-Pacific region. He had also said, “For too long India and the US have looked at each other across Europe and the Atlantic. When I look towards the East, I see the Western shores of the United States.” [ii]
Connecting Indo Pacific strategies to Act East Policy (AEP) further widens the spectrum of the previously underlined policy of Look East Policy (LEP) focused majorly on trade and economics.
The abutting assimilation of India’s AEP and Indo-Pacific strategies should be enhanced in implementing a larger strategic convergence of India in the region. It is a transpicuous step to take, not only to achieve optimum benefits for India but also to contribute in shaping a balanced regional architecture for an Asian century.
India’s AEP is an extension of LEP; a win-win synergy with ASEAN, an avenue to economic vibrancy, innovation, enterprise, and bridging India to East Asian nations. Even though the footing remains the same as LEP, nonetheless it provides rejuvenated energy and escalation to policy upgrades and a new wave of strategic expansion pertaining to security. Exemplifying India’s policy convergence strategy is PM Modi’s juxtaposition; ‘Look East, Link West Policy’ emphasising on a wider Asia Pacific partnership formulation of India in the region.[iii]
The AEP has strengthened and enhanced the strategic aspiration of India in the region, in a way that was required with the changing time dynamics of the East Asia due to assertive conduct of China.[iv]
Subsequently responding to the changing international dynamics; India has broadened its approach from mere economic and trade investment to security, political, strategic, defence and even in counter terrorism realm due to rising threats of Islamic State in the region. [v]
Although, initiatives have been taken to augment partnership on several fronts between India and the ASEAN, no projects have seen any substantial growth in reality. Several projects have been planned and agreed upon, such as the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway- conceived in Yangon in April 2002[vi]; the Kaladan project (which will connect the ports of Kolkata and Sittwe in Myanmar) which entered into a Framework Agreement with the Govt. of Myanmar in April 2008[vii]; the Mekong-India Economic Corridor was launched in 2000 at Vientiane, Lao PDR[viii] ; the prolonged period of no extensive development on the ground merely represents the lack of rivet from both sides.
Nonetheless, it is just a matter of gaining momentum on the on-going projects between India and ASEAN. What AEP needs to focus on is China and its investment spree in the region, to advantageously tilt the balance of power in the region towards itself, which has been fragmented over the South China Sea issue. The AEP needs to have a parfocal vision to tap on multimodal projects stirring in ASEAN, and especially where China is proactive in investing and where the projects are adjoining Indian territory via land or sea. Some of the projects to deliberate upon are; the Kra Canal (also called: Thai Canal), analogous to the Panama Canal and Suez Canal, cutting through the Kra Isthmus in southern Thailand and providing a shorter shipping route and the alternative sea link between Asia, the Middle East and Europe, bypassing the busy Strait of Malacca links the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand[ix] ; the Dawei special economic zone (DSEZ) a deep-seaport and industrial estate strategic to ease off trade links across Southeast Asia via Myanmar. It is important for India to be pre-emptive about DSEZ as it is anticipated to logistically link the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) trans-border and Indo-Pacific trans-ocean, which adjoins it, with the Andaman Sea, thus connecting it to Chennai and Calcutta ports. [x]
Therefore, AEP requires being more pre-emptive in nature and more proactive on ground. There is a plethora of opportunities to explore under the umbrella of AEP, nonetheless its essential to be futuristic if India needs to cut through the Chines impact on regionalism in East Asia. Subsequently AEP needs to build on its repute by capping its back log and assiduously decipher its impending strides.
The Indo-Pacific Strategy
In the past India was manly gripped in building relations mostly with its land peripheral countries, and working on its economic distresses. It was not until the mid-twentieth century that India initiated moves to revive and escalate its sea power, which was ironic as it was invaded via sea. By 1991, when India reconnected with the world it saw the opportunities to expand its sea power and the globalisation of its economic added to the developments. [xi] Though there is scepticism about India’s influence in the region based on its GDP being simply 7.8 percent[xii] as compared to its regional contention China at 17.53 percent[xiii] , India, with the changing debate on conjectural regionalism has its scope of expanding to be a reliable country to develop relations with. The changing discourse of Indo-Pacific was alluded to in the late 20’s and early 30’s by a German theorist Karl Haushofer, and had mentioned, “India and China, which … are geographically sheltered behind the protective veil of the western Pacific and Bay of Bengal” through which these countries are now piercing.[xiv]
Geographically, the Indo-Pacific region ranges from East Indian Ocean – South China Sea and Western Pacific Ocean continuum. The reasons to focus on Indo Pacific are economic, geopolitical, regional grouping, security and creation of single strategic system. Driving from its nomenclature Indo-Pacific, India inevitably plays an important role in this particular strategic space as it is thriving in international domain with its outwards looking policies and economy. The Indo-Pacific is also extremely crucial to India’s security concerns with regards to China’s growing pursuits; be it in the Indian Ocean via Myanmar or its grey zone tactics in South China Sea. To pre-empt and subdue China’s aggressive stance in the maritime theatre of pacific region it is essential to formulate regional security architecture, and India needs to play a crucial role in its formulation for higher peace and stability in Asia.
Consequently, the trajectory of reviving relations with unkempt countries in the Indo Pacific region is a crucial step taken by India of late. Australia plays an important role in India’s energy security as it provides sizeable quantities of coal to India and is a top global producer of Liquid Natural Gas. There are various other opportunities thriving between India-Australia; health, Information Technology, biotechnology and not to forget its proximity with Indonesia and the probability of developing better relations with them based on the ties as provides for more than 60 per cent of its current coal imports to India. [xv] On the other hand is the landmark India-Japan nuclear deal, which specifies that nuclear fuel and equipment provided, can be used only for peaceful purposes. As Japan being the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, this accord is of extreme significance to India-Japan ties as it represents the trust invested into India by Japan, especially considering India being a non-members of NPT. [xvi] Other countries aligning with India’s shifting focus visited by Indian Prime Ministers are; Fiji in 2015 was the first in 33 years while Mongolia in May 2015 was the first ever!
Nonetheless, it is essential to severalise benefits India can avail from the vast Indo-Asia-Pacific strategy. There needs to be a distinction from contriving with nations in the region and maintaining strategic autonomy for future expanding relation is Pacific Islands.
With the constantly shifting demographics of nations, it is essential to encompass concurrent policies to deduce wider range of benefits. The Indo Pacific countries, which form the outer ring of the US defence continuum and the ASEAN hold prominence in the larger expansion of Indian aspirations in the region, be it strategic, defence or trade. Coincidently, Indian strategies not only fall in line with these countries’ objectives to form deeper relations but it also appears to decipher parallel concerns over China’s endangering regional security threats.
Nonetheless, India needs to make visible transformations with its evolving AEP and Indo-Pacific approach, as the mere rhetoric would not provide with salient leadership roles in the region. Subsequently, India also needs to enhance its individual relation with these countries to find deeper interdependence. It cannot solely rely on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) between US-Japan-Australia and India, instead it needs to invest and expand strategic ties with them disjointedly; similar to what China has been doing in the region to expand its backing in different theatres.
With China’s investment initiatives in the rim countries of Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal, India needs to be extremely proactive in tapping on concerns over China’s strategically fortuitous policies with other regional nations to firmly exhibit itself before it weakens in the emerging Indo-Pacific. For achieving and sustaining such geopolitical remits India needs to deepen bilateral ties while being equally proactive in regional groupings. Nevertheless, in the years to come India would be expected to play a significant role in the Indo-Pacific perpetuating security and stability in the region, for which India needs to prepare.
 For details see: Rajen Harshe, ‘South Asian regional cooperation: problems and prospects’, Engaging with the world: critical reflections on India’s foreign policy, p. 321, Accessed on 7th November 2016. URL: (http://q-aps-qa.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/Mukherjee_Malone_IA_0.pdf)
 For details see: PIB, ‘Text of Remarks by Prime Minister at the India-U.S. Business Summit’ -26-January-2015, Accessed on 22th October 2016. URL: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=114960
 For details see: C. Raja Mohan, ‘Modi and the Middle East: Towards a Link West Policy’, Accessed on 6th November 2016. URL: https://goo.gl/klEMbh
 For details see: Masayuki Masuda, NIDS, ‘Why has Chinese foreign policy become more assertive?’, Accessed on 13 November 2016. URL: https://goo.gl/OyjYf9
 For details see: Channel NewsAsia, ‘SE Asia faces rising threat from IS groups: Study’, Accessed on 1st November 2016. URL: https://goo.gl/qOfeTU
 For details see: MEA, ‘India-Myanmar-Thailand Joint Task Force Meeting on the Trilateral Highway Project’, Accessed on 4th November 2016. URL: https://goo.gl/d8DvIl
 For details see: M/o DONER, ‘Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project’, Accessed on 4th November 2016. URL: http://mdoner.gov.in/content/introduction-1
 For details see: MEA (ASEAN-India, progress and prosperity), ‘About Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC)’, Accessed on 29 November 2016. URL: http://mea.gov.in/aseanindia/about-mgc.htm
 For details see: Arno Maierbrugger, ‘$28bn Kra Canal to provide shipping shortcut’, Accessed on 19th November 2016. URL: http://www.gulf-times.com/story/440038/28bn-Kra-Canal-to-provide-shipping-shortcut
 For details see: Myandawei Industrial Estate Company Limited, ‘Strategic Location: Dawei SEZ plays a vital role as the’, Accessed on 28th October 2016. URL: https://goo.gl/xO473t
 For details see: C. Raja Mohan, Samudura Manthan- Sino-India Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific, Accessed on 2nd April 2016.
 For details see: Thomson Reuters, ‘ADB Sticks To India Growth Forecast Of 7.4% For This Year’, Accessed on 1st October 2016. URL: https://goo.gl/AC74eC
 For details see: Trading Economics, ‘China GDP’, Accessed on 25th November 2016. URL: http://www.tradingeconomics.com/china/gdp
 For details see: Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Dr. Dhirendra Dwivedi, Dr. Mohammad Samir Hussai , ‘Maritime Security Challenges- The Changing Scenario’, Pg.2, Accessed on 19th November 2016.
 For details see: Michael Kugelman, Raymond Vickery, ‘Four corners of a good deal’, Accessed on 18th November 2016. URL: https://goo.gl/9AvL3k
 For details see: The Hindus, ‘Japan has option to scrap N-deal’, Accessed on 28th November 2016. URL: https://goo.gl/QhXO0y