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India-Asean ties: A cup half full ?
Despite the great strides made, India-Asean relations have not measured up to expectations. There continue to be significant asymmetries in this expanding engagement.

  The India-Asean engagement has made impressive strides over the past 25 years, starting with a modest sectoral dialogue partnership in 1992, a full dialogue partnership in 1995, a summit partnership in 2002 and a strategic partnership in 2012.The invitation to all 10 Asean heads of state/government as chief guests for India’s 68th Republic Day celebrations will mark yet another and even more significant upgrade of the relationship. All 10 Asean leaders will be present which reflects the importance they attach to the relationship. The unprecedented nature of the collective invitation extended to leaders of a regional grouping, in turn, reflects the Indian intent to highlight the priority it attaches to its South East Asian neighbourhood. Despite this record, one must acknowledge that India-Asean relations have not measured up to expectations. There continue to be significant asymmetries in this expanding engagement.
One, political relations have outpaced the economic, commercial, cultural and people to people relations. The India-Asean trade is currently only US$ 71 billion and has been declining since reaching a peak of US$80 billion in 2011-12. The Asean-China trade by contrast is US$450 billion. It is unlikely that the trade target of US$ 200billion for 2020 will be met. Despite more than 22% of India’s cumulative outward FDI being located in Asean and 2,000 Indian companies being present in Asean countries, India’s profile is modest when compared to China and Japan. In 2016 India invested US$ 1 billion in Asean as compared to US$ 10 billion by China. Only Singapore is a major investor in India responsible for a cumulative total of about US$ 30 billion and this constitutes more than 98% of the Asean total. While India and Asean have concluded an Agreement on Goods, Services and Investment, gains have been modest. India is reluctant to conclude the Regional Cooperative Economic Partnership (RCEP) which would constitute a mega trade agreement among Asean countries, India, China, Japan, ROK, Australia and New Zealand, mainly due to apprehensions over China swamping the Indian market. Lack of physical connectivity between India and South-East Asia continues to be a major constraint and even the few like the Kaladan Multi-modal Transport Corridor through Myanmar’s Rakhine province and the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway have been inordinately delayed.This will further limit the prospects for expanding India-Asean trade and commercial relations.
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