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Revisiting ASEAN-India Relations

The ASEAN-India relationship has had its share of highs and lows. Where do things stand today?

This year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India are celebrating 25 years of dialogue, 15 years of summit level meetings, and five years of strategic partnership. India’s relationship with ASEAN has improved to the extent that the regional grouping is now the anchor of India’s Act East policy. Today, India has 30 sectoral dialogue mechanisms and seven ministerial level interactions with ASEAN, in fields such as external affairs, defense, connectivity, commerce, telecommunications, agriculture, energy, environmental issues, and tourism. India also shares strong bilateral relations with each of the 10 ASEAN member countries.

But the relationship between ASEAN and India has not always been close. India throughout the Cold War was not in favor of involvement in regional organizations, preferring to focus on active participation in global organizations. Apart from this, the geopolitics of the Cold War placed ASEAN and India in opposing ideological blocs. The formation of ASEAN itself was viewed by India as a U.S. measure to contain communism, which was on the rise due to the spillover from the Vietnam War. A series of Indian moves created fissures in the already tense ASEAN-India relationship: India’s friendship treaty with the Soviet Union in 1971, its stance on the Vietnam War, its recognition of Hang Samrin’s regime in Kampuchea (Cambodia), its selective silence on the Soviet’s invasion in Afghanistan and vehement criticism of the American presence in Diego Garcia, India’s Peaceful Nuclear Explosion of 1974 and its military (especially naval) modernization in the 1980s.


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