A moment for Asian solidarity

The Look East policy is a successful initiative. The prime minister's visit to Indonesia must build on it.

zAs he heads to Brunei and Indonesia this week, Manmohan Singh has reasons to pat himself on the back for significantly advancing India's Look East policy through his near decade-long tenure as prime minister. When outlined by P.V. Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s, India's Look East policy was merely aspirational. Under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it had become a comprehensive engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Thanks to this bipartisan effort by three different administrations in Delhi, the Look East policy has become one of India's most successful foreign policy initiatives ever.

Singh's contribution to the Look East policy has been three-fold. The first was to ensure India's economic integration with Asia. Despite doubts in the Congress party, expressed at the highest level, Singh finalised a free trade agreement with the ASEAN. He followed up with two comprehensive economic partnership agreements with Japan and South Korea. He has also committed India to negotiate a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with the ASEAN and its major partners. Thanks to these initiatives, India has become an integral part of Asia's economic future.

Second, on the political front, India is now part of all the ASEAN-led institutions that emerged during the last decade, including the East Asia Summit and the expanded consultations among the region's defence ministers. At the commemorative summit in Delhi last December to mark the 20th anniversary of India's engagement with the ASEAN, the two sides unveiled a comprehensive strategic partnership. The ASEAN now is seeking a more active Indian contribution to the security and stability of East Asia. Third, Singh has expanded the geographic scope of India's Look East policy to include Japan, South Korea and Australia. The growing engagement with these countries has added considerable depth to India's Asian outreach.

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