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India's Crucial Role in East Asia: Economic, Strategic, and Cultural Significance
Ajay Mohan
2023-09-06
Region : India, East Asia, Economy,
Issue : Security,
Introduction
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India's role and significance in the geopolitics of East Asia cannot be overstated. As the world's largest democracy and a burgeoning economic powerhouse, India's presence in the region carries immense weight. This article will explore the various aspects that underscore India's importance in East Asia and the evolving dynamics of this relationship.

Economic Ties
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One of the key reasons for India's importance in East Asia is its burgeoning economic relationship with the region. East Asia, particularly countries like Japan, South Korea, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has emerged as vital trade partners for India. In the fiscal year 2019-20, India's trade with East Asia reached $208.3 billion, accounting for 31.6% of India's total trade. ASEAN, in particular, stands as India's fourth-largest trading partner, with a bilateral trade volume of $131 billion in 2022-2023. India has reinforced its economic ties with ASEAN through a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in goods (2009) and an FTA in services and investments (2014).
While China remains India's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade valued at $135.98 billion in 2022, India grapples with a significant trade deficit of $101.02 billion with China, raising concerns. Moreover, India is engaged in negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a substantial trade agreement involving 16 countries, including ASEAN, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
India's "Act East Policy" has played a pivotal role in strengthening economic ties with East Asia, resulting in increased trade and investment flows. India's strategic location at the crossroads of East and West further underscores its significance as a vital transit point for trade. Initiatives like the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the Trilateral Highway project, connecting India, Myanmar, and Thailand, hold immense potential for enhancing economic integration between India and East Asia.

Counterbalancing China
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India's presence in East Asia plays a crucial role in maintaining regional stability and balancing China's expanding influence. China's assertiveness in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean has spurred countries in East Asia to seek like-minded partners for safeguarding their security and economic interests. India's steadfast adherence to international law in maritime areas and its strategic alliances with countries like Japan and the United States serve as a counterbalance to China's assertive actions.

Security Cooperation
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Security cooperation between India and East Asian nations has witnessed substantial growth. India's defense engagements with countries like Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia have strengthened considerably names of the some joint exercises like JIMRX with Japan and PASSEX with Japan, Philippines and Vietnam, as well as IND-INDO CORPAT coordinated patrol between India and Indonesia that aims to enhance mutual understanding and inter-operability between the two navies. Joint naval exercises, defense agreements, and the sharing of maritime domain awareness have become standard practice. These collaborations are instrumental in ensuring the security of critical sea lanes and contribute significantly to regional stability.

Soft Power and Cultural Ties
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The cultural influence of India on East Asia over the course of more than two thousand years. The Key aspects of this influence, including the spread of Buddhism, the impact of Hinduism, and the influence of Indian languages and scripts. Buddhism, in particular, played a significant role in East Asia, with various schools and sects adapting to local cultures and giving rise to numerous temples, statues, scriptures, and artistic expressions. Similarly, Hinduism left its mark on East Asian mythology, rituals, and art, with Hindu deities being revered in various forms. Additionally, India's diverse languages and scripts influenced the linguistic and writing systems of many East Asian countries. This historical and cultural connection between India and East Asia has left a lasting legacy that continues to shape the region's traditions and heritage.India's rich cultural heritage and soft power have also positioned it as an influential player in East Asia. Bollywood movies, yoga, and Indian cuisine have gained widespread popularity in the region. People-to-people connections, facilitated by the Indian diaspora, further enhance the cultural bonds between India and East Asia.

Energy Security
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India's burgeoning energy needs have driven increased engagement in the East Asian region. Recently, India has been exploring the possibility of power trading with Southeast Asian nations through Myanmar and Thailand, with grid linkages expected to take approximately four years to complete. Securing access to energy resources remains pivotal for India's sustained economic growth. Investments in countries like Vietnam and participation in energy projects in the South China Sea exemplify India's efforts to bolster its energy security.

Multilateral Forums
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India actively participates in multilateral forums such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), underscoring its commitment to regional cooperation and stability. These platforms provide India with opportunities to engage with East Asian nations across a spectrum of issues, spanning from security to economic development.

Conclusion
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India's significance in East Asia encompasses economic, strategic, and cultural dimensions. Its growing influence in the region reflects a conscious effort to foster strong relationships with East Asian countries and to assume a responsible and constructive role in regional affairs. As East Asia continues to evolve as a critical center of global geopolitics and economics, India's role in the region is poised to become even more prominent in the years to come.
Ajay Mohan is Director- Foreign Observer Research India (FORE INDIA),New Delhi

The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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