|Manmohan Singh in traditional attire at
Bandar Seri Begawan. (AFP)
Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei Darussalam), Oct. 9: Narasimha Rao initiated it in 1991, when the Indian economy faced a near-existential crisis. Now, Manmohan Singh is “looking east” more forcefully than his mentor, as the nation faces economic threats a generation of Indians has never seen.
India will launch a new embassy dedicated to the Asean grouping of east Asian nations that see New Delhi as a counterweight to an increasingly assertive China and that represent one of Prime Minister Singh’s biggest foreign policy successes in charge.
The new mission is aimed at securing those gains, which include a five-fold increase in bilateral trade over the past decade and the prospects of preferential access to these fast-growing nations if they adopt a proposed European Union-style “Asean economic community” in 2015.
Singh will announce India’s latest diplomatic outreach to East Asia tomorrow when he meets his counterparts at the Asean-India meet in this tiny Indian Ocean nation, senior government officials said. The new mission will be located in Jakarta, also home to the Asean secretariat.
“Our engagement with the Asean and its member countries is the cornerstone of our ‘Look East’ policy and has evolved into a strong, comprehensive and multifaceted partnership in recent years,” Singh said today.
The frequently drawn and often exaggerated parallels between the economic woes of 1991 and 2013 are also mirrored in India’s recent foreign policy focus.
In 1991, then Prime Minister Rao had declared a Look East policy hoping to gain from the economic successes of East Asia, while Singh unshackled the domestic economy as finance minister.
The Asean-India summit and a subsequent visit by the Prime Minister to Indonesia before his return come at a time when Delhi’s domestic economic woes have forced the nation’s policy makers to aggressively scour abroad for any opportunity to strengthen economic ties with other nations.
That India ignored the additional costs of running a new major mission point to the gains it anticipates in return, officials said. “We want to build on our growing relations with all our partners in East Asia, including Japan and Korea, and the mission tells you how important this is to us,” a senior official said.
Although the European Union’s consolidated economic size of $12 trillion is five times that of the Asean nations at $2.3 trillion, India has almost identical trade of about $80 billion with both blocs.
The south-east Asian bloc’s goal of economic integration — like the European Union —by 2015 necessitates that India ensure its special relationship with the grouping remains intact, the officials said.