US India Global Review 2018

23 US-INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW APRIL-JUNE 2018 from the international stage, but instead showcased how India was willing to play a larger strategic role as a responsible stakeholder. The Act East policy not only seeks to revive and reinvigorate India's relations with ASEAN but expand the country's engagement beyond the region to encompass the Koreas in the North to Australia and New Zealand in the South, and from neighboring Bangladesh to Fiji and Pacific Island countries in the Far East. During Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid's visit to India in December 2014, the first after a gap of 40 years, PM Modi said that India's Act East Policy would begin from Bangladesh. India’s relations with the coun- tries under the purview of its Act East Policy (AEP) have broad- ened to encompass security, strategic, political and counter-ter- rorism realms, as well as defence collaboration. This is in addition to furthering economic ties, which was the primary focus of the Look East Policy (LEP). Collaboration to curb terrorism has become a pri- ority, especially considering the rising strength and influence of the Islamic State and other terror- ist organizations. There are several key strategic players in India’s AEP with ASEAN remaining at its heart. For instance, Myanmar, contiguous to India's Northeast region, shares a land boundary of 1,700 km with four Indian states including Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. There are several major infrastructure proj- ects such as the India – Myanmar – Thailand Trilateral Highway which can prove to be a game changer to connect India’s north- east with the ASEAN region. Projects such as the Trans – Asian railway project and the Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project - which seeks to connect Kolkata with Sittwe port in Myanmar, going farther to Lashio via Kaladan River and to Mizoram in India by road - are seen as potential opportunities to upgrade India’s ties with ASEAN countries. Thailand is another country which occupies a strategic place in India's Act East Policy. In addi- tion to the ancient and historical cultural, maritime, business, reli- gious and linguistic ties between the two countries, the large Indian diaspora which has settled in Thailand since the end of the 19th century presents a unique oppor- tunity to nurture a rapidly expand- ing mutual relationship. Singapore is the first ASEAN nation to establish a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India. Among the ASEAN, the second largest trading partner is Indonesia. Vietnam stands as a significant trade, strategic and defence partner of India. ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) entered into an agreement with Vietnam regarding oil blocks 127 and 128 off the Paracel Islands, which fall within the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam. ASEAN collectively constitutes the seventh-largest economy in the world and is home to nearly 230 of the world’s largest compa- nies. As articulated by India, con- nectivity forms an indispensable element of the three Cs of ''cul- ture, commerce and connectivity'' of its AEP. Mongolia is another country with which the current Indian gov- ernment is working to strengthen economic relations. With South Korea, discussions on upgrading the bilateral FTA in goods to a bal- anced and equitable Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement have been initiated. The importance which India attaches to ASEAN nations is dis- cernible with the extensive high level visits to all of these nations by the Indian President, Vice President and the Indian Prime Minister. Indian officials have con- sistently emphasized freedom of navigation, peaceful resolution of disputes and importance of inter- national law in the ASEAN region. India’s decision to upgrade its Look East Policy to AEP is a reflection of the longer-term eco- nomic and strategic benefits of closer relations with the Indo- Pacific. In this vein, the present Indian Government has devoted considerable diplomatic energy to strengthening relations with key East and Southeast Asian part- ners, with particular emphasis on Japan, Australia, and vitally with the US. Japan is the other nation in India's 'east' with which it is work- ing to build stronger relations. Japan was PM Modi's first over- seas bilateral visit outside the subcontinent. The visit resulted in Japan's commitment to invest $35 billion in India over the next five years, including investments in some flagship initiatives such as India’s relations with the countries under the purview of its Act East Policy (AEP) have broadened to encompass security, strategic, political and counter-terrorism realms, as well as defence collaboration.