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India’s Relationship with its North-Eastern Neighbours

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The recently concluded session conducted by Stanford University and Brookings India on India’s Relations with its Northeast Asian Neighbors touched on a number of important points, including the overarching theme that animates India’s foreign policy today – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambition to make India the third largest economy by 2025. India’s relations with North-East Asia must be viewed primarily through an emphasis on developing trade and economic relations while decoupling these interests (like other countries have done in the region) from political and strategic interests. Another priority for Indian foreign policy has to do with fostering the creation of international institutions and norms which can govern the behavior of countries in the new fields of space, maritime relations, climate change and cyber. In this context, the key question for India with respect to the United States of America is whether the US is interested in the creation of a new world order with its allies or would prefer to maintain the status quo.

The recently concluded climate change deal between the US and China has drawn this question to sharper relief. The US, China and India have placed major premium on economic growth which is in no means identical in outlook or objective. For India, the goal is to eliminate poverty and strengthen the middle class as wealth generation is essential if India is to emerge as a major power. The Chinese Communist Party has a focus on maintaining a monopolistic grip over political power in China while the United States needs economic growth out of rising debt and inadequate investments across a spectrum of domains such as education. Trade is the common language for economic growth in the region. However, there exist major constraint in India, US and China trade relations. The biggest constraint with respect to India and China is that is while huge internal markets exist, they are not complementary. While all three do trade with each other, Sino-US trade dominates over the others.

In the case of India-Japan relations, economic and strategic relations have continued to grow in part due to Japan’s increasingly assertive security policy. This policy has been influenced both by the rise of China, and doubts regarding the US’s continued commitment and engagement with the region. In India, Japan sees a huge country with tremendous economic potential in need of technology with a growing middle class which creates opportunities for complementary capabilities being explored. One of the biggest drivers of a strong Indo-Japan relationship is that the absence of past baggage especially when compared to Japan’s other neighbours. Both nations are also democracies and have substantial Buddhist populations. Public polls in Japan have shown that the Japanese people think highly of India, and vice versa. However a major stumbling block in India-Japan relations remains Japan’s inability to recognize India as a nuclear weapons state which has implications for the prospects of civilian nuclear co-operation between the two countries.

India-South Korea relations have been growing steadily since the end of the cold war. There is now a healthy trade and economic relationship between the two countries, particularly since the conclusion of a free trade agreement. While there are no major issues on the economic front, cultural interactions and people to people interactions continue to be in the doldrums. India-Korea relations will not reach their full potential if this issue is not tackled. A good start for this would be to support the creation of more India and Korea cultural studies centres in their respective universities. One sticking point that still remain in India-Korea relations has to do with South Korea efforts along with other UN members to stall reforms of the UN Security Council.

Event Announcement

On the 4th of December, scholars from the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, and the Brookings Institution India Center offered perspectives on India’s relations with its Northeast Asian Neighbours.

Key Issues

  • The foreign policy priorities of the Indian Government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi are driven by the goal to make India the third largest economy by 2025.
  • India’s relations with North-East Asia must be viewed primarily through an emphasis on developing trade and economic relations while decoupling these interests (like other countries have done in the region) from political and strategic interests.
  • A priority of Indian foreign policy has to do with fostering the creation of international institutions and norms which can govern the behavior of countries in the new fields of space, maritime relations, climate change and cyber.
  • A key question about US foreign policy for the Indian Government is whether the US is interested in maintaining the status quo global order, or in building a new world order with its allies
  • The biggest constraint with respect to India and China is that is while huge internal markets exist, they are not complementary. Also, while all three do trade with each other, Sino-US trade dominates over the others.
  • In the case of India-Japan relations, economic and strategic relations have continued to grow in part due to Japan’s increasingly assertive security policy. This policy has been influenced both by the rise of China and doubts regarding the US’s continued commitment and engagement with the region
  • However a major stumbling block in India-Japan relations remains Japan’s inability to recognize India as a nuclear weapons state which has implications for the prospects of civilian nuclear co-operation between the two countries.
  • There is a healthy trade and economic relationship between India and South Korea, especially since the conclusion of a free trade agreement. While there are no major issues on the economic front, cultural interactions and people to people interactions continue to be in the doldrums.
  • There needs to be greater initiative to support the creation of more India and Korea cultural studies centres in their respective universities

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