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Southeast Asia in India's post-Cold War Foreign Policy

Southeast Asia in India's post-Cold War Foreign Policy

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Published by Mohammed Khalid
In, Nahar, Emmanual (Ed): THE FOREIGN POLICY OF INDIA IN THE 21st CENTURY: CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS, Pearsons, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 141-152
In, Nahar, Emmanual (Ed): THE FOREIGN POLICY OF INDIA IN THE 21st CENTURY: CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS, Pearsons, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 141-152

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Published by: Mohammed Khalid on Apr 05, 2010
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Southeast Asia in India’s post-Cold War Foreign Policy
By.Mohammed KhalidDepartment of Evening StudiesPanjab University, Chandigarh.mdkhaliedchd@yahoo.com
Southeast Asia comprises of those continental margin and archipelagos of Asiawhich lie to the south of China, north of Australia, and east of India. Touched by theSouth Pacific Ocean on the east and the Indian Ocean to its south and west the regionincludes the countries of Brunei, East Timor (Timor–Leste), Indonesia, Kampuchea,Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Southeast Asiahas been an integral part of Indian consciousness throughout history. Its religionslanguages and culture are highly indebted to India. Trade relations between the western parts of Southeast Asia and eastern parts of India go back to the prehistoric period whichcontinued in the earlier centuries. As the Colonial powers entered the Indian Oceanseventeenth century onward, India as well as the countries of Southeast Asia fell to thisrising might. During the colonial period trade between the two regions declined as it wasmore dependent on the directions of the respective colonial powers. As the process of decolonization began post-World war II, efforts were again made to bring the two regionsclose.Southeast Asia in India’s foreign policyAfter the Second World War, India and the countries of Southeast Asia gainedindependence from a long and exploitative colonial rule. India felt the need to rebuildrelations with these countries. Nehru’s interest in the region was visible when heorganized Asian Relations Conference in March-April, 1947, "to bring together theleading men and women of Asia on a common platform to study the problems of common concern to the people of the continent, to focus attention on social, economicand cultural problems of the different countries of Asia, and to foster mutual contact andunderstanding." Nehru offered to serve as a mediator during the French-Indochina War (1946-1954), and Korean War (June 1950 to July 1953). He expressed pride in Japan's1
victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and opposed punishing Japan at the post-World War II Tokyo trials.
India vehemently opposed Dutch action in Indonesia and didnot allow the refueling of Dutch planes which were being used to quell the freedommovement there.
The organization of Conference on Indonesia in New Delhi in 1949,taking interest in organizing the Bandung Conference in 1955 are only a few of manyefforts India made to redevelop economic and political relations with the region as awhole.However, all the efforts made by India to befriend the countries of Southeast Asiadid not bring desired results. The countries of Southeast Asia did not show keenness tokeep India on their foreign policy priority.
They were more inclined to developeconomic ties with Japan, and Korea. The presence of a large number of Chinese populations in many of these countries and its dominating presence also kept themdiplomatically engaged with China.
Philippines and Thailand became part of USsponsored military alliance called South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and part of Western alliance system.
India’s Southeast Asia policy lost further momentumafter the Sino-Indian border conflict of September 1962. Indo-Soviet Peace andFriendship Treaty of 1971 made these countries --especially Indonesia and Malaysia--skeptical of India’s commitment to the policy of non-alignment. The nuclear testsconducted by India in 1974, launching of a new Joint Service Command, based inAndaman and Nicobar Islands,
and recognition of Vietnamese installed Kampucheanregime of Heng Samrin made India unpopular with the countries of Southeast Asia. So,during the Cold War period, India and Southeast Asia did not have preferential relations.Factors responsible for a new shift towards Southeast AsiaCold War neared its end with the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 1989and subsequent German reunification. Russian support to the US-led UN alliance forcesduring the Gulf War (1990-1991) marked the end of Cold War.
The qualitative andstructural changes brought about by the end of the Cold War led to new orientations inthe foreign policy of India and the countries of Southeast Asia. The Cold War periodforeign policy preferences changed, the Western Military alliances came to an end andIndia and these countries gave a fresh thought to their role and preferences in the2
changing world order. India started moving toward Southeast Asia to build strongeconomic, strategic and political ties, and on the other, Southeast Asian countries, leavingaside their past inhibitions, began moving closer to India. These moves between them can be seen in the context of numerous politico-strategic and economic realizations broughtabout by the end of the Cold War in international relations.
Change in India’s attitude can be attributed to many reasons. The open door  policy adopted by China during 1980s had given it a quantum jump making it anemerging economic giant in Asia. In contrast; India still followed Fabian Socialist policies of Nehru era. China regarded this region as its natural sphere of influence andhad started asserting political, economic and military influence there. Under the force of circumstances -domestic and international- India had also to liberalize its economy tocompete with China and other international market forces in the region.
At the time ColdWar came to an end, India was going through the worst balance of payment crises in itsindependent history. In the absence of a strong political party governing the country itwas facing frequent change of governments and these governments lacked vision and willto formulate long term policies. Rising inflation, government subsidies, high interestrates, and a concomitant decline in overseas remittances during the latter half of the1980s had contributed to overall decline in India’s economy. There was a substantial risein non-productive expenditure. For example, defence expenditure had risen from 15.9 percent in 1980-81 to 19 percent in 1990-91. Subsidies grew from 8.5 percent in 1980-81to 11.4 percent in 1989-90.
The percentage of trade in relation to Gross National Product(GNP) fell from 12.4 percent in 1984-85 to 11 percent in 1988-89. The rise in oil pricesfollowing the Gulf War of 1990-91 also caused a 21.9 percent rise in the import bill.
These moves compelled India to open up to the world economy.The economic ascendance of East Asia and China had made India to watch andemulate its Southeast Asian neighbours. Manmohan Singh, who became Finance Minister and the architect of the Indian Economic Reforms, had been Secretary General of theSouth Commission of the UN in Geneva from 1987 to 1990. He had often repeated thatKorea and India had the same GDP per capita in the 1950s and that South Korean modelof economic growth could be emulated. In September 1995, he declared, “the economic policies of India take into account the dynamism of this region (Asia-Pacific), which shall3

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