India and ASEAN Relations


09:08 AM

1 min read

Prelims: Current events of national and international importance.

Mains: Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.


What is ASEAN? 

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional grouping that aims to promote economic and security cooperation among its ten members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

  • Establishment: It was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) by the founding fathers of ASEAN: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. 
  • Aim: The motto of ASEAN is “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”.
  • Secretariat: ASEAN Secretariat is located in Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • ASEAN countries have a total population of 662 million people and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.2 trillion as of 2022.

Institutional mechanism of ASEAN

The institutional mechanism of ASEAN include

  • ASEAN Summit: It meets annually to discuss regional issues and set policy directions.
  • ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC): It oversees the implementation of ASEAN agreements and decisions.
  • ASEAN Secretariat: It supports and facilitates ASEAN's activities and initiatives.
  • ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF): It is a platform for dialogue and cooperation on political and security issues among ASEAN member countries and their partners.
  • Decision Making: It is done through consultation and consensus.


What are the fundamental principles of ASEAN?

Fundamental principles of ASEAN are:

  • Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations.
  • The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion, or coercion.
  • Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another.
  • Settlement of differences or disputes in a peaceful manner.
  • Renunciation of the threat or use of force.
  • Effective cooperation among themselves.


How did ASEAN originate and evolve?

  • Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), 1961: It was formed by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand to promote economic, cultural, and social cooperation.
  • Bangkok Declaration, 1967: It formally established the ASEAN.
  • First ASEAN Summit, 1976: In the summit, member countries pledged to work towards regional peace and stability.
  • Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), 1976: It established a framework for peaceful relations and cooperation among member states.
  • ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), 1992: It aimed to create a free trade area among member countries.
  • ASEAN Charter, 2008: It provides a legal framework for the organization and strengthens its institutional structure.
  • ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), 2015: It aimed to integrate the economies of member countries and promote regional economic growth.
  • ASEAN joins Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership(RCEP), 2020:  ASEAN members join RCEP, a free trade agreement.


What are the strengths of ASEAN as a regional grouping?

Some of the strengths of ASEAN as a group of nations include:

  • Regional stability: ASEAN has played a significant role in promoting peace and stability in the region, including through the signing of the TAC and the ARF.
  • Economic growth: ASEAN has a combined population of more than 630 million people (2021) and a growing middle class, making it a dynamic and rapidly expanding market for trade and investment.
    • It is a major hub of manufacturing and trade. 
    • It is the 4th largest exporter in world trade.
  • Cultural diversity: ASEAN is home to a rich and diverse range of cultures, languages, and religions, which creates opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and cooperation.
  • Strategic location: ASEAN is strategically located at the crossroads of major trade routes, making it an important hub for trade and commerce.
    • Example: Strait of Malacca, which is a key shipping route for world trade.
  • Diplomatic engagement: ASEAN has developed strong diplomatic ties with major powers such as the United States, China, and Japan, allowing it to leverage its strategic position and influence on global issues.
    • It has free trade agreements (FTAs) with a number of countries like India, Japan, New Zealand, China, South Korea, etc.


What opportunities does ASEAN provide for India?

ASEAN is significant for India in several ways:

  • Potential market: ASEAN constitutes the 3rd largest market in the world. This can help India utilize its export potential.
  • Convergence with Indo-Pacific strategy: ASEAN is a crucial component of India's "Act East" policy and its "Indo-Pacific" strategy, reflecting the convergence of interests in the region.
  • Countering China’s influence: Strengthening relations with ASEAN countries can serve as a counterbalance to China's influence in the region.
  • Connectivity with North East: Connectivity initiatives with ASEAN can boost economic development in India's northeastern states by positioning them as a hub for regional trade and commerce.
  • Important for rule-based order: ASEAN plays a central role in promoting a rules-based security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region, which is essential for the region's stability and prosperity.


What are the areas of cooperation between India and ASEAN?

India and the ASEAN have a wide range of areas of cooperation as ASEAN is one of the important pillars of India’s Act East Policy. 

Some of the areas of cooperation are:

  • Annual summit: India currently has annual summits with ASEAN.
    • The formal engagement began with “Sectoral Dialogue Partner” in 1992  and subsequently as a “Dialogue Partner” in 1996. It was upgraded to the Summit level in 2002
  • Trade and Investment: India and ASEAN have signed an FTA that has boosted trade and investment between the two. 
    • ASEAN is India’s 4th largest trading partner. Total trade stood at $110.4 billion in 2021-22.
    • ASEAN-India Business Council (AIBC) was set up in 2005 with the aim of fostering closer business linkages.
  • Regional connectivity: India is working on enhancing connectivity with ASEAN countries through the India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) Trilateral Highway, the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project etc. 
  • Defense and Security: India and ASEAN have strengthened defence cooperation by conducting joint military exercises such as the ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise and the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+).
    • Example: India places ASEAN at the centre of its Indo-Pacific vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR).
  • Socio-cultural cooperation: India and ASEAN have promoted cultural exchanges to enhance people-to-people ties. 
    • Example: Inviting ASEAN students to India each year for the Students Exchange Programme, Special Training Course for ASEAN diplomats, Exchange of Parliamentarians, ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks, ASEAN-India Eminent Persons Lecture Series, etc.
  • Education and research: India has established the ASEAN-India Centre at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) to promote research and studies on ASEAN-India relations. 
  • Delhi Dialogue, 2009: It is an annual Track 1.5 forum for discussing politico-security, economic and socio-cultural issues between ASEAN and India.
  • Funding: Financial assistance has been provided to ASEAN countries from the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund, ASEAN-India S&T Development Fund and ASEAN-India Green Fund.


What are the issues and challenges in India-ASEAN relations?

While India and ASEAN have made significant progress in their bilateral relationship, there are still some issues and challenges that hinder their cooperation. 

  • Trade Imbalances: India's trade deficit with ASEAN has increased over the years. This has led to concerns in India about the benefits of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement.
    • Imports to ASEAN amounts to $68 billion as compared to $42 billion exports in 2021-22
  • Nature of engagement: India still engages with ASEAN countries more on a bilateral basis rather than through a multilateral approach.
  • Competing regional agreements: Engagement with other regional agreements like the RCEP and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) diverts attention and resources away from the ASEAN-India relationship.
  • Chinese presence: The existence of other regional powers like China limits the ability of ASEAN to harness India’s potential for regional stability.
  • Limited Connectivity: Despite efforts to enhance connectivity, physical and digital connectivity between India and ASEAN countries remains limited, which affects trade, investment, and people-to-people ties.


What should be the way forward to improve India-ASEAN relations?

Some of the steps that can be taken to improve India-ASEAN relations include: 

  • Enlarging QUAD: The concept of QUAD can be expanded to include the ASEAN countries and become a QUAD+ arrangement.
  • Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific: ASEAN countries have limited military ties with China due to maritime disputes. India can fill this gap and become a significant military partner in the region.
  • Strengthening cultural connect: Tourism can be further encouraged between India and the ASEAN with some creative branding by the two sides.
  • Strengthen connectivity: Strengthening land, air, and sea linkages will enhance people-to-people flows, as well as boost business, investment, and tourism.

Collaborating in International and Regional forums: India and ASEAN countries can work together to promote their common interests in international and regional forums such as the United Nations, East Asia Summit, and ASEAN Regional Forum.


Previous Year Questions


Q) The term ‘Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership’ often appears in the news in the context of the affairs of a group of countries known as (2016)

(a) G20


(c) SCO 



Q) Consider the following countries (2018)

1. Australia

2. Canada

3. China

4. India

5. Japan

6. USA

Which of the above are among the 'free-trade partners' of ASEAN? 

(a) 1, 2, 4 and 5

(b) 3, 4, 5 and 6 

(c) 1, 3, 4 and 5 

(d) 2, 3, 4 and 6


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Q) What is Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)?

RCEP is a free trade agreement (FTA) among the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. It was signed on November 15, 2020, after eight years of negotiations, and is currently the world's largest trade agreement by population and GDP.


Q) What is track 1.5 diplomacy?

Track 1.5 diplomacy occurs when government representatives and non-governmental experts engage in dialogue or meetings together in less formal ways than Track 1 diplomacy (where communication is directly between or among governments).