The 56th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Jakarta reflected the grouping’s resilience amidst transformative geopolitical changes in the Indo-Pacific. Striving for unity and centrality, ASEAN tackled challenges posed by COVID-19, economic slowdown, climate change, and U.S.-China competition. However, internal differences on sensitive issues like Myanmar have tested its credibility.
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Since 1947, India has had a proud record of development cooperation. It began even though it was newly independent and itself developing, but created a camaraderie with movements in other emerging countries. Now after 75 years, its time to move toward an FDI-led model, which will particularly help reduce the rising indebtedness in the developing world.
The Indo-Pacific region envisages the Indian and Pacific Oceans as a continuum and stands on two central pillars – maritime security and economic development. The public discussions, however, are focused on maritime security, strategy and geopolitics, while economic development has received less attention. This imbalance can be corrected by creating an awareness on how to harness the potential of the region's Blue Economy and its vast resources and opportunities.
Hailed as historic, the new global rules to curb harmful fishing subsidies is a step towards sustainable fishery practices. The negotiated deal, however, is fraught with concerns over overcapacity in fisheries, deep-sea fishing legislations, and blue finance. It may be better for developing countries to formulate their own regulations and set up mechanisms to prevent illegal fishing within their territorial waters – and hold the WTO agreement to its word.
ASEAN centrality is not what it used to be. Covid, post-pandemic economic recovery, the Ukraine crisis and the challenge of China all tested ASEAN capabilities to manage them. It is now up to ASEAN to work out its unity and centrality with a greater sense of responsibility.
The Quad has agreed to launch a satellite-based maritime security initiative to curb illegal fishing by China. India is a global leader in satellite launches, especially in Earth Observation (EO) satellites. The Indo-Pacific nations are looking at the Indian model because it is applicable, economical, and sustainable.
The recently concluded ASEAN-U.S. Summit has raised the bilateral cooperation to a strategic comprehensive partnership. Key areas of cooperation were identified and global health, SDGs, maritime security and connectivity, and the Ukrainian war dominated the dialogue. The meeting is significant in light of the May 24 Quad Summit, where it is important for the US to have its engagement with ASEAN visible.
The Indian diaspora has played a significant role in deepening the country's engagement with the Indo-Pacific nations. India can leverage this soft diplomacy to play a constructive role in the region.
BIMSTEC is of special importance to India as it is a crucial link between the Neighbourhood First and Act East policies. This almost 25 year old multilateral can contribute to the Indo-Pacific region by addressing challenges in strategic areas of regional connectivity, security cooperation, free trade, and geoeconomic ties with external partners.
Concerns of global supply chains being overdependent on China has shifted the focus to India. This became clear in 2021 when Australia, Japan and India together launched the Resilient Supply Chain Initiative. India must now leverage its unique position in the Indo-Pacific region by incorporating well-planned industrial clusters and models.