To sum up, until the late 1990s, India was out of East Asia’s main interest.
However, as everyone knows, today it is one of the most notable countries of
East Asia. For the first time in history, three regional powers- China, Japan
and India- are emerging almost simultaneously as major actors. Undoubtedly the
U.S. is the dominant and influential power, but there are uncertainties over
its status and ability to influence developments in a significant way. The
recent ‘pivot to Asia’ and reordering of its overseas
force deployments signify its vital interests, but it will have to take into
account the rise of China and the growing aspirations of other major actors.
Even as China and India begin to exercise their sea power commensurately with their
rapidly rising interests and stakes, the contest will intensify in the maritime
sphere. However, for the foreseeable future the spotlight will be firmly on
China, whose inexorable rise both as economic and military power is
unparalleled, and its assertive actions will be aimed at continuously enlarging
its strategic space. The ramifications of this are visible in growing tensions
between China and Japan on the one hand, and between China and the U.S. on the
other. It will be a challenge for the rest of the region to ensure that the
current transition is peaceful and that China does not precipitate things.
Added to the above are Japan’s quest for a greater security role, and India’s
strong forays into East Asia. Consequently, a new security and economic
architecture is in the making. India has evolved a multi-pronged strategy under
the rubric of the Look East policy. It has created a variety of institutional
mechanisms both at the multilateral and bilateral levels with select countries
to ensure that relations remain strong. Although not comparable to China or
Japan, its economic links are growing, with East Asia a critical region. Given
the slowdown in the U.S. and the problems the EU countries are facing, New
Delhi has no option but to hitch its economic wagon to the dynamic East Asian
region. That is reflected in the large number of free trade and comprehensive
economic cooperation agreements that it has entered into, despite concerns
about its implications for its manufacturing industry. Perhaps India’s defense
diplomacy towards East Asia is a major, but less known, dimension of the
successful story of the Look East policy. India is learning the art of applying
military strength to advance diplomatic goals in the region. It has taken full
advantage of the current political flux and security fluidity and its record of
non-intervention as a benign power to position itself as a key player. In fact,
most of New Delhi’s Strategic Partnership agreements are with East Asian
countries; in particular, the one with Japan is emerging as a key facet.
Rapidly increasingly cooperation between India and the U.S. along with Japan in
the management of regional security is a crucial development for the regional
balance of power. As far as China is concerned, one can see the presence of both
competitive and cooperative elements India-China relations; however, the
bilateral relationship is more mature now and both seem to be conscious of the
danger of crossing the red lines. In conclusion, even as global affairs in the
coming years are going to be dominated by developments in East Asia, India’s
relations with the region are poised to progress rapidly as it becomes an
undeniable part of the region’s destiny.

The discourse on India and East Asia is incomplete without a
reference to China, the most important power, with which India has a different
kind of relationship than with the other countries in the region. Almost as
large, and aspiring to emerge as strong as China, India has nearly matching
military strength but lags behind in economic strength. The 1962 war, nearly
95,000 km of disputed border, and a strong conviction that China’s unstinting
support has emboldened Pakistan to wage wars on India and has supported
terrorist activities, are serious issues that have affected bilateral
relations. For China, India has been working hand in glove with the U.S., Japan
and a few other countries bent on containing China and undermining its
interests. Economic links are booming and there are a number of issues that
have emerged as areas of common interest. Both share and cooperate on evolving
common positions in talks over climate change and WTO, as emerging economies
both seek to promote cooperation as members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia,
India, China and South Africa), and have been strongly supporting regional
multilateral institutions, from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to the
East Asia Summit. Their competition, nonetheless, is also soaring- for
commodities, for energy sources, and for political influence across Asia. As a
result, India-China relations are broadening, from the earlier limited border
problem and Pakistan to a vast array of issues, especially those spanning the
vast Indian Ocean and East Asian regions. It is true that on the face of it
their rivalry is likely to intensify, but also, strongly underpinned by common
interests, both will ensure that competition/rivalry will not degenerate into
an open showdown. Nonetheless, India-China relations will be a major defining
feature of the future of the East Asian security, in the same way as
India-U.S., India-Japan and India-ASEAN are.

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 In the economic aspect, India
was no match either for China or Japan, and many countries were disappointed
with the pace of economic reforms, the extensive bureaucratic red tape and poor
infrastructure. Despite concerted efforts, economic interactions remained
sluggish in the initial phase. The 1997 financial crisis, which snowballed into
a major economic crisis afflicting most countries of East Asia, was a setback
for India’s attempts. By the early 2000s, India’s growth story became well
known, and by then East Asian countries also had recovered from the crisis, setting
off a major spurt in economic relations. India’s trade with East Asia has been
growing the fastest compared to any other region, with major investors from
East Asia, especially countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore,
Malaysia, and Taiwan. Although a relatively late entrant, Japan is emerging as
India’s crucial economic partner. India has been the largest recipient of
Japanese official development assistance since 2005. Japan is also involved in
several mega-projects such as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the Rail
Freight Corridors between Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, and the Chennai and
Bangalore Corridor, entailing hundreds of billions of dollars in investments and
technology transfer. India-Japan bilateral trade is witnessing a major spurt
since the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement that came
into effect in August 2011. India has also entered into Comprehensive Economic
Partnership or Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements with South Korea, Singapore,
Malaysia and Thailand and is negotiating similar agreements with most other
countries of East Asia. While India and China remain strategic rivals, India’s
“Look East” policy has included significant rapprochement with China.
India’s economic relations with China are on the upswing, with China emerging
as the largest trading partner. In view of growing links, these two have
launched the annual Strategic Economic Dialogue to further increase economic
relations. In 1993, India began holding high-level talks with Chinese leaders
and established confidence-building measures. In 2006, China and India opened
the Nathu La pass for cross-border trade for the first time since the 1962 war.
On 21 November 2006 Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Chinese
President Hu Jintao issued a 10-point joint declaration to improve ties and
resolve long-standing conflicts. For all those efforts, trade between China and
India increases by 50% each year.

   India’s “Look East” policy was
developed and enacted during the governments of Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha
Rao (1991–1996) and Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998–2004). Along with economic liberalization
and moving away from Cold War-era policies, India’s strategy has focused on
forging close economic and commercial ties, increasing strategic and security
cooperation and the emphasis of historic cultural and ideological links. India
sought to create and expand regional markets for trade, investments and
industrial development. It also began strategic and military cooperation with
nations concerned by the expansion of China’s economic and strategic influence.
As part of it, Japan was also one of the first countries that India turned to,
not only for it to help bail it out of acute shortage of foreign exchange
reserves, but also to invest liberally in the same way as it did in the rest of
East Asia. However without much success in Japan, India turned its attention to
Southeast Asia, a region with which its ties had historically been cordial. It
soon became obvious that in order for India to be involved in regional affairs
at a time when profound changes were occurring in East Asia, it was imperative
to evolve an ASEAN-centric policy. India knew that it could never become a
factor in regional affairs unless it secured membership in several of the
multilateral frameworks which had started sprouting both for economic and
security purposes. For example for the security, the military contacts and joint exercises that India
launched with the ASEAN states on a low key basis in the early 1990s are now
expanding into more comprehensive defense cooperation. India has also begun to
establish arrangements for regular access to ports in Southeast Asia and defense
contacts have widened to include Japan, South Korea and China. Furthermore,
concerned about its future, ASEAN was finding ways to remain a significant
player in regional political affairs. For India, befriending ASEAN was the best
way to enhance its engagement with East Asia. As a result in the initial phase
of India’s Look East policy, much of the emphasis was on establishing
institutional links with ASEAN and other ASEAN-led mechanisms. Concurrently,
taking measures to qualitatively improve bilateral relations with select
countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. These resulted
in India becoming a Sectoral Dialogue Partner with ASEAN, which was later
elevated to full Dialogue Partnership in 1995. India was also offered ASEAN
Regional Forum membership in 1996. As relations consolidated, India and ASEAN
became summit partners in 2002. Despite Chinese objections, when the East Asian
Summit was launched in 2005, India could no longer be ignored. A distinct
feature of India’s political engagement with East Asia is that, as with ASEAN,
a variety of institutional arrangements have been created to ensure that
interactions constantly take place at various levels and relations get
strengthened continuously.

   Even
though India had great influence among East Asia historically, recently most
assessments of East Asia tended to ignore India as a factor in regional
economic or security affairs. However that has changed remarkably, and today it
is almost impossible to talk about East Asia without making reference of India.
So how did India make such dramatic turn-around? This fundamental shift is
mainly due to the ‘Look East’ policy which was launched in the early 1990s in
the aftermath of the Cold War, driven by economic essentials and political
expediency. The success story of India’s engagement with East Asia would not
have been as dramatic without the fact that the East Asian region itself has
been witnessing unprecedented developments where many countries found it useful
to involve India in regional affairs. While the
unrivaled economic dynamism that is sweeping the region is its most
notable feature, serious security problems also beset the region, which could
undermine peace and stability and seriously affect economic vibrancy.
Evidently, the rapidly increasing economic interdependence does not seem to
have translated into the much anticipated political dividends. The complexity
of the regional environment is further compounded by the recent resurgence of
new global power centers – most prominently China and India. It must be kept in
mind that today East Asia’s ascent is represented not only by China and India,
but by the rise of the entire region. Three out of four of the world’s largest
economies are located in East Asia. Consequently, its overall weight in global
affairs is also increasing significantly, and hence developments here will have
major implications for the rest of the world. In terms of GDP, East Asia is
already as large as the United States and the European Union combined. Moreover
with nearly half of the global population residing, the world’s fastest and
largest growing markets are located in this region. The regional great powers,
China, India and Japan, are redefining their roles and are increasingly
becoming more assertive and this is likely to become a major enduring feature
of East Asia in the coming years, which will play a key role in any new regional
order that may come about. Against this backdrop, where India emerges as a
major economic power with a formidable military, many countries, especially the
ASEAN and Japan, have found it useful to involve India in regional affairs, not
only to take advantage of its economic potential, but also for its potential to
contribute to regional security. Consequently, today India is an indispensable
part of East Asia and its role and interests are steadily expanding within the
region. While the roots of India’s engagement with East Asia can be traced back
to ancient, recent relations are a post-Cold War phenomenon, what is popularly
called the Look East policy. What began as an attempt to improve bilateral
relations, to partake in the regional economic dynamism and carve out political
space for itself, over the years has evolved into one of the most successful
foreign policy initiatives that India has undertaken. It now encompasses a
range of political, economic, strategic and cultural activities and
interactions.

   Actually, from long time ago, India’s
influence on East Asia has been extensive. Hinduism and especially Buddhism spread
throughout Asia from India by trading routes from China to Korea and to Japan.
India’s interaction with China dates back to the 2nd century BC.
Even before the advent of Buddhism in China, trade was prevalent between the
two countries by the renowned ‘Silk Routes’. The transmission of Buddhism from
India to China allowed for Indian cultural influence on art, architecture,
music, mathematics and medicine in China. Buddhism arrived Korea from China,
during the 4th century AD. Korean During the medieval period, close
cultural interaction between both countries declined due to the dominance of
Confucianism and the withdrawal of royal patronage from Buddhism during the
Chosun dynasty in Korea. Japan has also shared cultures with India since
ancient times. Buddhism travelled into Japan as a gift from the king of Korea
in 552 AD. The convert prince of Japan constructed Buddhist temples,
monasteries, hospitals and homes, and sent Japanese students to China for the
study of Buddhism. Indian-Japanese commercial activities were started in the
late nineteenth century with a number of Indians moved into Japan as temporary
servants of the trading relationship. Although the British colonial period
encouraged migration of Indians to the Asian region and the development of
commercial exchanges, cultural and civilizational ties between India and the
East Asian countries with India were greatly weakened as European interests
were valued over the regional ones.

   The
global center of gravity is shifting to East Asia, thanks to its amazing
economic growth. Over the last 150 years, East Asia has been the stage of great
powers ambitions. However the rise of new power centers and their active
attitudes also brings immense security challenges. Under these circumstances,
India is renewing its old links with East Asia. Ties with its Asian
neighborhoods to the east have been expanded in its scale. Compelled by
political and economic imperatives, India launched the “Look East” policy in
the early 1990s, which has evolved into a comprehensive engagement supported by
several political, institutional mechanisms, strong economic association
through a variety of comprehensive cooperation agreements, and powerful defense
links and security cooperation. Its purpose is to cultivate large-scale
economic and strategic relations with the nations of Southeast Asia in order to
reinforce its standing as a regional power and a counterweight to the mega-influence
of the China. Therefore, India has now become an inalienable part of the
developing East Asian economic and security order. While India closely
cooperates with the U.S, Japan and some ASEAN countries in the management of
regional security, India’s relations with China are experiencing major changes
as they become increasingly complicated.