‘Act East’ policy not just a catchy line and why alienating China makes perfect sense
The Delhi declaration adopted by all 10 ASEAN nations and India makes a specific mention about the South China Sea.
This is important considering the growing assertiveness by China in the region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the opening of the plenary session of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit 2018 that India was committed to working with ASEAN nations to enhance collaboration in the maritime domain.
India has raised concerns about cross-border terrorism and also China's support to pakistan at the United Nations. However for the rest of the nations misuse of the internet and radicalisation have been the primary concerns.
While successive governments in the past have constantly adopted the 'Look East' policy, under Modi the policy has shifted to 'Act East. The reason why the governments in the past followed the 'Look East' policy is because none wanted to antagonise China.
However Modi has decided to move past that. The primary reason being the equations have changed. When Modi came up with the 'Act East,' policy it was dubbed as just a catchy line.
However when looks at the joint statement it clearly reiterates the commitment to strengthen cooperation to stop terror financing, prevent recruitment of members of terrorist groups and support efforts in targeting terrorist groups and their sanctuaries.
These are issues that India has always raised about Pakistan. However the growing bonhomie between Pakistan and China has been a stumbling bloc in India's war against terror.
While the 'Act East' policy has a major thrust on economic cooperation and blue economy, there is also a major emphasis on connectivity. Connectivity is a key here considering it would make inroads into South-East asia and this would tilt the balance from China to India. The leaders during the summit decided to promote maritime transport cooperation, develop seaports and also strengthen cooperation in the area of aviation. They agreed to the expeditious conclusion of the ASEAN-India Air Transport Agreement and the ASEAN-India Maritime Transport Agreement.
All these are clear indicators that India has decided to go beyond. Delhi never wanted to alienate China in the past. Now with the equations changed, India is willing to look past China.
As part of China's expansion policy it has been making investments in terms of infrastructure in Pakistan. The backing of terror groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad at the UN is also another reason why India has decided to overlook China and cultivate new friends to its east. With growing tensions with China and the recent standoff at Doklam, India no longer saw it as an incentive not to alienate China.