The RSIS-Delhi Policy Group (DPG) joint workshop on “India, ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific: Evolving Regional Architecture” was held at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Singapore, on 10 April 2019. The workshop highlighted various facets of the deepening ASEAN-India strategic partnership, particularly through continued engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
Amb Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman, RSIS, and Amb HK Singh, Director General, DPG, gave the opening address. Regarding ASEAN’s geopolitical development, there has been no big escalation from the usual US strategy towards ASEAN. However, in relation to the rivalry and contestation between China and the US, it is still unclear where the trade dispute is headed; ASEAN is worried that individual ASEAN member states would be pressured to take sides. A digitalised environment with a focus on advancing the cyber domain, education focused on skill upgrading, and ASEAN Smart Cities Network will help ASEAN to be future-ready.
Amb HK Singh remarked that with the changing geo-political dynamics, relations between India and ASEAN would become multi-sectoral. While earlier the India-ASEAN relationship primarily extended to economic partnership, today it has progressed into a strategic partnership. India is positive about the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and hopes for a successful conclusion of negotiations by end of the year.
The workshop saw discussions on what the idea of Indo-Pacific entails as well as the status of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation and connectivity projects in the Bay of Bengal. The Indo-Pacific concept is still in its early stages, and more discussion is needed to clarify its scope and vision before it could evolve into something concrete and realistic.
As different states have different understandings of the idea of Indo-Pacific, it is critical to ensure that the Indo-Pacific concept does not create misunderstandings. There is a need to continue engagement with ASEAN member states and stakeholders in the Indian Ocean so that all Indian Ocean actors are on the same page.