India’s Interests in Emerging Subregional Cooperation: Opportunities and Challenges

Published date01 June 2016
Date01 June 2016
Subject MatterArticles
Assistant professor, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University, Kolkata,
Corresponding author:
Herkan Neadan Toppo, 188 Raja S. C. Mallick Road, Kolkata 700032, India.
India’s Interests in
Emerging Subregional
Opportunities and
Herkan Neadan Toppo1
The aim of the study is to identify the problems and prospects
surrounding India’s regional trade and investment patterns with regard
to subregional cooperation. There are several factors which appeals to
India’s interests in subregional cooperation, with particular emphasis
on the idea of development, which puts a high premium on economic
growth. This, however, blinds the urgent need for sustainable and
equitable benefits and sharing compounding interests. The debate and
discourse on the Look East Policy in India’s foreign policy is viewed as
an attempt to assert its potential regional stature and consequently try
to overcome and move beyond certain imposed limitations in regional
priorities. India, South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation
(SAARC) and Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) coun-
tries are viewed as natural trading partners. Besides this, there have
also been substantial contributions with regard to progress in India’s
trade with other developing countries in Asia and the Pacific region,
within the initiations of the formation of Look East Policy among
subregional entities.
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
20(1) 33–64
2016 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0973598416657962
34 Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 20(1)
Interests, regionalism, subregional, cooperation, connectivity, Look East
India’s interests and policies in the plane of subregional economic
cooperation and collaborations might be used as a platform to rebuild
the missing linkages with its ancient trade partners as well as to pacify
the historical legacy which is reflected in the India’s foreign policy.
India could possibly become the principal trading partner in the South
and Southeast Asian region, exploring the possibilities and searching
for alternatives for potential impact of regional cooperation in a new
world order. There has been a dynamic shift in the mode of cooperation
and accessibility, with the approach leaning toward addressing regional
priorities and subregional growth triangles possessing multipurpose
and multifaceted prospects. This gives rise to the pertinent questions of
free trade agreements which remains as a challenge in the context of
globalization. There has been a significant shift in the destination and
sources of India’s merchandise trade across developing and advanced
economies. Also, it has to be mentioned that the connectivity and trade
investment carries the potential of facilitating the seamless integration
of economic space and also optimizing human and resource potential in
South Asia and Southeast Asia. The focus of the article is to examine
India’s growing trade and financial integration with the Asian region
that has worked as a driving force toward its renewed interest in subre-
gional cooperation within Asia under the Look East Policy. Also, this is
an effort toward understanding the different dimensions of India’s
interest in subregional economic cooperation with its neighboring
countries and other countries lying beyond its immediate borders. The
discourse of the formation of subregional groupings, with a collabora-
tive approach in order to facilitate the sharing of the mutual benefits of
joint ventures subsumed under India’s cooperative approach through
subregional conscious phenomena, lends opportunities to partners as
well as enhances economic growth. If this finds new dimensions for the
discussion in strengthening cooperation among subregional actors, it could
potentially reshape the understanding of the concept of development.
This kind of economic cooperation and transactions has significantly
restricted the capacities that are required to be worked out, especially
Toppo 35
factors such as connectivity and the road network linking each one of
the member countries.
The discourse on the global nature of the phenomenological approach
involves both regionalism and subregionalism which are vying each
other for the assimilation and empirical adoption of the concept of sustain-
able economy. Perhaps the growth in the regions of South and Southeast
Asia, with its newly emerging multilateral institutions that have contin-
ued their community building efforts, have been reciprocating India’s
interests. In Asia especially, it is in the ASEAN region that a tremendous
stride has been made toward the conceptual innovation of a collective
destiny for facilitating regional integration. The success of ASEAN has
been both in the arena of regionalism and in subregional growth.
Regionally, it has developed mechanisms for problem-solving, without
being overly involved in each other’s internal affairs, whereas externally
it has innovated the notion of partnership of a varied order, which has
gained considerable momentum, that is, especially in the Indonesia-
Malaysia-Singapore Growth triangle (IMS-GT) that brings Singapore
and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia in a bond of a borderless economy.
Similarly, India’s Look East Policy that was initiated in the early 1990s
envisaged multifaceted bonds with Southeast Asia. It was admitted to
the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1996, and in October 2003, it
signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) with the Southeast
Asian states. India has entered into a number of pacts, agreements, and
free trade agreements (FTAs) with Thailand and Singapore. Presently,
Singapore is India’s largest trading partner in the ASEAN region and
engagement with ASEAN is at the very core of India’s Look East Policy.
Singapore has been the key to India’s engagement with the subregion,
and Vietnam remains an old companion. Also, the new millennium has
witnessed the strengthening of political ties with other Southeast Asian
states too. India has systematically engaged in a series of subregional
forums that aim to realize this vision.
Presently, there are multiple subregional forums in the region with
specific economic cooperation arrangements that have gathered pace,
and initiatives such as ASEAN–India cooperation, ASEAN–India
Regional Trade and Investment Area, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-
Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), South Asia
Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) and India Bangladesh
Myanmar Sub-Regional Cooperation (IBM-SRC), and others have been
considerably reinforced. In addition, there are plans to create a free-trade
area with Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia and with the remaining

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