One of the principal objectives of New Delhi’s ‘Act East Policy’ (AEP) is to strengthen India’s contact with the ASEAN as well as with the countries in Southeast Asia. The pursuit is evolving and ever-growing, both institutionally and regionally. With a focus on ASEAN-centric cooperation, forging a closer multi-modal connectivity cooperation between India’s bordering states and the immediate Southeast Asian countries has been one of the guiding principles of this engagement. Also, this engagement is becoming deeper with India aiming to extend the connectivity cooperation to the interior parts of the ASEAN region from the immediate neighbouring region of India. A renewed focus on engagement through increased cooperation in areas such as economic, political and security realms offers a positive future graph to the India-ASEAN engagement at present which is becoming one of the defining features of Indo-Pacific.
With the possible conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in 2019-20, the regional economic architecture will move to a new level of maturity in which India would like to factor in its engagement strongly with the other countries. More importantly, it is in India’s interests to further deeper cooperation with the ASEAN as an institution. The economic role of ASEAN’s dialogue partners, especially that of China, will test India’s relationship character with the ASEAN. How should India react to the evolving regional economic and security architecture around the ASEAN?
Options for India are perhaps plenty. Yet, India needs to find strategic compatibility with most of the ASEAN dialogue partners – some of which are influential economic actors in the region – to position its strategic interests more coherently. South Korea (officially known as the Republic of Korea) is one of those prime actors with whom India must envision to have more policy convergence keeping the ASEAN framework in mind, and draw strategic compatibility in specific areas of cooperation and mutual benefit. This study examines India’s growing engagement with the ASEAN and factors how India-South Korea could possibly cooperate within and outside an ASEAN framework. The study tries to establish policy convergence between India’s Act East Policy (AEP) and South Korea’s New Southern Policy (NSP), bilaterally and regionally, factoring the ASEAN and the countries around as the central focus of this cooperation.