Prof. Ian Hall, Acting Director of the Griffith Asia Institute, tackled India’s interests and growing engagement with China and the Southeast Asian region in the Institute’s Mabini Dialogue Series on August 5 at the Carlos P. Romulo Library. He is also a professor at Griffith University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy, where he currently teaches courses on India’s rise and on terrorism.
Hall explained that after the Cold War, India wanted to restore its standing as a regional player. India implemented liberal economic reforms and launched the Look East policy to stimulate inward investments from Southeast Asia. He argued that the liberal reforms and engagements with the region turned India into one of ASEAN’s “increasingly capable and credible” partners.
Like ASEAN, India is also concerned with China’s rise, specifically its impact on national security, economic development, and political affairs. Hall observed that India uses a multi-alignment strategy in dealing with China and ASEAN. This is evident in the way India chooses to act within the bounds of its national interests in order to avoid disputes with China and other states. This strategy, however, is not without challenges. For one, India’s plan to develop a nuclear deterrent can impede the development of closer ties with ASEAN. Another is India’s perception that ASEAN is internally divided on issues concerning China. Thus, India’s strategic partnerships with ASEAN can be split into two groups: those for mutual management of potential rivals or competitors, and those who wish to expand cooperation in areas of mutual concern.
To conclude, Hall warned that India, if forced to choose, will prioritize its domestic concerns than its interests in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia. He advised that ASEAN states must convince India that its strategic autonomy is misplaced, and that deeper integration with ASEAN reaps greater benefits, both in security and economic development.