A columnist at the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, recently suggested that India's Look East Policy means to encircle China as India strives for a more prominent role in East Asia. This observation comes when both India and China are participating in the East Asia summit at Hanoi, Vietnam. India's "Look East Policy" means "Look to encircle China"? (Li Hongmei, People's Daily Online)
This is an alarmist reaction to India's attempts at integrating better with East Asia. I had written in my earlier posts how India shares a lot in common with East Asia culturally, however, this was never leveraged strategically to integrate India better with the region. India's Northeast shares lot of cultural similarities with Myanmar, Thailand or Vietnam than say a Bihar or UP in mainland India. However, trade and people to people contact between the regions remained low. Similarly sea faring population from South India had strong trade and cultural exchanges from ancient times with East Asia. For a brief period in history the region was also colonized by the Imperial Chola dynasty from South India. The presence of a strong Indian diaspora in countries like Singapore, Malaysia etc is a testament to the historic links between both the regions.
India's engagement with Southeast Asia has made remarkable progress recently. Look East policy of India is just a realization of India's historic role in the region, its strategic priorities and the economic motive to engage proactively in the Intra-Asian trade. India has recently signed several trade pacts with countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. There have been several high level visits from the region in recent times including that of the Japanese Prime Minister last week. The Indo-ASEAN FTA is also the second largest free trade agreement in Asia now bringing within its ambit a market of 2 billion people. It is a course correction from the Cold War era that saw South Asia maintain a distance from the region. I feel another reason may have been the 'north India fixation' of Indian politics and a political leadership dominated by north Indians obsessed with India's western borders. The above observation, coming from the mouthpiece of Chinese Communist Party, is essentially flawed and seems more like a word of caution to Indian leadership as it strives for closer engagement with the region.