As the novel coronavirus continues to disrupt livelihoods across the globe bringing about social, political and cultural variations, the changes in international relations due to COVID19 have been extraordinary. Whether these are the criticisms faced by China for its alleged coverup, the backlash received by the World Health Organisation; or even the positive changes in the area of Digital Diplomacy; one thing is sure, we are entering a new normal. Here it is important to look at India’s foreign policy to understand how India can play with the changing global dynamic to leverage its global positioning. One such area in that direction is India’s Act East Policy (AEP).
India’s Act East Policy is a successor of India’s Look East Policy and was unveiled by PM Narendra Modi at the 12th ASEAN-India Summit in 2014. The Look East Policy, which was launch by former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao in 1992, was targeted at giving India a strategic push to India’s engagement in the South-East Asian Region. The Act East Policy is different from its predecessor by integrating the four C’s: Culture, Commerce, Connectivity and Capacity Building. Security also form an important dimension of the AEP.
At the heart of Modi’s Act East Policy is India’s engagement with the countries of south, southeast and east Asia. This also relates to India’s stand on “a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific Region based on a rules-based order”. In addition, the AEP also represents India’s critical stance towards the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But most importantly PM Modi’s Act East Policy is about empowering the Eastern and North Eastern states of India. Unfortunately, the progress in this direction has been limited. This is due to continuous insurgencies in the region, immigration from neighboring countries and the overall connectivity issue. However, the recent COVID19 crisis provides the North Eastern states to be the catalysts in India’s foreign policy, especially with regard to India’s AEP.
But how has the coronavirus impacted the region? First and foremost, it is important to note that geographically, the North-Eastern states share their borders with different countries, and these disputed international borders are often porous. This increases the risk for these states. Furthermore, up until COVID19, the region was also home to several tourists throughout the year. This sector, along with the hospitality sector has received a major setback with the current crisis. Third, the measures taken up by the northeastern states to fight this pandemic is applaudable. At a time when the virus has ravaged the entire nation, almost all the states in North-East India have effectively managed the health crisis. Its neighbor Sikkim is a miracle, with no report of any Covid19 positive cases so far. This is important because Sikkim almost entire dependent on the tourism sector, and the state was one of the first to ban the entry of tourists. As a precaution the state has decided to keep its border closed till October.
During these crucial times there are talks about foreign countries redirecting investments out of China towards India. Hence, the time is right for the northeastern states to be catalysts of change. For the long-term economic benefit of the country, India should now enhance its sub-regional efforts to attract more businesses in this part of the country. In this respect, the Northeastern Countries are important because they not only the bridge between India and the larger Southeast Asian markets but also because of the existence of unused resources and skilled manpower in the region. In a post-Covid19 world, India should also start leveraging its relation with regional multilateral organisations such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
Thus, India’s north-east has immense capability to leverage the current situations of COVID19. In such times, it is important that the Northeastern states be a major catalyst with regard to India’s foreign and economic policy.
This blog post originally appeared on Chizuknok Longkumer’s blog: www.chizuknoklongkumer.com
Chizuknok Longkumer (Chizuk) is part of the Class of 2021 at SCoRe, Mumbai. He is a graduate in International Relations & International Development from Calvin University, USA. Chizuk grew up in Asia, England, & the US. Highly ambitious, & constantly striving to grow from every experience, Chizuk has a love for community development & the arts; he hopes to incorporate his passion with his career. She can be reached at @ChizukLkr on Twitter, and as Chizuknok Longkumer on LinkedIn.