Webinars on “ASEAN-India Development Partnership Programme”

This 5-day training and capacity building programme for scholars and practitioners of ASEAN countries and India is jointly organised by ASEAN Studies Centre (ASC) of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, The Asian Confluence, and The Asean-India Centre At Ris, India.


The ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, the ASEAN-India Centre at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), and the Asian Confluence, Shillong, India hosted the ASEAN-India Development Partnership Programme (AIDPP), an online week-long capacity building programme for scholars, practitioners and officials of ASEAN countries and India on 16-20 August 2021. The programme brought together a panel of leading experts from the fields of policy, academia, law and industry to deliver lectures and conduct interactive sessions on various topics and subjects that are critical towards forging mutually beneficial collaborations and deeper regional cooperation between ASEAN and India. The number of participants that attended individual sessions of the programme range from 70-100.

Please click here for the Press Release.

16 August 2021 – SESSION I

Session I was moderated by Prof Suthiphand Chirathivat, Chairman of the ASEAN Studies Centre, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.

Three Decades of ASEAN -India Relations

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Prabir De, Head of the ASEAN-India Centre at RIS provided an overview of the ASEAN-India relations as a key cornerstone of their foreign policy. On the economic front, he spoke of major trade and connectivity initiatives for promoting bilateral trade and development. He reiterated that trade potentials could be maximized by further improving trade facilitation measures, utilizing the FTA, and scaling up the value chains with ASEAN countries. In the face of the unprecedented challenges and the on-going pandemic, deeper cooperation in search of collective solutions for a resilient recovery is required, such as deepening production networks and supply chains, considering new products and new schedule of tariff liberalization, trade and investment facilitation measures, improving digital and physical connectivity. With respect to ASEAN-India strategic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, both sides should look for a common vision to move forward with strategies for cooperation. 

Ms Sharon Seah, Senior Fellow, Coordinator of the ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS spoke of the evolution of the ASEAN-India relations which were largely driven by the “Look East Policy” and the “Act East Policy”. In terms of strategic imperatives for engagement, she spoke of India’s access to the Indo-Pacific region, opportunities for growth prospect post-pandemic, and the balance of power in Southeast Asia in the face of major power rivalry and geopolitical uncertainties. She highlighted the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific concept in regional and global strategic discourse and the need for ASEAN to articulate the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AIOP) to stay relevant. She reiterated that it is in India’s interest to continue engaging with ASEAN and intensify the engagement by supporting ASEAN centrality while keeping the region open and inclusive. On the trade and economic front, the ASEAN-India FTA should be made more user friendly for businesses on the ground. Moving forward, both sides should focus on post-pandemic recovery, improving physical and digital connectivity, and strengthening cooperation on climate change.

Strategic Imperatives of ASEAN-India Relations

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Prof Harsh V. Pant, Director of Studies and Head of the Strategic Studies Programme, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi highlighted ASEAN as a key pillar of India’s Act East strategy. He took a deeper look at four key domains of ASEAN-India cooperation for which the AOIP serves as a guiding principle, namely maritime cooperation, connectivity, UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030, and economic development. He highlighted the significance of the ASEAN-India strategic partnership in foreign policies, especially in the face of existing challenges and growing volatilities in the regional and global arenas. The Indo-Pacific region which is central to global politics and economics is facing structural shifts with evolving power rivalry and escalating geopolitical contestation. While India underscored ASEAN centrality in its AOIP, both sides should coordinate their response to these structural shifts in the region. He also pointed out the absence of institutions to manage emerging global and regional challenges and the impact of the pandemic that would exacerbate institutional challenges and great power contestation in the region. It is therefore important for ASEAN and India to chart out a more comprehensive operational agenda for future cooperation by building coalitions and shaping developments in the Indo-Pacific where no single power can dominate the regional agenda.

17 August 2021 – SESSION II

Session II was moderated by Dr Jayant Menon, Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

Deepening ASEAN-India Trade Integration

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Sithanonxay Suvannaphakdy, Lead Researcher (Economics) of the ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS highlighted that there is a need to boost bilateral trade flows between India and ASEAN as their trade linkage is weaker than with other partners such as China, Japan and US. Also, ASEAN-India FTA had the lowest level of tariff liberalization among ASEAN+1 FTAs at around 80%. Bilateral trade flows between India and ASEAN had been affected by the high cost of non-tariff barriers. He emphasized that Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs) are particularly detrimental to the development prospects in ASEAN and India as NTMs could be used to substitute tariffs. India had the largest number of NTMs followed by Thailand and the Philippines in ASEAN. However, it could be noted that NTMs in India and ASEAN had been on the rise. The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) provisions could reduce the time and cost of international trade and boost international trade flows. Using data from the UN Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation in 2019, full implementation of cross-border paperless trade would potentially increase ASEAN exports by US$199 billion and India exports by US$16.7 billion annually with the time required to export falling by 19% to 98%. 

Changing Profile of ASEAN-India Investment Relations and B2B Engagements

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Pranav Kumar, Head of International Relations, Confederation of Indian Industry, New Delhi stated that the “Look East Policy” initiated in 1992 was more from the geopolitical point of view. Over the years, ASEAN-India trade and investment relations have been strengthened with deep linkages between trade and investment, especially for global value chains that are investment led and trade facilitated. Mr Kumar spoke of some initiatives such as the “Made in India” initiative in 2014 and the current “Production-linked Incentive Scheme” that aim to integrate into the global production network. India has been calling for investment from ASEAN, especially in the areas of infrastructure, healthcare, e-commerce, education, IT and smart cities. In terms of trade linkages, India has not been able to diversify its export basket towards high value products. On the geopolitics front, Mr Kumar spoke of India’s involvement in the Quad and the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative with Japan and Australia which also helps facilitate businesses and enhance supply chain networks. With respect to the B2B engagement, he spoke of the bilateral CEO Forums that India set up with ASEAN countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, and a forum with CLMV countries to promote economic ties between their companies.

18 August 2021 – SESSION III

Session III was moderated by Ms Sharon Seah, Senior Fellow, Coordinator of the ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS.

Multilateralism in post-COVID-19 world

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Hoang Thi Ha, Lead Researcher (Political-Security) of the ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS highlighted the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in exposing the existing challenges to multilateralism, specifically the tension between global and national interests with the pandemic engendering more insular, nationally oriented solutions than globally oriented cooperation. She noted that achieving effective multilateralism is in question, citing regional concerns about ASEAN’s inability to adapt to changing situations and deliver tangible results. Moreover, she highlighted the tensions in the India-ASEAN relationship. While both parties appear to be natural partners given multilateralism’s benefits, India’s withdrawal from the RCEP highlighted the country’s increasing deglobalisation discourse. Lastly, Ms Hoang highlighted the existing trend towards diverse forms of multilateralism with India trailblazing in this regard. She opined that ASEAN as a diplomatic ecosystem is well-placed to facilitate diverse minilateral arrangements, though she acknowledged concerns that such groupings may eclipse ASEAN’s efficacy in dealing with regional security concerns. Ms Hoang called for more inclusive, multi-level and multi-channel multilateralism. She encouraged both ASEAN and India to continue holding the middle ground position in situations of geopolitical rivalry.

ASEAN-India in the Indo-Pacific

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Jane Chan, Senior Fellow of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Singapore noted that global trends are reshaping the strategic outlook in the Indo-Pacific with two differing visions emerging: (1) a competitive vision where the Indo-Pacific strategic environment is seen as a zero-sum game, dominated by great power competition; and (2) a cooperative vision, where cooperation and seaborne trade are seen as engendering nations’ success. She emphasised that these visions point to the differing narratives and understandings of the maritime order. She believed that more effort needs to be placed in defining terms such as ‘rules’ and ‘norm-building’, as well as operationalising how ASEAN and India can work closer to have a realistic common vision of the Indo-Pacific region. In addition, she pointed out the increasing importance of the universality of rules, laws and regulations in the maritime order, with ASEAN states increasingly emphasising the importance of UNCLOS and the arbitral award in the South China Sea disputes. She stated that many ASEAN states have reservations towards both the Indo-Pacific Concept and the Quad,  owing to two factors: (1) there is the perception that supporting either is synonymous to taking sides in the great power rivalry, given the perceived inter-linkages between the two; and (2) ASEAN states’ concern that supporting another regional grouping would threaten ASEAN centrality, despite common values shared.

19 August 2021- SESSION IV

Session IV was moderated by Mr Rajat Nag, Member of the Governing Council, ASCON, India.

ASEAN-India Connectivity

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Prof Ruth Banomyong of Thammasat University, Bangkok highlighted that ASEAN tended to perform better in promoting physical connectivity than ‘soft’ connectivity to enhance cross-border trade, with regulatory and institutional challenges persisting in developments in ASEAN land connectivity, ASEAN single aviation market, and ASEAN single shipping market. Regarding ASEAN-India connectivity, he expounded on the flagship projects that spanned land, water, air and digital connectivity. He opined that there is great interest in Thai policymaking circles for greater ASEAN-India connectivity, especially through the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, as it benefits the Kingdom in being a centre of transport, communication and trade.

Dr Prabir De highlighted India’s increasing focus on Southeast Asia as well as India’s north-eastern region in its connectivity initiatives. Regarding the ongoing Trilateral Highway project, he highlighted Bangladesh’s recent interest to collaborate, stating that this was a game-changer that enhanced India’s Act East Policy as well as value chains and economic development in India’s Northeast. In the development of a new policy agenda, Dr De highlighted 6 priority areas: (1) Build synergy with external partners on connectivity plans; (2) promote closer cooperation with the ASEAN Secretariat on connectivity; (3) complete construction of ongoing corridors; (4) focus on digital connectivity and e-commerce; (5) facilitate new projects in air, maritime and energy connectivity; and (6) establish regional partnerships with development partners and co-financing with development banks.

Production Networks and ASEAN and India in Shifting Global Supply Chains

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Prof Fukunari Kimura, Chief Economist of ERIA, Jakarta emphatically stated that India must join Factory Asia, which ASEAN and East Asia have been heavily participating in. The latter group have been utilising international production networks (IPN) which has led to their strong economic growth. In contrast, while India is rapidly developing, it is lagging behind in the utilisation of IPNs. He emphasised India’s great potential in joining Factory Asia, given manufacturing’s continued importance for economic development. He highlighted India’s trade underperformance vis-à-vis its ASEAN and East Asian neighbours: ASEAN’s 2019 trade values with its East Asian neighbours and India exceeded predicted values, while India significantly underperformed. He emphasised that India and South Asia must take advantage of their geographical position, being situated next to ASEAN/East Asia to utilize IPNs and increase the supporting institutional and digital connectivity. He opined that a wider choice of networks with India will enhance robustness and resilience of IPNs overall. Regarding the services trade, he encouraged greater trade cooperation between ASEAN/East Asia and India, given India’s strength in exporting ICT services and East Asia’s expertise in digital businesses.

20 August – SESSION V

Session V was moderated by Dr Prabir De, Head of the ASEAN-India Centre at RIS.

Fostering People to People Contacts

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Sanjay Pulipaka, Senior Fellow of the Delhi Policy Group highlighted the significance of enhanced political, economic and cultural interactions in forging better people-to-people understanding and communication and peace promotion. He highlighted the key areas and initiatives for further strengthening ASEAN-India people-to-people ties, including the promotion of women and youth participation in human development programmes, supporting ASEAN capacity building, enhancing understanding of ASEAN’s and India’s cultures, amongst others. He spoke of the increase in tourist arrivals and India’s involvement in restoration and conservation of ancient temples across ASEAN countries that could promote tourism. Moving forward, it is incumbent on India and ASEAN to foster people-to-people interactions given their common interest in sustaining the momentum of globalization and a multipolar Indo-Pacific region.

Mr Sabyasachi Dutta, Executive Director of ASCON, Shillong provided an overview of formal existing mechanisms that facilitate ASEAN-India people-to-people connectivity. The AIDPP co-organized by ISEAS, RIS and ASCON is an activity that helps foster people-to-people ties on the ground. He spoke of the North East India region as an example for the promotion of regional tourism 2.0 and highlighted that fostering people-to-people ties could be implemented and strengthened through eco-tourism, religious tourism, educational tourism, health and wellness tourism, etc. While industries are struggling to recover from the pandemic, national governments’ political will and the search of new, innovative and digital products in tourism and education sectors would be required. This could start with micro projects by exploring connectivity and other initiatives that would help weave a strong people’s network along the way.

ASEAN and India’s Progress on SDGs: Opportunities for Collaboration

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Melinda Martinus, Lead Researcher (Socio-Cultural) of the ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS shared her insights on the sustainable development progress in ASEAN and India and possible areas for cooperation. She spoke of the significance of the SDGs that have been institutionalized in both sides’ high-level agendas including India’s National Development Goals and the 2015 ASEAN Charter. ASEAN-India cooperation for the SDGs would be critical for the Asia-Pacific region to achieve its target. With respect to the progress on achieving all 17 SDGs, amongst ASEAN countries, only Thailand ranks within the top 50, while India ranks at 120 – below all ASEAN countries. While ASEAN and India have put a great deal of effort towards achieving the SDGs, a lot of work remains to be done. ASEAN and India could work together to fill each other’s SDGs gaps. ASEAN could learn from India in “Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production” and “Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institution” while India could learn from ASEAN in “Goal 5: Gender Equality” and “Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure”.

Dr P K Anand, Visiting Fellow of the RIS, New Delhi shared his insights on India’s progress on SDGs and key initiatives on climate action, conservation, development and management of terrestrial ecosystem, and life under water. In terms of SDGs, India is on track to achieve the SDG 6 on Clean Water and Sanitation and SDG 13 on Climate Action. India’s overall performance ranks at 120 out of 165 countries. In terms of the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) target, India is on track to achieve its NDCs by 2030. On the environmental dimensions for collaboration with ASEAN, he spoke of equity issues that need to be in line with Paris Agreement, the per capita incomes convergence and operation of a technical facilitation mechanism. On the social and economic dimensions, he shared some of India’ good practices in food security, global public good for health, education, gender issues, and clean water and sanitation. Collaborations with ASEAN countries could be intensified on clean and affordable energy while other areas such as science and technology, research and development, etc. could be further strengthened.