India’s Look East

14 09 2007

 

_pranab.jpg I was fortunate to be offered an opportunity to attend a special lecture given by H.E. Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Minister of External of India this morning at the Institute for Security and International Studies (ISIS), Chulalongkorn University. His talk was on “India’s Look East Policy: Implications for Thailand and South East Asia”. My impression is that while India has re-fashioned its foreign policy to Look East, many focal points in its foreign policy remain unchanged. Since Nehru’s era, India has always been hopeful in its relations and cooperation with China. They always see themselves as an equal partner. However, China has never rated India as such. This was obvious in the speech of the minister when he mentioned that despite the remaining differences and the competition, India and China will continue their peaceful dialogue. There is enough space of opportunity in the region for both counties. India may think the space is enough for two powers to share BUT China may not share its view.

The minister said that Thailand stands at the centre of India’s Look East policy because of its geography. Since the 1970s, India has shifted its strategic importance to the sea route. It is understandable how Thailand fits in the picture for maritime security. The minister said that “India’s Andaman & Nicobar Islands are much closer to Thailand’s coast than to the Indian mainland”. More interestingly, the minister mentioned about about the land linked between its land locked North Easten states of India (Moreh) via Bagan in Burma to Mae Sot in Thailand. If this is really materialised, I agree that it would open up many opportunities for both countries.

During the Q&A, the US and British Ambassadors raised the question in regards to India’s close relations with Burmese military regime and its negligence to pressure such regime to submit to democratic reforms. “The cardinal principle of our foreign policy is non-interference in the domestic affairs of any country”, said the minister. Related to that question or perhaps more specific on the question of Burma, how could India, one of the few democratic success stories in Asia, support a military regime that has one of the world’s worst records for human rights abuses and suppression of the most basic political rights? His answer was that “It is essentially the job of the people in the country to decide what government they want”. India has stood firm on this “non-interference in its neighbours’ internal affairs since Nehru’s era and it seems to continue today.

I was a bit surprised actually to see a lot of people have their interest in India’s foreign policy. I remember when I chose India’s security policy as my PhD thesis, people puzzled why India. Perhaps India’s economic policy and outlook re-formulated in the early 1990s has contributed to the image others have towards them. It was very pleasant to be able to engage myself to the topic I really love again after almost 10 years. This I have to thank my regional director who gave this special opportunity to me.


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