India’s COVID-19 Opportunity in Southeast Asia – The Diplomat

On Mar 15, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi instituted discussions on a intensity informal response to a COVID-19 pestilence by a video assembly with leaders from a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). New Delhi has not nonetheless pushed for such multilateral team-work to a east, possibly within a Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) or with a Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

New Delhi has reached out to usually a few Southeast Asian countries and companies in a case-specific demeanour to give or accept crisis-time assistance. India contingency eschew a waste devise and enlarge a range of a COVID-19 overdo east to strengthen a Act East Policy (AEP), waken a credit in Southeast Asia, and change Chinese interventions. For India, institutionalizing crisis-time transregional team-work carries both brief and medium-to-long tenure imperatives.

Unequal Outreach 

Besides countries in a extended neighborhood, like Mauritius and a Seychelles, India has so distant offering COVID-19-related assistance — sustenance hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and paracetamol tablets and other medical haven — to during slightest 123 countries, including a United States, Germany, Spain, South Africa, Kuwait, Jordan, a Dominican Republic, and Antigua and Barbuda. Seen in this context, India’s overdo to a circuitously ASEAN shred appears infrequently scant.

So far, Modi has directly oral to his counterparts in usually 3 ASEAN member states — Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesia — to plead health and mercantile challenges. India has also concluded to supply HCQ tablets to Malaysia and perceived a concession of 30,000 COVID-19 contrast kits from a Singaporean company. The Indian embassy in Manila has granted masks, sanitizers, and medicines to Philippine supervision officials, university students, and unchanging citizens.

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While India’s broad-spectrum tactful overdo during a pestilence is noteworthy, a Modi supervision should not disremember pivotal unfamiliar process priorities and informal interests. Over a past decade, both BIMSTEC and ASEAN have emerged as core areas of seductiveness for New Delhi within a ambit of a AEP and a Neighborhood First Policy. New Delhi has spiritedly intent with both informal formations by multisectoral initiatives in a domains of normal and nontraditional security. These contingency now be furthered within a context of a COVID-19 pandemic.

Why Should New Delhi Expand Its COVID-19 Outreach Eastwards?

One of a inaugural hurdles that India faces in implementing AEP is a credit necessity during both a institutional and renouned levels in Southeast Asia. The COVID-19 predicament provides a window for New Delhi to repair some of this deficit.

Initiating corner movement and common training during a predicament can definitely figure open and institutional memories in partner countries. The pestilence so offers New Delhi an event to ramp adult a open tact in Southeast Asia and uncover a eagerness — and wherewithal — to commence mutually-beneficial collaborations. Ultimately, this would assistance New Delhi enlarge and lower a range of AEP and secure larger legitimacy for destiny informal projects.

Collaborating with BIMSTEC members could offer as a matter in formulating a corner mercantile liberation devise for a Bay of Bengal subregion, that has taken a complicated blow from COVID-19 and a indirect inhabitant lockdowns. To forestall a fast retrogression of a classification into a earlier coma state, member states contingency safeguard a resumption of subregional trade links once cross-border restrictions are lifted. For India, post-crisis partnership within BIMSTEC could give a fillip to both AEP and NFP, quite by incentivizing Myanmar and Thailand, both ASEAN members, to accelerate concentration on their “look west” policies.

ASEAN is already engaging directly with China on technical knowledge-sharing and multisectoral coordination over COVID-19 by an disdainful discourse mechanism. ASEAN is also collaborating with China, Japan, and South Korea within a ASEAN Plus Three (APT) mechanism. It has even total an “APT haven of essential medical supplies,” as summarized in a recent joint statement. Evidently, ASEAN is open to transregional multilateral team-work on COVID-19. This denote contingency inspire New Delhi to make a possess forays on proposing corner initiatives.

A long-term impact of postulated Indian partnership with ASEAN over pandemics is that a stronger, some-more effective, and some-more outcome-oriented AEP would automatically entail larger engagement, including smoother earthy connectivity and aloft people-to-people contact. This should be a plain motorist for both sides to implement a durable corner pestilence response horizon so improved connectivity does not disobey into faster pathogenic transmissions.

India has other clever short-term imperatives to raise a COVID-19 overdo eastwards. India shares a 1,640 kilometer-long porous land limit with Myanmar, where COVID-19 cases are usually rising. While this limit is now sealed, infections can simply transport behind and onward in a nearby future, quite when a lockdowns in both countries are lifted. A harmonization of containment strategies between New Delhi and Naypyitaw is vicious to forestall cross-border transmissions. Further, India contingency safeguard smoothness in a trade and connectivity links with Myanmar, also famous as a “land overpass to Southeast Asia” in AEP parlance, to equivalent a serious disruptions caused by a pandemic.

So far, a particular nation responses to a pestilence in Southeast Asia have been mixed. Some countries (like Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore) have successfully singular a pathogen and tackled a attendant socioeconomic hurdles robustly. Others (like Indonesia, Cambodia, and a Philippines) struggling to cope. Institutionalized partnership between India and ASEAN will capacitate two-way knowledge-sharing, sell of technical expertise, and send of best use norms to mutual benefit.

What Can India Do?

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India’s COVID-19 enlargement east contingency follow dual pathways: BIMSTEC and India-ASEAN. The former contingency be a initial indicate of contact, given a vicinity of Myanmar and Thailand to India’s northeast. New Delhi could start with a SAARC-like video discussion with BIMSTEC to flag-off collaboration, and afterwards customize as per a specific needs of member states. Thailand’s purpose as a lead nation in a organization’s “public health” vertical, total with a possess best practices in handling a crisis, can be a vast item here.

The second pathway for India would be to introduce approach partnership with ASEAN within a existent India-ASEAN discourse mechanism. A good place to start would be the India-ASEAN Plan of Action (2016-2020) , that has an embedded member of “Health and Pandemic Preparedness and Response.” A vital sustenance within this is operative together “to raise ASEAN’s preparedness and ability in responding to catching and rising spreading diseases including pandemics” by “preparedness planning, impediment efforts, and ability building.” It also includes “the strengthening of areas on surveillance, laboratory networking, tellurian apparatus capacities, and information networking.” The health member is also benefaction in the India-ASEAN Dialogue Relations agenda, as updated in Jul 2019. These frameworks can be immediately operationalized by an Emergency Communication Network (ECN) rubbed by a Indian Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta, Indonesia. One of a initial puncture measures that India could commence is sustenance HCQ and paracetamol tablets to countries in a region, depending on their requirements.

Within ASEAN, India should compensate special courtesy to a Cambodia-Laos-Myanmar-Vietnam (CLMV) subregion, with that it already has synergies within a Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) framework. In a evident term, India contingency directly rivet with a 4 countries to yield puncture assistance, including HCQ tablets and technical expertise. New Delhi could also lend a flagship Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal (IDSP) to a subregion, most like it has finished with SAARC members.

In a medium-to-longer term, India contingency finish a origination of a long-pending MCG Working Group on Health and pull Indian curative and medical apparatus companies to deposit in a subregion’s malnourished health sector. The Indian medical attention already has a poignant footprint in a subregion. For instance, according to a Indian Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia, a health attention occupies a vast shred of India-Cambodia shared trade, and India’s Export-Import (EXIM) Bank has prioritized appropriation for Indian medical operators to raise operations in a country. Similar EXIM-led medical initiatives are being considered for Myanmar. These initiatives contingency be given priority in a post-pandemic phase.

Pandemic government was a pivotal area of team-work discussed in a sixth MGC Ministerial Meeting hold in New Delhi in 2012. However, in a subsequent session, in Aug 2019, “pandemics” found no mention. In light of a COVID-19 threat, India contingency revitalise this straight in a subsequent ministerial assembly and lay importance on pestilence notice and technical cooperation. India contingency also route concentration on open health-centered Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) in a CLMV region, in line with a idea done during a sixth ministerial meeting.


India can't take a lead in a Southeast Asian informal response — distinct SAARC. However, this contingency not obviate shared or multilateral cooperation, given New Delhi’s fast elaborating unfamiliar process priorities in a Indo-Pacific Region. New Delhi contingency note that a COVID-19 predicament has exceedingly hampered transregional links, that is bad news for AEP and a many synergies that it had managed to build given 2014. To keep a policy’s movement going, crisis-time partnership is critical. In fact, by repositioning faith in Indian tact and goodwill, COVID-19 partnership with a ASEAN shred can eventually infer to be a force multiplier for AEP.

Angshuman Choudhury is a Senior Researcher during a Southeast Asia Research Programme in a Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, and former GIBSA Visiting Fellow during a German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin.

Ashutosh Nagda is a Researcher during a Southeast Asia Research Programme in a Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.

This essay was creatively published by a Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies

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