Basics and Backgrounds

  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) by the Founding Fathers of
  • The motto of ASEAN is “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”.

Member Countries

  • Founding Members Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
  • Brunei Darussalam (1984), Vietnam (1995), Lao PDR and Myanmar (1997), and Cambodia (1999), joined the ASEAN later.
  • ASEAN Secretariat – Indonesia, Jakarta. 

Evolution of ASEAN

  • 1967 – ASEAN was established with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) by its founding fathers.
  • 1990s – Membership doubled after the changing conditions in the region following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and the Cold War in 1991. Addition of Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos and Myanmar (1997), and Cambodia (1999).
  • 1995 – Members signed a deal to create a nuclear-free zone in Southeast Asia.
  • 1997 – Adoption of ASEAN Vision 2020.
  • 2003Bali Concord II for the establishment of an ASEAN Community.
  • 2007Cebu Declaration, to accelerate the establishment of ASEAN Community by 2015.
  • 2008ASEAN Charter comes into force and becomes a legally binding agreement.
  • 2015 – Launch of ASEAN Community.

ASEAN Community

  • At the 9th ASEAN Summit in 2003, the ASEAN Leaders resolved that an ASEAN Community shall be established.
  • At the 12th ASEAN Summit in January 2007, the Leaders affirmed their strong commitment to accelerate the establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015 and signed the Cebu Declaration on the Acceleration of the Establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015.
  • The ASEAN Community is comprised of three pillars, namely.
  • The ASEAN Political-Security Community
  • ASEAN Economic Community
  • ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community

Goals and Objective

  • To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian Nations
  • To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter
  • To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields
  • To provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional, technical and administrative spheres
  • To collaborate more effectively for the greater utilization of their agriculture and industries, the expansion of their trade, including the study of the problems of international commodity trade, the improvement of their transportation and communications facilities and the raising of the living standards of their peoples
  • To promote Southeast Asian studies; and
  • To maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organizations with similar aims and purposes, and explore all avenues for even closer cooperation among themselves.


  • It is the 3rd largest market in the world, larger than EU and North American
  • It is the 6th largest economy in the world, 3rd in Asia. 
  • The Free-trade agreements (FTAs) with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
  • The Fourth most popular investment destination globally.

Fundamental Principles

In their relations with one another, the ASEAN Member States have adopted the following fundamental principles, as contained in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) of 1976:

  1. Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations
  2. The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion
  3. Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another
  4. Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner
  5. Renunciation of the threat or use of force; and
  6. Effective cooperation among themselves

ASEAN-led Forums

  • ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF): The 27 member multilateral grouping was developed in 1993 to facilitate cooperation on political and security issues to contribute to regional confidence-building and preventive diplomacy.
  • ASEAN Plus Three: The consultative group initiated in 1997 brings together ASEAN’s ten members, China, Japan, and South Korea.
  • East Asia Summit (EAS): First held in 2005, the summit seeks to promote security and prosperity in the region and is usually attended by the heads of state from ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. ASEAN plays a central role as the agenda-setter.

India and ASEAN

  • India’s focus on a strengthened and multi-faceted relationship with ASEAN is an outcome of the significant changes in the world’s political and economic scenario since the early 1990s and India’s own march towards economic liberalisation. India’s search for economic space resulted in the ‘Look East Policy’. The Look East Policy has today matured into a dynamic and action oriented ‘Act East Policy.
  • India’s relationship with ASEAN has emerged as a key cornerstone of our foreign policy.
  • The relationship has evolved from the ‘Look East Policy’ enunciated in early 1990s which led India to become a Sectoral Partner of ASEAN in 1992, a Dialogue Partner in 1996 and a Summit-level Partner in 2002.
  • The India-ASEAN Strategic Partnership acquired a new momentum with the announcement of “Act-East Policy” in the 12th Summit in 2014.
  • India has a separate Mission to ASEAN and the EAS in Jakarta.
  • India and ASEAN already has 25 years of Dialogue Partnership, 15 years of Summit Level interaction and 5 years of Strategic Partnership with ASEAN.
  • Economic Cooperation
  1. ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner.
  2. India’s trade with ASEAN stands at approx. 6% of India’s overall trade.
  3. India’s export to ASEAN stands at 28% of our total exports. The ASEAN-India Free Trade Area has been completed.
  4. ASEAN India-Business Council (AIBC) was set up in 2003 to bring key private sector players from India and the ASEAN countries on a single platform.
  5. Major exports from India to the region: Ships, boats, floating structures, mineral fuels, mineral oils and meat.
  6. Major imports: telecom equipment, electrical machinery, mineral fuels, mineral oils and animal or vegetable fats and oils.
  • Socio-Cultural Cooperation:Programmes to boost People-to-People Interaction with ASEAN, such as inviting ASEAN students to India, Special Training Course for ASEAN diplomats, Exchange of Parliamentarians, etc.
  • Funds:Financial assistance has been provided to ASEAN countries from the following Funds:
  1. ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund
  2. ASEAN-India S&T Development Fund
  3. ASEAN-India Green Fund
  • Delhi Declaration: To identify Cooperation in the Maritime Domain as the key area of cooperation under the ASEAN-India strategic partnership.
  • Delhi Dialogue:Annual Track 1.5 event for discussing politico-security and economic issues between ASEAN and India.
  • ASEAN-India Centre (AIC):To undertake policy research, advocacy and networking activities with organizations and think-tanks in India and ASEAN.
  • Political Security Cooperation:India places ASEAN at the centre of its Indo-Pacific vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region.
  • Apart from ASEAN, India has taken other policy initiatives in the region that involve some members of ASEAN like BIMSTEC, MGC India is also an active participant in several regional forums like the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting + (ADMM+) and Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF).
  • Connectivity: ASEAN-India connectivity is a priority for India as also the ASEAN countries. In 2013, India became the third dialogue partner of ASEAN to initiate an ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee-India Meeting. While India has made considerable progress in implementing the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Project, issues related to increasing the maritime and air connectivity between ASEAN and India and transforming the corridors of connectivity into economic corridors are under discussion. A possible extension to India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam is also under consideration.
  • In Agriculture, we are cooperating with ASEAN by way of projects such as Exchange of Farmers, ASEAN-India Fellowships for Higher Agricultural Education in India and ASEAN, Exchange of Agriculture Scientists, Empowerment of Women through Cooperatives, Training Course on Organic Certification for Fruits and Vegetables etc.
  • In the S&T field, we have projects such as ASEAN-India S&T Digital Library, ASEAN-India Virtual Institute for Intellectual Property, ASEAN-India Collaborative Project on S&T for Combating Malaria, ASEAN-India Programme on Quality Systems in Manufacturing, ASEAN-India Collaborative R&D Project on Mariculture, Bio-mining and Bioremediation Technologies etc

ASEAN-India Plan of Action

  • A Plan of Action (2004-2010) was developed to implement the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity.
  • The 3rd Plan of Action for 2016-2020 has been finalized after successful implementation of previous one and a list of prioritized activities chalked out for 2016-18.
  • It envisages functional cooperation in a range of sectors in the political, economic and socio-cultural spheres with the objective of capacity building and development, particularly to narrow the development gaps between ASEAN member states under their Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) programme.
  • The financing of POA projects is done through ASEAN-India Fund, Science & Technology Development Fund and Green Fund.

Delhi Dialogue

Delhi Dialogue is a premier annual track 1.5 event since 2009 to discuss politico-security and economic issues between ASEAN and India. Nine editions of Delhi dialogue have been held so far at New Delhi. It has evolved into a premier event for taking stock of global geo-political movements and their impact on ASEAN-India relations and making recommendations for future direction of this landmark relationship.

East Asia Summit Conference On Maritime Security Cooperation

  • Recently, India hosted East Asia Summit (EAS) maritime conference in Chennai.
  • This is the fourth in a series of EAS Maritime Security Conferences organised by the Indian government.
  • Earlier three were, (New Delhi in 2015), (Goa in 2016) and (Bhubaneswar in 2018).
  • It was organized by Ministry of External Affairs, in partnership with the governments of Australia and Indonesia.
  • It is to provide a platform for free and open dialogue among all the EAS partners on various issues of maritime security cooperation, and to come up with useful suggestions on tackling challenges in the maritime domain in a cooperative manner.

East Asia Summit (EAS)

  • It is leader-led forum at which all key partners meet to discuss the full range of political, security and economic challenges facing the Indo-Pacific, and has an important role to play in advancing closer regional cooperation.
  • The EAS has 18 members – the ten ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) along with Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the United States and Russia.
  • This represents 54 per cent of the world’s population and accounts for around 58 per cent of global GDP.
  • The inaugural EAS was held in Kuala Lumpur on 14 December 2005. India has been a part of this process since its inception in 2005.
  • The 14th EAS was held in Bangkok, Thailand in November 2019.



  • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a mega-regional economic agreement being negotiated since 2012, between ASEAN and Free Trade Agreement (FTA) member partners.
  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (ASEAN+1 FTAs) has free trade agreements with six partners namely,
  • To broaden and deepen the engagement among parties and to enhance parties’ participation in the economic development of the region, the leaders of the 16 participating countries established the RCEP.
  • The RCEP was built upon the existing ASEAN+1 FTAs with the spirit to strengthen economic linkages and to enhance trade and investment-related activities as well as to contribute to minimizing development gap among the parties.
  • The RCEP negotiations were launched between the Ten ASEAN member states and six ASEAN FTA partners during the 21st ASEAN Summit and related summits in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in November 2012.


India Exit from RCEP

  • Recently India opt out from RCEP trade deal.
  • India held that it will not become part of RCEP until “significant outstanding issues”are resolved.
  • Reasons for India’s Withdrawal
  1. Trade deficit: India’s merchandise trade deficit with the RCEP grouping hit $105 billion in FY19 (60% of its total deficit).
  2. Dumping of Chinese Goods
  3. Non-acceptance of Auto-trigger Mechanism
  4. Protection of Domestic Industry
  5. Lack of Consensus on Rules of Origin
  6. Dismantling import duties pushed by ASEAN members. It would mean unhindered access to Chinese products in Indian market.
  7. will expose India’s agriculture and industry to indiscriminate competition
  8. India unwilling to cater to demands from some RCEP countries to open up procurement segment.


India’s Vision for Indo-Pacific

In the Shangri La Dialogue, India embraced the concept of Indo-Pacific and highlighted following points-

  • It stands for a free, open, inclusive region, which embraces all in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity. It includes all nations in this geography as also others beyond who have a stake in it.
  • Southeast Asia is at its Centre and ASEAN central to its future.
  • Evolve, through dialogue, a common rules-based order for the region. These rules and norms should be based on the consent of all, not on the power of the few.
  • Rather than growing protectionism, India seeks for a level playing field for all. India stands for open and stable international trade regime.
  • Connectivity is vital and India is doing its part, by itself and in partnership with others like Japan – in South Asia and Southeast Asia, in the Indian Ocean, Africa, West Asia and beyond.
  • India’s view can be summarized into five “S” in Hindi:


  • Samman
  • Samvad
  • Shanti
  • Sahyog
  • Samriddhi


ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific

  • Recently, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
  • has adopted the ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’.
  • ASEAN Outlook reinforces the ASEAN-centered regional
  • architecture which is not aimed at creating new mechanisms
  • or replacing existing ones.
  • It intends to enhance ASEAN’s Community building process
  • and to strengthen and give new momentum for existing
  • ASEAN-led mechanisms, including the East Asia Summit
  • (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) etc.
  • It enumerates the four functional areas through which
  • ASEAN believes collaboration can be tangibly advanced:
  1. Maritime cooperation
  2. Connectivity
  3. Sustainable development
  4. Economic and Other Possible Areas of Cooperation.



  • Currently, the grouping is facing a great challenge amid the strategic competition for influence in the Asia-Pacific between the United States and China. Recently, countries in Southeast Asia have been forced to choose sides.
  • As the S. and China increase their strategic rivalry and start a new cold war, ASEAN is locked up in a strategic tug-of-war that could destabilize the whole region, if it fails to navigate the geopolitical challenge effectively.
  • Moreover, ASEAN countries tend to have divergent interests and priorities. Each member faces their own unique social, economic, and political challenges.
  • ASEAN is not free from internal and external security challenges either. Within the region, there are border disputes and conflicts, illegal migration, ethnic crises, and issues surrounding the life of the Mekong River, which has increasingly made headlines in the last few years.
  • Outside of the region, there are serious challenges concerning the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and other concerns regarding ASEAN’s role and relevance in the region and beyond.
  • ASEAN is also constrained by other key challenges, including corruption, demographic changes, uneven social development, disparities in economic development and technology adoption and environmental degradation.
  • imbalance between many ASEAN nations and India because many of them are industrialized with manufacturing bases primed for exports, while India’s export sector remains weak and the government’s focus has shifted to boosting manufacturing domestically.
  • India’s capacity to provide development assistance, market access and security guarantees remains limited


Way Forward

  • ASEAN must put in extra efforts to sustain and enhance its existing successes and achievements. The bloc has been regarded as a catalyst for peace; therefore, it is vital that ASEAN increase its strengths and step up to promote rule of law in the region.
  • ASEAN must also promote transparency and work to reduce corruption. At the same time, this association needs to enhance closer coordination and regional connectivity.
  • More collective efforts are required to address the development gap, especially regarding health care, education, technology adoption, and infrastructure development.
  • More importantly, ASEAN must work hard to enhance the development of good governance, inclusive growth, sustainable development, and democracy, which is in decline. It needs to work together to help less developed members to catch up with others in the region.
  • Closer attention and investment should be placed on the development of the knowledge-based and digital economy.
  • ASEAN needs to work collaborativelyrather than individually, particularly with regard to a regional response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • ASEAN must support and embrace regionalism and multilateralism by constructively and genuinely working together to achieve common goals and realize the ASEAN Community Vision.