Mr. Tom Dodd, Head, ASEAN Department of Foreign and Commonwealth Office accompanied by Helen Fazey, Counsellor, ASEAN and Regional security Affairs at the British Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia had an interaction with the VIF Faculty on 12 November 2013. The discussions focussed on emerging environment in the Asia Pacific and responses of India and UK to the developments.
Mr. Tom Dodd explained the reasons for enhanced engagement of UK with ASEAN countries and East Asian nations. Shifting of focus of trade, commerce and economics to Asia was the primary motivation for UK’s increasing interaction with the Asian nations. As a consequence, the UK has not only increased the number of its diplomats in Asia but is also strengthening its relationships through economic and strategic partnerships. The UK has had presence in many of the Asian nations in earlier times and is now keen to build up relations on many of the positive aspects of such a relationship. The UK was independently engaging with ASEAN and other Asian countries and not necessarily as a part of America’s Asia Pacific strategy. The Five Power Defence Arrangement between UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand of 1971 has survived the onslaught of ever changing strategic environment yet motivations for its continued existence may have undergone a change.
So far as India’s approach to ASEAN and East Asia is concerned, the VIF faculty explained, it is encapsulated in its ‘Look East Policy’ unveiled in early 1990s. The dominant impulse of this policy was to integrate the region economically with India. After two decades or so, the policy has acquired some strategic orientation. India has concluded an FTA with the ASEAN in goods and services and has bilateral defence and security cooperation agreements with most of the nations in the region. While US is ‘pivoting’ or rebalancing to Asia in recent times, India’s ‘Look East Policy’ predates the new U.S. strategy. While China’s assertive policies in the region may be cause of America’s rebalance to Asia, India is inclined to follow independent policies that best suit its national interest.