India's Look East Policy Revisited

India's Look East Policy Revisited from East-West Center on Vimeo.


(Washington D.C.) May 27–Within recent years, India has increased its interaction with the Southeast Asian region through political dialogues in multilateral organizations, such as ASEAN, and through the growth of trade with Southeast Asian nations. During this seminar, Mr. Baladas Ghoshal, visiting fellow with the East-West Center, explained that presently, India’s Look East Policy (LEP) has not been fully conceived with specific goals or a roadmap. Instead, he states that it is an approach that is largely reactive in nature and addresses the rise of other regional powers and players.


India’s current LEP is not a newly created policy, but was described by Ghoshal as a development of Jawaharlal Nehru’s original, loosely-termed, LEP, which promoted ideals such non-alignment and pan-Asian solidarity amongst neighboring Asian nations—many of whom, like India,  had just gained independence from colonizing powers. However, Mr. Ghoshal stated that this unstructured policy was largely a utopian vision. Indian efforts to restore ties with Southeast Asia were not initially successful.


Mr. Ghoshal listed different key factors which contributed to India’s renewed interest in engagement with Southeast Asia: the first was India’s period of economic difficulties during the 1990s financial crisis, second was India’s failure to integrate the South Asian region through the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and third was the increased isolation of Burma during the early 90s, which helped to raise the consciousness of China’s growing regional influence. The end of the Cold War also encouraged India to view the world order differently. Simultaneously during the early 90s, Southeast Asian nations became more interested in cultivating relations with India to form partnerships at the bilateral level, as well as the multilateral level through ASEAN.
India’s LEP, today, focuses mostly on economic integration with the Southeast Asian region. While India is not a major strategic partner of ASEAN and is not involved in most discussions of regional security issues, Mr. Ghoshal argues that India can still do more to increase its visibility in the region and encourage stronger ties. He believes that India’s current LEP should be reinvigorated to include a roadmap, plans to promote soft power in the region and  plans to foster interaction between India’s Northeastern region and Southeast Asian neighbor, Burma.

Baladas Ghoshalis currently a visiting scholar at the East-West Center. He is also a visiting senior research fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and an honorary distinguished fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi. Mr. Ghoshal is a former professor of Southeast Asian and South-West Pacific Studies and chairman of the Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. A leading expert on Indonesian politics and society, Mr. Ghoshal has published extensively on Indonesian politics, ASEAN and Southeast Asian regional security issues, and South Asian regional security and politics.