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Balancing China in Asia: A realist assessment of India's Look East strategy
Published in
Volume: 42
Issue: 2
Pages: 179 - 197
This article focuses upon India's Look East Strategy, which has been a cornerstone of the country's new foreign policy orientation after the end of the Cold War. It reflects a newfound inclination on India's part to play a pre-eminent role in the affairs of the East and the Southeast Asian region. In this great game, competition and rivalry with China has become a significant component. Although relations between India and China have improved considerably over the years, long-standing mutual suspicion and animosities continue to persist over a large number of issues. A critical review of India's Look East strategy as part of her overall foreign policy in Asia reveals that one of the important objectives behind this strategy is to play a new balancing game against China in the Southeast Asian and the Asia-Pacific region. Though China has greater economic integration with the Southeast Asian region, there is still apprehension over the strategic role it will play in the future. A close scrutiny of India's Look East strategy reveals that in spite of both India and ASEAN refusing to admit so openly, the rise of China has been one of the significant factors behind the evolution and consolidation of this policy. Look East strategy is part of a grand vision in which India gets to play a prominent role in Asia and world affairs. Lord Curzon, former British Viceroy to India was the inspiration behind this vision. (The neo-Curzonians among the Indian elite are in favour of implementing a larger strategic vision for India under the present context by taking into account the new realities). In a way, the prospect of expanding Chinese power, particularly in the Southeast Asian region, seems to propel India's Look East strategy. This is part of an overall Forward policy in Asia based on the Curzonian legacy that India has embarked upon since the culmination of the Cold War. It is quite apparent that strategic competition with China is an undeclared element of India's Look East strategy. This becomes clear if one carefully evaluates recent Indian efforts to improve relations with the military regime in Myanmar, its attempt to forge sub-regional cooperation in the form of BIMSTEC, its effort to promote the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation forum, the reasons behind its inclusion in the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum) and in the recently concluded East Asian Summit as well as the evolving strategic linkages with countries like Japan in the Asia-Pacific region.
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