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With China worries, ASEAN sees India more favourably as a strategic partner

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With China worries, ASEAN sees India more favourably as a strategic partner

Pragmatic as always, Asean’s favourite choices for hedging partners amid US-China rivalry remain the European Union and Japan, but attention has also shifted to India, says a commentary on The Strait Times, an outstanding English daily of the Far East.  The author, Sharon Seah opines that there is move to decouple the world’s two largest economies, amid calls for “China containment”.

Citing the results of the latest ISEAS State of South-east Asia survey are anything to go by, the daily notes that concerns over China are accentuated while India is being seen in a more favourable light.  

China remains the undisputed economic power in South-east Asia, but its ratings declined from 76.7 per cent in 2022 to 59.9 per cent in 2023. Misgivings over China ’s economic influence was apparent, with 64.5 per cent of respondents expressing concern over it, according to the survey.

President Xi Jinping ’s muscular foreign policy moves, including taking coercive measures against trading partners and employing strong-arm tactics in the South China Sea, may have elevated concerns in the region, the Strait Times said. It however noted that the levels of trust in India, have increased across all Asean countries (except Cambodia) in the latest survey.

Overall trust in India jumped from 16.6 per cent in 2022 to 25.7 per cent in 2023, and distrust ratings also dropped in tandem. Many respondents saw India as a responsible stakeholder in international law (25.4 per cent) and its military power as a possible asset for global peace and security (18.2 per cent).

The daily elaborated on the reasons for the growing favourable sentiment towards India. Amid a more uncertain geopolitical environment, and greater United States -China rivalry, New Delhi has maintained a quiet position of neutrality on the Ukraine -Russia conflict due to its longstanding relations with Moscow. India has refused to condemn Russia for invading its neighbour but has shown a willingness to demonstrate pushback, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi telling President Vladimir Putin that “today’s era is not of war”.

India’s ability to exercise independence in its foreign policy may make it more appealing as a strategic partner to South-east Asia, the author, Sharon Seah opined. “Historically, the Global South recognises India s de facto non-alignment leadership. In the case of India ’s position on climate change, for instance, the Global South found cover in India ’s refusal to accept the phase-out of coal at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) which bought the developing world time in the global energy transition”, he pointed out. (SAT)