Bangkok: The year 2014 turned out to be a turbulent one for Southeast Asia with two plane tragedies and a coup hitting global headlines, even as India’s ties with the key region gained momentum with the new Indian government turning the ‘Look East’ policy into an ‘Act East’ strategy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the East Asia Summit in Myanmar last month to stress India’s seriousness to advance India-ASEAN economic relations, signalling a more action- oriented policy towards South East Asia to boost economy and expand the country’s global role.
“A new era of economic development, industrialisation and trade has begun in India. Externally, India’s ‘Look East Policy’ has become ‘Act East Policy’,” Modi had said at the ASEAN-India Summit.
He highlighted specific recommendations to advance ASEAN- India economic relations over the next few years, including establishing a special purpose vehicle for project financing, building information highways, and inviting ASEAN countries to participate in India?s ongoing economic transformation.
‘Look East’ was introduced in the early 1990s by the then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao. It was endorsed by his successors Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
Modi held productive meetings with individual Southeast Asian states, including Singapore and Myanmar — the only ASEAN country India shares a land border with.
Modi and Burmese President Thein Sein both reviewed key ongoing joint infrastructure projects such as the India- Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the Kaladan project.
Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project will connect the eastern seaport of Kolkata with Sittwe seaport in Myanmar by sea; it will then link Sittwe seaport to Lashio in Myanmar via Kaladan river boat route and then from Lashio on to Mizoram by road transport.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong invited Modi to visit the city-state in 2015 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of bilateral ties. Modi met Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who expressed interest in the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
During External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Myanmar to India-ASEAN meeting, India said it would soon draft a five-year action plan starting 2016 for enhancing connectivity and cooperation in diverse areas.
But the year was not so good for the region as it saw two heart wrenching tragedies in the airline industry’s history.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with 239 people, including five Indians aboard, disappeared mysteriously over the Indian Ocean en route to Beijing, China.
A multinational search effort, involving several nations including India, in the Gulf of Thailand, Andman Sea and the South China Sea, failed to find the debris or crash site.
After 131 days, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 was shot down over Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 people aboard.
In May, Thailand witnessed a coup when armed forces led by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha toppled the caretaker government, following six months of political crisis.