India’s engagement towards Southeast Asia and East Asia has grown tremendously since the last few years. The region has remained important for India due to economic, cultural and strategic reasons. The rise of an assertive China and its economic and strategic influence in the region has ensured India realizes its potential as a key regional player in the region (Naidu, G.V.C 2012). Despite the considerable success in its approach, the policy has created a sense of confusion as the doctrine has not been defined in an official Indian government document or a White paper (Jaishankar, D 2019). India must realize the potential of Act East policy which can play a constructive role in the region and ensure the policy becomes a more transparent, status quo-oriented one shaping the regional order in favor of its national interests. India’s engagement towards its Eastern neighbors has also strengthened its other initiatives such as the Mekong-Ganga cooperation and BIMSTEC. Thus, there is a strong economic and strategic rationale to India’s Act East policy.
Looking ahead India’s policy and vision towards the Southeast Asia can be categorized broadly into the following areas of cooperation and engagement; Political, security cooperation, to maintain regional stability, secure connectivity infrastructure for land sea and air transportation, commerce and trade relations and other areas include capacity building, environmental, climate change and socio-cultural cooperation. In view of these emerging trends of engagement, fresh debates and discussions on India’s eastward policies are imperative for critical understanding of Act East policy. Therefore, India’s policies toward the Southeast Asian region needs to be revisited with the proposed study.
The proposed project will primarily focus on the following Southeast Asian countries; Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore. It will rigorously examine India's Act East policy, investigating its prospects, and challenges in the Southeast Asian region. The study will further identify priority areas for future Indian policies and contribute insights into renewed foreign policy formulations towards the Southeast Asian region particularly the Act East Policy and its impact on the Northeastern region of India. This study would also draw upon the political, economic and strategic partnerships in the region. The implications emerging out of these are crucial for a holistic understanding of India’s engagements, opportunities and challenges towards its Eastern neighbors and will aid future policy priorities for India.