Today India will welcome ministers from across Southeast Asia to New Delhi for a summit celebrating 20 years of Indian partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Although New Delhi's efforts to engage the dynamic economies of Southeast Asia have proceeded in fits and starts in the two decades since India launched its Look East policy, recent years have demonstrated the kind of sustained progress that both sides can be proud of.
Rather than a time for celebration, the anniversary is an opportunity for India to redouble efforts to strengthen ties with a region that should be a foreign policy priority.
Economics is at the heart of Indian engagement with its neighbours to the east. In August 2011 India implemented a long-awaited free trade agreement on goods with Asean that complemented existing trade pacts with Singapore and Malaysia. A parallel agreement covering services and investment is expected to be reached ahead of the 20th anniversary summit.
By unleashing the mainstay of the Indian economy, this effort will give a major boost to bilateral trade, which stood at $79.2 billion in the 2011-2012 financial year.
As Prime Minister Singh has noted, Look East is "not merely an external economic policy; it is also a strategic shift in India's vision of the world ..."
Towards that end, New Delhi has made its presence felt in Southeast Asia by cultivating strategic and defence ties with Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam that include joint training exercises, high-level military exchanges and collaboration in the defence sector. Since 1995, Southeast Asian nations have been participating in India's biennial Milan naval exercises.
Not only do such exercises showcase India's naval capabilities but they also contribute to enhanced interoperability with regional navies and can positively shape perceptions of shared security concerns, such as securing the sea lanes of Southeast Asia.
With China aggressively pushing its territorial claims in the South China Sea and the Obama administration's vaunted "pivot" to Asia appearing long on rhetoric and short on resources, India is an increasingly attractive partner in the region.
Whereas previously New Delhi shied away from engaging in the region's territorial disputes, in the past year it has been uncharacteristically vocal about the need to safeguard its national interests in Southeast Asia as well as its willingness to undertake marine exploration and naval manoeuvres in the region irrespective of Chinese objections.
The statement by the Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi in early December that the Indian Navy would intervene to protect the four oil exploration blocks off Vietnam's coast allotted to the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation by Hanoi in waters also claimed by Beijing, was the first time in recent years that any ranking government official had so forcibly signalled Indian interests in the potentially volatile region.
Moreover, it came just days after the controversial announcement that Chinese maritime police agencies based on Hainan reserved the right to board and search foreign vessels in the South China Sea. This clear statement of intent provides a solid foundation for building long-term strategic partnerships in the region.
Despite these successes, much more needs to be done in order to deepen India's ties with Southeast Asia and realise the true promise to "look east". Although the global economic downturn has seen Asia increase its share of the world's economic capacity, many of India's knowledge industries remain oriented towards the US and Europe.
With free trade agreements in place, increasing access to the growing markets of Southeast Asia and attracting the foreign investment necessary to sustain domestic growth will require India to both improve its physical infrastructure as well as press forward with economic reforms that can make the country a more hospitable environment for foreign investment and firms to operate in.
With many Southeast Asian states alienated by China's aggressive pursuit of territorial claims, India possesses an opportunity to deepen its strategic ties with countries on China's periphery in a manner that strengthens the existing security architecture facilitating a peaceful and prosperous Asia.
The naval chief's recent statement are a good start, but New Delhi needs to be proactive in offering to assist littoral nations in ensuring the freedom of navigation along the South China Sea's vital sea lanes.
More importantly, India can lend its diplomatic clout and moral authority to those working towards multilateral solutions to territorial disputes in the region, rather than bilateral settlements imposed on smaller powers by larger ones.
After 20 years of engagement with Asean, India's relationship is poised to pay dividends. The combination of economic liberalisation in India and shared strategic interests makes India a natural partner for many states in Southeast Asia.
However, if India is to achieve the full potential of partnership with its neighbours, it will require strong leadership abroad and bold reform at home. Is New Delhi up for the challenge?
Walter C Ladwig is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford.
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Writer: Walter C Ladwig