Southeast Asia is comprised of ten countries namely Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. All these countries are members of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Burma (Myanmar) shares a contiguous land and sea frontier with India while Thailand, Indonesia and other countries in the region share
common maritime frontiers. Needless to say, that they are India’s close neighbors, with whom its relations date back to time immemorial. The history of the ancient Southeast Asian Kingdoms, i.e. Funan, Champa, Cambodge, Pagan, Dwarabati, Srivijaya and Majapahit indicate India’s intimate cultural ties. The art, architecture, epic and language have had similarities and their origin and growth cannot be understood in proper perspective without understanding their Indian counterparts. Ashoka the Great, had sent his emissaries, Sona and Uttara to spread the gospel of Buddhism in the region of Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. These nations declared Buddhism as their state religion. The impact of Hinduism still remains as part of their indigenous culture and religion. The ethnic Malays accepted Islam as their religion but the Muslims in Java have not yet disowned their Hindu traditions. Some of them still believe in animism and worship many spirits in different names. Bali remains a Hindu dominated society, and adherents of Buddhism
can be found in all parts of the Southeast Asia.
Malacca, Sunda and Lombok are the important sea-lanes linking East Asia with the rest of the world. Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are industrially advanced. Singapore has an effective service sector in the field of finance, airlines, computers and shipping. Mainland Southeast Asia has diverse mountain ranges and rivers running from North to South, and most of them originate in Tibet. The main rivers are Mekong passing through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Other rivers are Irrawadi, Chindawin and Salween in Burma, Menam Chao Phraya in Thailand,
Song Koi (Red River) and Song Bo (Black Rivers) in Vietnam. These rivers bring rich alluvial deposits regularly to make the land fertile. Most fertile areas created by these rivers are lower Burma, Central Thailand, Tongking and Mekong deltas. Thailand and Vietnam are the largest rice exporting countries in the world. This unit examines various aspects of socio-economic-political features of South-East Asian countries. India’s relations with ASEAN countries are analysed in this Unit. India attaches great importance towards pursuing good neighbourly relations with the countries in Southeast Asia. The policy of “Look East” is the strategy of the Indian diplomacy ever since 1991 and its major thrust has been to improve India’s existing ties with the ASEAN region, and promote trade, investment, tourism, science and technology relations. Indian policies are endeavored to resurrect close historical and cultural ties, which were marred during the colonial period. The Cold War paradigm in the past prevented India to attend various issues in its bilateral relations but the situation changed only after the end of the Cold War. Various initiatives have been taken to rejuvenate our economic, cultural and strategic connections. Total bilateral trade with ASEAN countries has shown increasing trends from 5.98 billion in 1998-99 to 7.98 billion in 2002-03.
ASEAN investments which were dismal during the Cold War period, started coming and confidence was displayed on both sides. Various packages for the promotion of tourism were mooted and now it is not limited only to visit Buddhist sites in Bodh Gaya. India is willing to attract investments from the ASEAN region and they have been advocating liberalisation and free trade. ASEAN is trying to reciprocate the Indian gestures. They recognise the importance of
India as a great market where they find the existence of middle class people in millions. Besides, they have common historical, religious and security interests. Both of them support the policy of democratisation, liberalisation and free trade. Both are opposed to the rise of fundamentalism and terrorism and both are supporting human rights to be universally respected.