Dephasing India's Look East/Act East Policy
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 39, Number 2, August 2017
- pp. 348-372
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India's "Look East" policy was launched in the early 1990s as part of a concerted effort to elevate the strategic importance of Southeast Asia in the country's foreign policy agenda. The policy has been described as going through various phases, with an accelerated pace and process of interaction in moving from one phase to the next, marked by a broadening and deepening of India's interaction with the region. This has culminated in the most recent "phase" under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has rebranded the policy as "Act East" to signify a more pro-active and action-oriented approach towards the region. However, has there been any real and substantive change in India's engagement with Southeast Asia in moving from one "phase" to the next? Does this narrative of phases in India's post-Cold War engagement with Southeast Asia hold any substance? This article deconstructs the narrative of phases in India's Look East and now Act East policy and argues that India's eastward engagement has not been a process of simple linear progression. As such, while the concept of phases in India's Look East policy serves as a useful narrative device, it does not capture the nuances of India's post-Cold War re-engagement with Southeast Asia, which has been far more complex than this narrative suggests.