India has a "critical role" to play in the United Statesâ€™ strategy in Asia, and must push forward with its policy for greater engagement with the Asia-Pacific region through, among others, an increased participation in the East Asian Summit, said a senior official of the US Department of State.
"Weâ€™ve moved from a trans-Atlantic century to a trans-Pacific century, in which the rise of Asia has already started to define the international agenda. As the fulcrum of geopolitics moves to Asia, India plays a critical role in US strategy," said Geoffrey Pyatt, principal deputy secretary, South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau at the US State Department.
While Pyatt acknowledged that India has not just engaged countries in the Southeast Asian region but also built crucial relationships with other large democracies in the Asia-Pacific, such as Japan, Australia and South Korea, he said New Delhi could do more by adopting a â€˜Be Eastâ€™ policy that enhances its market and security integration, apart from playing a larger part in regional fora.
"For example, a â€˜Be Eastâ€™ policy might entail India seeking an increased role in the East Asia Summit, and developing further political relations with East Asia that match Indiaâ€™s vibrant trade and investment growth in the region," said Pyatt. He was speaking at an event organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies and Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The East Asian Summit is an annual meeting of leaders from the region, comprising the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) along with Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Russia and the US are also expected to attend the sixth EAS later this year in Indonesia.
"The United States, I should mention, is interested in working with India and other members of the East Asian Summit to make it a premier forum for Asia-Pacific leaders to discuss pressing security and strategic issues. President Obama has announced that he plans to attend the 2011 East Asian Summit in Indonesia, providing for an occasion for the US and India to deepen our dialogue about security and economic architectures in Asia."
A substantial component for Indiaâ€™s â€˜Look Eastâ€™ policy, the foundation for its engagement with Southeast Asia, was centred around its relationship with the Asean trade bloc, with which it already has a free trade agreement in place and was also working on entering similar agreements with individual Asean members, including Malaysia and Indonesia.
"Following a year in which India hosted summits with all five of the UNSC P5 (the five permanent members of the United Nation Security Council), it is significant that the chief guest for last monthâ€™s Republic Day celebration was the President of Indonesia," he said.
However, with the US pushing for New Delhi to enhance its role in Asia-Pacific, the tenuous relationship between India and China, the other major countries in the region, may again be thrown into sharp relief.