Heads of state or government of the ten ASEAN member countries -- Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei – were the Chief guests at the Republic Day parade on January 26, 2018.
By having ten leaders of South East Asian states stand together at the Republic Day parade, the Indian state wanted to make a statement of its growing importance in the region and its ‘Act East’ policy. In the words of defence minister Sitharaman, “by the very presence of 10 leaders from ASEAN during the Republic Day celebrations, India will definitely showcase its 'Act East' policy."
The 'Act East' policy of the Indian state must be seen in the context of the growing militarization of the Asia Pacific region spearheaded by the US. Seven years ago, US imperialism announced its decision to redeploy the bulk of its armed forces to the Asia Pacific region to encircle China. It has called this the Pivot to Asia policy. China is a major economic and military power, which has developed extensive trade relations with many of the states of South East Asia. The US has been fanning conflicts between several South East Asian countries and China over the issue of maritime borders in the South China Sea.
The US is building a military alliance to encircle China. Towards this end, it has encouraged the militarist ambitions of Japan. It has been systematically stoking the ambitions of the Indian ruling class against China, offering sophisticated weapons to the Indian armed forces to take on China. The US already has a military alliance with Japan, Australia, and South Korea. It has been promoting the concept of Quad — a Quadrilateral military alliance of the US, Japan, Australia and India which will police the Indo Pacific region.
In 2015, the Indian state announced its 'Act East' Policy, as a deliberate change from what was called the 'Look East' policy. This change was to declare its intention to be recognized as the dominant power in Asia by aggressively countering China militarily in the Indo-Pacific region. In 2016 the Indian Navy ships began regular visits to the ports of Vietnam. India participated in the “Malabar” exercises with the US and Japan in the South China Sea. All this has increased tensions between India and China.
During the Indo-ASEAN summit held on January 25, a separate session was held on the issue of ‘maritime cooperation and security’, which the Indian State declared as a priority area in its relations with the ASEAN.
The Indian State’s 'Act East' Policy is a signboard for pursuing the imperialist ambitions of the Indian big bourgeoisie in South East Asia. The Indian big bourgeoisie sees China as its main rival for markets and spheres of influence and it is dovetailing its imperialist strategy with that of the US. The expansion of Indian military activities in the Indo Pacific region holds grave dangers for the peoples of India, China and all the countries of South East Asia.