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Daily-current-affairs / 20 Apr 2024

India's Evolving Position in the South China Sea : Daily News Analysis



India's stance on the South China Sea has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, transitioning from a primarily economic engagement under the Look East Policy to a more strategic and assertive posture with the Act East Policy. This shift is driven by India's broader geopolitical aspirations and its complex relationship with China. India's nuanced approach in the South China Sea reflects a calibrated effort to safeguard its interests while contributing to regional stability and upholding international law.

Policy Evolution: Look East to Act East

Initially, India's engagement with the South China Sea region was driven by economic interests, notably through its Look East Policy. This policy aimed to enhance economic integration with Southeast Asia, seeking to secure energy resources critical for India's growing economy. Indian state-owned enterprises like ONGC Videsh ventured into oil and gas exploration projects in Vietnam's exclusive economic zones, demonstrating India's economic stakes in the region. Moreover, these initiatives underscored India's support for freedom of exploration and exploitation of maritime resources within the framework of international law, particularly UNCLOS.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration, India's policy orientation shifted from Look East to Act East, marking a strategic pivot towards a more active and multifaceted engagement with the Indo-Pacific region. This policy evolution reflects India's recognition of the changing geopolitical landscape and the need for a proactive foreign policy approach. The Act East Policy emphasizes not only economic integration but also strategic partnerships and expanded security cooperation with Indo-Pacific nations like Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

India's strategic recalibration is evident in its efforts to strengthen capacities, including forward positioning, mission-based deployments, reinforced maritime domain awareness, and deep-water maritime facilities. These initiatives signify India's commitment to enhancing its strategic footprint in the region and contributing to regional security.

Complex Ties with China: Implications for the South China Sea

India's evolving position in the South China Sea cannot be separated from its complex relationship with China. Both countries have a history of border disputes, which escalated notably after the Galwan Valley incident in 2020. China's assertive posture and territorial claims not only impact India's land borders but also have disruptive implications for regional stability, including in the South China Sea.

In response to heightened tensions, India has adopted a more nuanced stance, moving away from its earlier cautious approach. The Galwan Valley incident led India to demonstrate its capability for asymmetric deterrence by deploying a frontline warship to the South China Sea. This action signaled India's strategic resolve and willingness to counter China's assertiveness in the region.

Moreover, India has intensified its strategic engagements, including regular naval exercises and enhanced military cooperation with Southeast Asian nations. These initiatives serve the dual purpose of affirming India's commitment to regional security and acting as a counter to China's unlawful territorial assertions. India's support for countries like the Philippines in upholding sovereignty underscores its broader strategy of promoting stability and maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.

ASEAN Centrality: Upholding Regional Stability

India's strategic recalibration towards the South China Sea is also driven by its recognition of ASEAN's central role in regional security and the global maritime order. Disputes in the South China Sea, primarily involving China and several ASEAN countries, have implications for freedom of navigation and overflight—critical for India's trade and energy transportation routes, as well as for global commerce.

As a responsible stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific, India emphasizes the importance of a rules-based international maritime order, particularly under UNCLOS. This stance reflects India's commitment to opposing unilateral actions that threaten regional stability. By aligning with ASEAN's position, India aims to bolster collective efforts to maintain peace, stability, and respect for international law in the Indo-Pacific region.

Despite internal differences within ASEAN, India's engagement underscores its diplomatic efforts to forge closer partnerships with Southeast Asian nations. This collaborative approach is integral to India's broader Indo-Pacific strategy, which seeks to counterbalance China's assertiveness and contribute to a harmonious regional order.


In conclusion, India's nuanced approach in the South China Sea signifies a strategic recalibration aimed at safeguarding its interests while contributing to regional stability and upholding international law. The transition from the Look East to the Act East Policy reflects India's evolving geopolitical aspirations, with a greater emphasis on strategic partnerships and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

India's complex relationship with China and the broader geopolitical dynamics in the region have influenced this shift, leading India to adopt a more assertive posture. By strengthening its strategic capacities and engaging proactively with Southeast Asian nations, India seeks to play a constructive role in maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Through its advocacy for a rules-based international maritime order and support for ASEAN's centrality, India underscores its commitment to promoting a collective approach to regional security. India's evolving stance in the South China Sea is emblematic of its broader foreign policy strategy—a balancing act aimed at securing its interests while fostering a stable and rules-based regional order in the Indo-Pacific.

Probable Questions for UPSC Mains Exam-

Question 1:

Discuss India's transition from the Look East Policy to the Act East Policy and its impact on India's engagement with the South China Sea region. How does this policy evolution reflect India's broader strategic objectives in the Indo-Pacific? (10 Marks, 150 words)

Question 2:

Examine India's nuanced approach towards the South China Sea in the context of its complex relationship with China. How has India's response to heightened tensions, particularly after the Galwan Valley incident, influenced its stance in the Indo-Pacific? Discuss the significance of India's strategic engagements with Southeast Asian nations in countering China's assertiveness. (15 Marks, 250 words)

Source- The Hindu