India allies with Cambodia to stem China’s growing influence in Asia

By Poojil Tiwari

Keeping in line with its Act East Policy, India held bilateral talks in the areas of defence, security and counter-terrorism with Cambodia on Saturday. The two countries also signed pacts on issues of cultural assimilation, trade and investment, human trafficking and other criminal matters. These pacts were a result of a comprehensive dialogue between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen.

Outlining the threats that terrorism poses to global peace and security, the two leaders also released a joint statement, calling upon countries to “adopt a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, which should include countering radicalisation, recruitment, movement of terrorists including foreign terrorist fighters, blocking sources of financing terrorism through organised crimes, money-laundering, supply of weapons of mass destruction, drug trafficking, dismantling terrorist bases and countering the misuse of Internet including social media, information and communication technologies by terrorist entities.”

Enhancing bilateral ties

With the aim of boosting cultural ties and strengthening friendly relations, the two countries instituted a cultural exchange program for the years from 2018 to 2022. Talks were also held focusing on trade and investment, with the signing of a Credit Line Agreement (CLE) between the EXIM Bank and the Indian and Cambodian Government. The CLE seeks to finance the Stung Sva Hab Water Resource Development Project for $36.92 million.

Furthermore, a MoU was also signed on seeking Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, with the objective of “improving the effectiveness of both the countries in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of crimes through cooperation and legal assistance in criminal matters.” The fourth MoU signed between the two countries focuses on human trafficking and seeks to increase the cooperation on issues of prevention, rescue and repatriation.

The countries also signed pacts on maritime cooperation in the Indo-ASEAN Commemorative Summit, in order to ensure the safety and security of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region and to safeguard the security of sea lines of communication in order to maintain peace. Additionally, the number of Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) in Cambodia has been doubled from five to ten under the revitalised bilateral relations. Under these projects, India will extend assistance of $50,000 to Cambodia for five projects every year.  

India is ‘Acting East’

The west has been giving increasing importance to Asia from an economic and cultural perspective. This, coupled with China’s overarching presence in South Asia has made India put in a conscious effort to improve its diplomatic relations in the region. In 2014, the NDA government presented a revitalised version of the erstwhile ‘Look East’ policy, rebranding it as the ‘Act East Policy’ (AEP). The AEP seeks to mobilise India’s relations with ASEAN countries on the grounds of infrastructural development, trade, culture and geopolitics.

Earlier in the week, leaders from the ten ASEAN nations joined in on India’s Republic Day celebrations as chief guests. The Indo-ASEAN Commemorative Summit was held to mark 25 years of India’s relations with the South-East Asia bloc. “For India, most of our major partners and markets – from ASEAN to East Asia to North America, lie to the East. South-East Asia and ASEAN, our neighbours of land and sea, have been the springboard of our Look East and since the last three years, the Act East Policy,” said Modi at the summit. The summit also takes place in the context of China increasing its military and economic reach in the region. In such a scenario, India’s active efforts to forge strong bilateral ties with Cambodia and the ASEAN bloc as a whole will help it project its image as a positive force in the region.

Featured Image Source: Visual hunt