Act East Policy

India’s Strategic Evolution from Look East to Act East Policy | Act East Policy

Act East Policy, Foreign Policy, good governance, India's Foreign Policy, International Relations

Act East Policy


In the dynamic arena of international relations, India’s foreign policy has undergone a noteworthy shift with the evolution from the Look East Policy to the Act East Policy. Originally initiated by former Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao in 1992, the Look East Policy primarily aimed at fostering economic integration with Southeast Asian nations. As we delve into the intricacies of this diplomatic transition, it becomes evident that India’s approach has matured, embracing a more comprehensive and strategic outlook.

Table of Contents

Look East Policy Overview:

The Look East Policy was conceived as a strategic maneuver to augment India’s economic ties with Southeast Asian countries. Former Prime Minister Narshima Rao recognized the need for a robust regional presence, positioning India as a key player in Southeast Asia. The policy, initiated in 1992, was a visionary step to give impetus to India’s engagement with the South-East region, thereby bolstering its standing as a regional power.

Act East Policy Unveiling:

The Act East Policy, introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 12th ASEAN-India Summit in 2014, marked a significant paradigm shift. While the Look East Policy focused primarily on economic integration, the Act East Policy extended its scope to include strategic, cultural, and security dimensions. This evolution was a response to the changing geopolitical landscape and the need for a more nuanced and proactive approach.

Key Pillars of Act East Policy:

The Act East Policy rests on four fundamental pillars, known as the “4C’s”: Culture, Commerce, Connectivity, and Capacity building. This multifaceted approach underscores India’s commitment to not only economic cooperation but also fostering cultural ties, enhancing connectivity, and building the capacity of nations in the region.

Diplomatic Initiatives:

The success of India’s Look East and Act East policies is evident in the deepening relations with ASEAN and other regional groupings such as BIMSTEC and Mekong Ganga Cooperation. India’s active participation in the Quad, an informal military alliance comprising Australia, the United States, India, and Japan, underscores its strategic role in countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Military Exercises as Strategic Instruments:

India’s commitment to regional security and cooperation is further exemplified through a series of military exercises. The Malabar Naval exercise, initiated in 1992 and expanded to include Japan and Australia in recent years, serves as a potent symbol of the Quad nations’ collective military strength. Other exercises, including ASEAN Plus, SITMEX, SIMBEX, and CORPAT, highlight India’s collaborative efforts with nations such as Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia to ensure maritime security and strengthen defense cooperation.

Trilateral Highway

The Trilateral Highway, connecting Moreh in Manipur, India, to Mae Sot, Thailand, through Myanmar, is currently under construction. This initiative aligns with India’s Look East and Act East Policy, aiming to enhance connectivity, trade, and commerce in the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area and the broader Southeast Asian region. The proposed highway spans approximately 1360 km and was first suggested during a trilateral ministerial meeting in Yangon in April 2002.

A significant segment of the highway, the 160 km India-Myanmar Friendship Road from Moreh to Mae Sot, including Tamu-Kalmeya-Kalewa in Myanmar, was constructed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and inaugurated in February 2001. However, ownership was transferred to Myanmar in 2009. In 2016, India and Myanmar signed an agreement under the Act East Policy, leading to two projects within the Trilateral Highway: construction of the 120-km Kalewa-Yagyi road and the upgrading of 69 bridges and approach roads on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) section.

The Kalewa-Yagyi road, known for its challenging terrain, is currently under construction, with approximately one-fourth of the road completed. Delays occurred in the TKK section due to the termination of the contractor in December 2018. Work from the Indian side commenced in 2017, and it is expected to be completed by 2023.

The vision to extend the Trilateral Highway to Laos PDR and Cambodia was articulated in the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit 2012. Talks for this extension resumed in 2017 during the India-Asean Connectivity summit, where discussions also involved Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Recent developments include Bangladesh expressing interest in joining the ongoing trilateral highway project to enhance connectivity between South and Southeast Asia. During the ASEAN-India summit, India emphasized the importance of completing the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway promptly and extending it to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, aligning with the Act East policy of the Narendra Modi government.


In conclusion, India’s diplomatic journey from Look East to Act East Policy reflects a strategic evolution tailored to meet the demands of a changing global landscape. The comprehensive nature of the Act East Policy, encompassing economic, strategic, and cultural dimensions, positions India as a key player in fostering regional stability and cooperation. As the nation continues to navigate geopolitical waters, its nuanced approach signals a proactive stance in shaping the future of Indo-Pacific relations.

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