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Building a strategic partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, India has become closer with a region experiencing robust economic growth.
India and the 10-member ASEAN concluded a two-day summit in honor of their 20-year relationship on Friday.
They reached a free trade agreement in services and investments and vowed to improve air and land links.
India launched a "Look East Policy" in the early 1990s to push trade links with ASEAN, an approach interpreted by some observers as encircling China.
India-ASEAN cooperation has been dominated by economic concerns, but political and strategic intentions against a rising China have become more obvious since the beginning of the century, said Sun Shihai, an expert on Indian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Sun said India's partnership with ASEAN should not be interpreted as a move that infringes on China's interests.
India's participation in Southeast Asia will also largely expand the market between China and ASEAN, bringing in a great opportunity for economic cooperation and regional integration, Sun said.
What is important is that India and China should build strategic mutual trust, he added.
Despite frequent high-level visits and enormous trade volume, border issues between the two neighbors are unresolved.
China's trade with ASEAN countries is far greater than India's, but India's trade with ASEAN is increasing.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he is optimistic that trade with ASEAN will exceed $100 billion by 2015 and $200 billion by 2022.
If the markets of China, India and ASEAN join together in free trade and investment, all three will benefit, said Hu Shisheng, an expert on South Asian studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
Hu said India's partnership with ASEAN highlights the country's initiative to integrate into the Asia-Pacific region.
In addition to economic cooperation, the two sides also decided to intensify maritime security cooperation and underline the need for freedom of navigation.
According to AFP, Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Tan Dung asked for New Delhi's direct intervention into South China Sea territorial disputes.
Some ASEAN countries, the Philippines and Vietnam in particular, have ignited territorial disputes with China over parts of the South China Sea.
Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid insisted the territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian nations did not require India's intervention.
"India will not easily involve itself in the islands dispute between China and ASEAN economies," said Sun, noting that "collaboration between India and ASEAN on maritime security was largely India's strategic posture as a countermeasure to China's emerging influence in the Indian Ocean".
(China Daily 12/24/2012 page11)