The neighbourhood in turmoil, lessons for India

An overview: The background in brief

  • India, over the years, has sustained in the midst of sensitivities that have a huge impact on its national security and territorial integrity. 
  • The Indian subcontinent has been under perennial threats from China’s aggressive expansionist policies, cross border terrorism facilitated by Pakistan, extremist ideologies disturbing the internal peace and security of the northeast region and other forms of illegal activities through the Golden Crescent and Golden triangle. 
  • The year 2016 introduced a new method of treating the hostile neighbours of India with the aid of a muscular foreign policy alarming them with the bitter consequences of infringing India’s national security. 
  • It was evident that India would be willing to use all its levers to prevail over any uncooperative South Asian neighbour. 

The transition:

  • With the gradual progress of time, the muscular approach did not work well as the central dogma of India’s neighbourhood policy. 
  • Therefore, a prominent transition was witnessed in New Delhi’s approach to a more consensual, conciliatory and amiable neighbourhood policy. 
  • The new approach intended to promote the national interest in the region through soft power diplomacy. 
  • The transition is also backed by the fact that the neighbouring democracies (at that time) like Myanmar, Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have undergone non-electoral changes that have an influence on India’s national interests. 
  • New Delhi abandoned its uniformly muscular “one size fits all” approach to the region. 
  • In the case of Myanmar, the government of India continued its engagement with the military junta that overthrew the National League for Democracy (political outfit led by Aung San Suu Kyi). 
  • Keeping its neutral stance intact regarding the ongoing developments in the neighbourhood, especially with respect to Pakistan and Afghanistan, India has tried to strengthen its diplomatic ties in the region. 
  • The visit of Prime Minister Modi to Lumbini has been a testimony of India’s intent to advocate the doctrine of friendship in the neighbourhood and its attempt to promote cultural diplomacy. This was a welcoming move to better the India-Nepal relationship. 
  • India’s transition has also been reflected in the focus of New Delhi on people in the neighbourhood rather than just those in power. 

India as a friendly neighbour:

  • The emerging friendly approach towards neighbouring countries entailed high-level visits, trade agreements, collaborations in developmental and infrastructure projects, and extension of lines of credit. 
  • India’s compassionate behaviour towards its friendly neighbours like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar was exemplified during the pandemic through the delivery of vaccines. 
  • India has been active in extending humanitarian aid to its neighbouring countries. 
  • Financial assistance along with the supply of essentials from India was rendered to Sri Lanka in the midst of the ongoing crisis in the island country. 

China’s Debt Trap: A major challenge

  • It is alleged that China, in order to expand its global influence along with its political, economic and military strategies, has been extending loans to financially vulnerable states, thereby paving a way to intrude into the sovereignty of such states. 
  • This practice, over the gradual progress of time, has taken the shape of a debt trap. 
  • Many experts define it as China’s Debt Trap Diplomacy. 
  • China has emerged as the biggest official creditor with its international loans reported to surpass more than 5% of the global GDP. 
  • Under this, China lends money to the borrowing country without gauging the country’s creditworthiness. This leads to a huge burden on the borrowing country leveraging China’s vested interests. 
  • The debt trap can be prominently identified in Pakistan which is China’s sole strategic ally. Under extensive loans borrowed from China, Pakistan has given it exclusive rights coupled with a tax holiday, to run Gwadar Port for the next four decades. About 91% of the port revenues from Gwadar port as a part of CPEC would go to China.
  • In this way, China has successfully converted big loans given to small island countries into the acquisition of entire islets through exclusive development rights. It has enhanced its influence over a couple of islands in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives and one island in the South Pacific nation of the Soloman Islands. 
  • The Belt and Road Initiative is central to the debt trap diplomacy of China. 

The China Factor of the Sri Lankan Crisis:

  • Sri Lanka has transferred the Hambantota Port, along with more than 6000 hectares of land around it, to Beijing on a 99-year lease. This has been an outcome of Sri Lanka’s failure to repay the infrastructure loans borrowed from China. 
  • The 99-year lease is a concept that derives its roots from the European colonial expansionism that has taken the form of China’s aggressive expansionist policies in the 19th century. 
  • China is involved in more than 50 projects in Sri Lanka which are much beyond trade and economic considerations. 
  • Gaining political and security leverage against India in the Indian Ocean Rim is the real intention of China which can be well realised through its strategic String of Pearls. 

Shaping the way ahead:

  • It is an emphasised demand that the Government of India must explore new avenues to energise regional groupings or provide more impetus to the existing grouping like BIMSTEC. 
  • There must be efforts, according to the experts, to revamp SAARC in order to promote economic prosperity through 
    • Tourisms
    • Exports
    • Labour exchange
    • Building common pools of food and fuel
    • Mitigating inflationary blows on the South Asian economy
    • Strengthening cultural networks
  • It is envisaged that for a better understanding of future challenges rattling India’s policy, the government should not only analyse the implications of changes in the socio-economic and political dynamics of neighbouring countries but also assess and consider the notion of the neighbouring countries towards India. 
  • A consensus within the South Asian region will contribute to a stable and prosperous region.

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