Is China monopolising by gaining strategic advantage over Indian neighbours?
Clash with China at the Galwan valley, casus belli with Pakistan, Foreign Minister and Home Minister of Bangladesh cancelling their trip to India, Malaysia and Indonesia criticising India for passing Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Nepal including India's land in their map, these are the recent incidences that manifest the anti-India sentiment amongst its neighbours. Once friends, India enjoyed good ties with many of these countries, before they turned their back at us.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Neighbourhood First" initiative, which was a part of his 2014 election manifesto, seemed to be one of the few things that were actually implemented. This initiative was put in place to focus on India's relation with its neighbouring countries. In addition to China's constant efforts to expand its footprint globally, especially with its Belt and Road Initiative, neighbourhood policy would have been a natural and lasting bulwark.
The initial steps of PM Modi certainly marked his commitment to this new policy. But looking at the current situation, India's relation with its neighbouring countries is in shambles. Almost every neighbouring country which once used to be India's ally has turned back at us.
But the question is where India went wrong? Because looking at the number of foreign trips our PM has been on, it is difficult to say that India didn't try to build friendly relations with the neighbours. Until November 15, 2019, PM Modi had been to 104 countries since June 15, 2014. That is an average of almost 20 countries a year, out of which he has been to China five times, Nepal four times, Sri Lanka thrice, twice each to Bhutan, Myanmar and Malaysia, and once to Bangladesh and Indonesia. PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met nearly 18 times since the Indian Prime Minister came to power in 2014.
India has not earned firm assistance from any of its neighbouring countries in the Galwan crisis, even after being a major player in alliances such as SAARC, ASEAN and BIMSTEC. But PM Modi somehow deteriorated its relations across the board, following his very promising start to regional ties. India nearly went into war with Pakistan in 2019 and has a regularly high-profile border skirmish that could easily get out of control. Ties are in doldrums with Bangladesh, a country which is in existence because India extended its help; the Parliament of Nepal has recently passed a new map that covers India's land and has made ties at their worst over the years; Sri Lanka and the Maldives, both of which have historically been linked to India, have entered the orbit of Chinese influence.
In 2015, when the earthquake hit Nepal, India sent critical aid, considerably in a very less time. This effort of India was appreciated by many countries and also tightened India's bond with Nepal.
Following the passing of CAA, India's relationship with Bangladesh started to blemish. Their Foreign Minister, Home Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister and Speaker of the Parliament, all cancelled their visits to India when the latter alleged them for persecuting the minorities. PM Modi may have received votes by abusing Bangladeshi immigrants, but hasn't that impacted India's ties with its eastern neighbours? Bangladesh is one of the rapidly growing economies in the world.
Could we have better dealt with this situation? Would Bangladesh have better understood us with a stronger NRC and CAA diplomatic strategy?
The sheer pride and arrogance led to the straining of India's relationship with one of its most important trading partners. Looking at India's relations with Bangladesh, China grabbed this opportunity to bring Bangladesh into its orbit of influence and provided it with a 97 per cent tariff exemption on imports. The CAA not only tainted our relationship with Bangladesh but also with many other countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said, "But I am sorry to see that India, which claims to be a secular state now is taking action to deprive some Muslims of their citizenship. Of course, if we do that here, you know what will happen. There will be chaos, there will be instability, and everyone will suffer."
In an interview with Malay Mail (Malaysian Newspaper), he said, "Already people are dying because of this law, so why is there a necessity to do this thing when all this while, for 70 years almost, they have lived together as citizens without any problems."
So, in retaliation to this, India reduced the import of Malaysian palm oil.
Indonesia and Iran both opposed India for CAA. Foreign Minister of Iran, Javad Zarif tweeted, "For centuries, Iran has been a friend of India. We urge Indian authorities to ensure the well-being of ALL Indians and not let senseless thuggery prevail. Path forward lies in peaceful dialogue and rule of law."
Furthermore, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, both lie at a very important strategic location. China has also been successful in luring these two countries for making military bases and economic zones. China laid down a pre-planned trap for Sri Lanka and has now taken over the port of Hambantota for 99 years. This was after Sri Lanka had taken a loan from China to develop the port after India's refusal to grant the loan, banking on the feasibility report that the port will be a failure. Although the port turned out to be a big failure, the government of Sri Lanka handed it over along with 15,000 acres of land on lease for 99 years under intense pressure and months of negotiations with the Chinese government. Not only this, but Xi Jinping also visited Myanmar and gained a strategic advantage by taking over the seaports and industrial areas of the city of Yangon.
While China was making strategies to lure our neighbours, the Indian government was busy luring the MLA's and the MP's of the opposition and lathi charging the students. During these unprecedented times, when the nation is gripped under the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy is at the all-time low, the education system has collapsed, and the medical sector is faltering, the last thing that we want is a breakdown of foreign policies and even a more violent environment. While the citizens continue to pin their hopes on the government, the latter looks confused, and in the meantime, the tensions continue to escalate at the borders.