India’s “Live Mint” article on March 9th, originally titled: How Come China repeatedly trounces India in its neighborhood. “Priority for neighboring countries” was the Modi government’s the first policy decision. Modi has visited all neighboring countries except the Maldives. However, these neighbors are still a headache for New Delhi.
Right now, the biggest problem is the Maldives. It is not difficult to understand that China would like to embolden Maldivian President Yamin to stand up to India. In Nepal, another pro-China leader, Oli now returns to the post of Prime Minister. At present, most of the analyses of India’s difficulties in its neighbourhood is over whether these neighboring countries have pro-India or pro-China regimes. But what really cause India to struggle at the periphery are some inter-related structural factors.
First of all, as we all know, (a setting of) geopolitical competition between India and China is beneficial to the latter because China enjoys an advantage economically and militarily. China’s gross domestic product is five times that of India and its military spending is more than three times that of India. This asymmetry of power means that China has more resources to wean South Asian countries away from India.
Why is South Asia so important? This involves the second factor. In the book “How India Sees the World”, Shyam Saran explained that India’s security interests span the entire subcontinent while its political control is limited to the borders of the country. Looking towards Beijing, some of these South Asian countries are within the traditional Chinese sphere of influence. As China grows stronger, it will want to restore its influence in these areas as much as possible.
The third point is that the formation of modern Indian and Chinese nation-states was accompanied by “traumatic territorial changes”. As far as India is concerned, the separation of East and West Pakistan happened after independence from colonial rule. In addition, although India has signed treaties with Nepal and Bhutan, New Delhi no longer has control over the two countries, as before. While India’s extraterritorial influence has witnessed dimunition and dilution, China has accomplished wide-ranging territorial consolidation and integration.
Fourth, regardless of policy, India’s size makes it a threat to the sub-continent. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand that the smaller neighboring countries seek extraterritorial forces for balancing India’s preponderance. China is clearly the best choice for balancing India. In addition to geopolitical balance, these countries need funds to build infrastructure. If India cannot meet these demands, China’s inexhaustible financial resources come in handy.
India’s capacity to maintain its influence is aided by geographical conditions. China’s economic rise and military power are gradually eroding India’s geographical advantages.