For long, India has been countering China’s growing influence in Asia and other parts of the world. India has tried to sensitise the global community on the adverse effects of Beijing’s aggressive policies on the ongoing peace process in different regions. However, some countries have paid no heed to India’s concern. In fact, China has become a development partner of many (South) Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bhutan and Myanmar, where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) makes its presence felt. After building infrastructures in those countries, Beijing has taken control of ports and set up strategic military bases there. The Asian giant has also started influencing the decision-making process in those countries after sanctioning loans at a higher interest rate. Currently, the top Chinese political leadership is concentrating mainly on the Indo-Pacific region.
Political observers are of the opinion that China’s main aim is to take full control of the Asian geopolitics and economy, and the other purpose is to weaken India with the help of its neighbours. According to a section of foreign policy experts, the two goals are actually complementary to each other. If Beijing manages to knock New Delhi out of the show, then there will be no competition.
According to diplomats, the root of this ‘Chinese checker’ tradition of new colonialism lies in the ancient Asian civilisation. Nearly 150 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Han rulers trapped the ‘ barbarian’ populace with the same trick and acquired their lands after offering loans. In his publication ‘The Rise of China Vs. the Logic of Strategy’, Edward N Luttwak said that the Chinese rulers supplied various products to Nomad fighters free of cost in order to ‘purchase’ their dependencies. Then, they demanded ‘service’ in exchange of exported items and finally, the nomads became slaves.
Experts consider Beijing’s ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiative as the latest version of the Han Dynasty’s ‘loan trap‘. The Centre for Global Development, which has evaluated the current and future debt levels of 68 countries hosting Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)-funded projects, found that 23 countries are at risk of debt distress today and future BRI-related financing would significantly add to the risk of debt distress in eight of those countries. In a report, the Centre said that those countries would receive loans from the Chinese Development Bank for infrastructure development. As per the contract, Chinese companies will send their workers to those countries and take advantage of the infrastructure in the coming years. A number of Asian, African and Latin American nations will have to pay high interest to China (and will become its ‘slave’).
India – which is against the OBOR project – has warned the developing nations, saying that it would be foolish to fall into the Chinese trap. However, New Delhi has failed to prepare a solid counter-strategy. The Narendra Modi government in India has also failed to come up with a new plan to counter China’s aggression in the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries – which are fed up with Chinese policy in South-East Asia – changed their policies towards Beijing a couple of years ago. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) claimed that the bloc accepted India’s leadership, as it thought that the South Asian powerhouse could counter China’s ‘Ocean Politics’. However, India only managed to conduct the ‘Malabar’ exercise – a trilateral naval exercise involving the US, Japan and India – and to form an (anti-China) quadrangular axis with the US, Japan and Australia. As a result, the ASEAN nations have decided not to depend on India and to counter the Asian ‘dragon’ in a different way.
Indian PM with Chinese President
Of course, the ‘soft diplomacy’ isn’t a new idea in global geopolitics. But, it’s not possible to gain diplomatic advantage over a superpower, like China, through soft diplomacy in the modern world. The Modi government recently softened its stand on China in order to ‘normalise’ ties with the Asian giant. In March, the Indian PM asked his ministers to skip events organised by the Dalai Lama. Immediately after President of Maldives Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency in February, India asked China not to interfere in internal matters of the tropical nation (in the Indian Ocean). And when Beijing ignored New Delhi’s ‘advice’, the Modi administration informed the top Chinese leadership that India was not interested in the Maldives’ ‘domestic affairs’ (and allowed the Dragon to influence the decision-making process of the Indian Ocean littoral country).
During their meeting in Wuhan on April 27, PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to reset bilateral ties. They also agreed to meet again in June on the sidelines of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) Summit to assess the ties. However, it’s important for the Indian premier to know how to play a chord in tune. It’s not possible to catch a ‘Dragon’ with soft diplomacy.
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