Overreaching India at Loggerheads with South Asia Neighbors
By Zhang Jiadong
On 24th July, concerning the confrontation between India and China, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the reporters in Bangkok that even Indian senior officials have publicly said that Chinese troops have not intruded into Indian territory, which means that India admitted that it has entered into Chinese territory.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted that it is very clear who is right and who is wrong regarding this issue. The solution to this issue is simple, which is that the Indian troops back out honestly.
On 26th June, The Economic Times of India published a video clip showing a confrontation between Chinese and Indian forces during their patrols.
Subsequently, on 17th July a media source reported that the Indian Army was converting its frontline tents to semicircular fixed bunkers. It is clear from this that the Indian Army is planning to stick around.
In response, a spokesman from China’s Ministry of Defense offered a resolute statement on the issue of a Chinese road construction team being impeded by the Indian Army at Donglang (Doklam) district, saying that India “should not leave things to luck and not harbor any unrealistic illusions.” The history of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Chinese military, in the past 90 years has demonstrated its increasing capacities and unshakable determination to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, the ministry said, adding “Shaking a mountain is easy but shaking the PLA is hard.”
India’s approach to foreign relations
Since its independence, India has invested a large volume of diplomatic, economic and military resources in its neighboring countries, especially those in South Asia.
Generally, in terms of its diplomatic strategy towards surrounding countries, India’s ideology has been based on traditions of religion and culture, geographical features of South Asia and the heritage of colonialism. Its characteristics are a very long way from the modern principle of sovereign equality.
Through this prism of religious and cultural tradition, the notion of ally or alliance, for instance, is something that India has long neglected in its foreign relations. The ancient ideology of “universal brotherhood” of Hinduism, in contrast, has been very much the source of its “Indian Alliance System”.
Indian often fails to deal with its neighboring countries as sovereign equals; this applies in particular to its small neighbors to the north. After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, the Hindutva of Hinduism became a key element of the administrative program in India. The BJP government has expressed its concerns over the situation of Hindus in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka on several occasions, and has entangled concrete diplomatic activities with this kind of concern.
The ancient Indian ideologist Kautilya said in Arthashastra that international relations represent a dynamic hierarchical system with conquerors at the core, and thus neighboring countries are natural enemies, while ones enemies’ enemies are natural allies. This ancient ideology has had a profound real-world influence on India’s policies towards neighboring countries.
In addition, the traditions of colonialism have had a significant impact on their policies. The British colonizers turned India from a geographical notion to a political unit. After independence India inherited Britain’s Colonial government system, a top-heavy and bottom-light structure that has changed little since.
India has inherited Britain’s foreign policies and logic too. The founding PM of India Nehru once called himself “the last Englishman to rule India”. Indian politicians consider themselves to be the successors of British Raj and draw little distinction between the international role that India takes on today as a sovereign country and the designs of the imperialistic British Raj.
They too advocate the concept of Greater India, thinking that India should naturally inherit the former colonies of British Raj in South Asia, and even the manufactured “privilege” that the British Raj claimed in Tibet.
A discourteous neighbor
With designs on controlling South Asia, India rejected the system of sovereign equality under the UN framework from the very beginning. Instead it adopted a combination of policies such as exclusion, annexation, control and manipulation to set up a “South Asian order” with India at the core.
For example, it has tried to restrict Pakistan’s influence in South Asia. Clashes between Hindus and Muslims derive from internal conflict in the Indian National Congress prior to independence; this has since escalated into conflict and struggles between India and Pakistan.
In the past 70 years the two countries have gone through several major wars and frequent conflicts on a smaller scale. India has also tried to exert control over other neighboring countries in South Asia on different levels through military, economic, cultural, and political means.
Countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Bhutan have all been targets of its direct military influence; on occasion it has even dispatched troops.
The Indian military takes charge of the training and instruction of Bhutan’s forces in Bhutan. Its forces sometimes engage in direct patrols on the China-Bhutan border.
During the Indo-Pakistani Wars in 1971, India not only offered weapons to tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in east Pakistan, it even sent troops to help the area – now Bangladesh – to gain its independence,.
India also controls neighboring countries through economic and political pressure. Objectively, India has provided substantial assistance to its neighbors, but this aid has not brought development and prosperity to these countries.
On the contrary, it renders their economies increasingly fragile and vulnerable to India’s control.
In the 1970s, after the modern sovereign country system was established in South Asia, India also swallowed up Sikkim by a combination of political and military control, immigration, and exploitation of the democratic process.
India has long been the dominant country in South Asia, and has set up a hierarchical system with India at the core.
However, its capacity to maintain this system has been hampered by the concept of “sovereign countries” and by the wave of globalization, as well as by its own limited development and the huge gap between its intentions and its power to execute them.
In terms of culture, Hinduism alone will not prop up India’s pursuit of regional dominance.
India believes that the countries of South Asia share a common religious and cultural tradition; hence they should unite as a single political unit. In contrast countries like Nepal and others consider civilization and sovereignty as two separate issues. They belong to a different space and apply a different logic; therefore even although their civilization and way of life are of an “Indian style”, they have no political allegiance to the sovereign country of India.
From an economic perspective, India cannot meet the need for sustainable development of its neighbors.
At the time of its independence, India inherited a first class infrastructure from Britain, which provided it with abundant economic resources to drive its foreign goals.
However, since the cold war countries like China have developed rapidly, while India has done little more than stagnate. As a result, countries in South Asia have tended to turn to Beijing rather than Delhi in search of support for their economic development, which has imposed severe diplomatic pressure on India.
India’s overbearing manner in its diplomacy has also roused antipathy among its neighbors.
Although India saw its absorption of Sikkim in 1975 as a diplomatic success, this aroused intense anxiety in countries like Nepal and Bhutan, which feared becoming a second Sikkim.
Since then, these two Himalayan countries have sought every opportunity to participate in international affairs, to make their presence felt on the international stage, and to proactively establish and develop their relations with world powers such as China, so as to counter any pressure coming from India.
Generally speaking, India’s diplomacy towards surrounding countries is still affected by the legacy of colonialism. It struggles to escape the straitjacket of the outmoded “Greater India” concept, and as a result it cannot treat neighboring small countries as sovereign equals.
This is the reason why it achieves small controlling successes but fails to win the hearts and minds of its neighbors. Nothing it can do will dampen their instinctive demand for an independent diplomatic identity, regardless of all the economic, political and military resources it has given away.
Meanwhile, the frequent unilateral economic sanctions and political manipulation that India imposes on its neighbors also harm its international image.
(Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of cnmatters.com)