Neighbourhood First Policy and Balance of Power in South Asia
Dr. Rajkumar Singh
Any proper and deep analysis of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy in South Asia is incomplete, in today’s context, without knowing full well about the power equation or balance largely affected by the regional competition between India and China on the one hand and Beijing and Washington on the other, which make all the three powers - India, China and the United States of America stake holders in Asia, especially, in South Asia. Although, the United States of America does not belong to this region at all, it works as a catalyst between India and China for opposite reasons, because while America is on cooperative terms with India in post-Cold War, its relations with PRC are hot because they both are competitors at global level for their power and supremacy.
In the given situation, all the three States are bound to move forward on dotted lines, whether they like it or not. Further, this politico-strategic polarisation aiming at the Asian continent, but particularly South Asia, makes no difference which political party wins the election and who becomes Head of the State in these three States. Thus, it is just a chance that India has a strategist-cum-politician like Narendra Modi to understand the things in larger perspective and do the work, best suited to our national interest, keeping all changing scenarios in view and active consideration
Facts of relative power
It is all about the development of overall powers -- economic, military, scientific of all the above three countries which demand their position and status change in regional and global considerations.Three decades back or say in 1990, in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), China and India were 20 times smaller to the United States of America whereas today’s difference of China is only 1.5 times means China, and not India, has made a tremendous growth in last 30 years. In defence expenditure today India is four times smaller than China and nearly a third of America.
This major gap between India and China enabled the latter to invest a large sum on its Army, Navy and Air Force modernisation programmes, multiplied the warring capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and also made available lots of resources for economic and strategic investments in bordering countries of South Asia with whom India is on good terms on account of socio- cultural and historical proximity.
It was only due to the multiplied economic and military capability of China that it has begun to construct several strategic roads and ports in South Asian countries surrounding India. Decades ago, work on such Chinese projects like, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Maritime Silk Road (MSR) started in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka which could potentially be used for Beijing’s purposes. In the context mention should be made of the construction of the overland China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from Kashgar in Xinjiang Province of China to Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Province of Baluchistan, which has brought the Chinese presence close to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Thus, China’s decades-long alignment with Pakistan and deepening relations with other South Asian countries has totally upset the geopolitical balance in the region where India remained dominant for decades. At least for the last 20 years Beijing’s anti- Indian activities in collusion with Pakistan have marred the bright prospect of India’s bilateral relations with its neighbours despite New Delhi’s sincere efforts on its part and favourable policy as well.
Upsetting of equilibrium
As there is no world Government, balance or power equilibrium at global level is maintained by the relative power of the nations in question and the gap in the potentials of India and China has badly altered the equation in the South Asian region. In yester years the People’s Republic of China has been trying aggressively to change the pattern of its previous relationship with both -- India and United States set 3-4 decades ago on the basis of the potential Beijing possessed.
According to China it is the time to recognise Beijing as the undisputed leader of Asia, but South Asia in particular as well as a world power parallel to the United States of America. In contrast, the US too does not want to relinquish its decades-long tag of world’s single super power after the collapse of USSR in early 1990s.
Now, the question arises that after the emergence of China as a rich and strong country which has vital interests spanning the globe what it expects from India and the US? In the context China expects India to demonstrate its open acceptance of Beijing’s emergence as the leading power in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, embrace and be benefitted from Chinese geopolitical projects like, Belt and Road Initiative, and lastly, to refrain from security co-operation with the United States. In line, Chinese expectations from the US are also very clear.
It wants and expects from the US not to interfere in China’s home region, South Asia and South East Asian countries and abandon its security commitments there as well as recognising the respect and its identity in the area along with accepting Chinese sovereignty over some 80% of the South China Sea. Not only that China is also ready to give the United States in return. It would refrain from intervening in the Americas and in the Eastern Pacific and Western Hemisphere.
Dawn of new cold war
For reasons more than one, neither the US nor India is willing to accept the redefinition of Asia as put forward by the People’s Republic of China, especially in view of their decades-long understanding and national interest. In international relations there is no authentic mechanism to implement this type of redefinition proposed by a particular State. It left the world and the region with options of defeat, war and cold war. An option of defeat is acceptance which they both are unwilling to carry and war is also not feasible among nuclear-power nations and so, the dawn of a new cold war appears visible on the horizon.
Dr. Rajkumar Singh is a Professor and Head of Department of Political Science
Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences
Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University
Madhepura - 852113