In South Asia, be the Un-China: 

In South Asia, be the Un-China

India needs to rekindle the SAARC process in order to secure historical affinity with its neighbours.

Context:

  • India needs to rekindle the SAARC process in order to secure historical affinity with its neighbours.

Explanation:

  • As the stand-off between the Indian and Chinese militaries enters its third month at Doklam, it is not just Bhutan that is keenly anticipating the potential fallout. The entire neighbourhood is watching.
  • There is obvious interest in how the situation plays out and the consequent change in the balance of power between India and China in South Asia.
  • Consequently, India’s other neighbours are likely to implement their own lessons about dealing with their respective “tri-junctions” both real and imagined, on land and in the sea.
  • Moreover, as per Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Nepal will not get dragged into this or that side in the border dispute.
  • Even if Pakistan is not counted in this list of neighbour then it is not hard to see which way India’s immediate neighbours, which are each a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), are headed in the next few years.

What India needs to do?

  • To begin with, India must regain its role as a prime mover of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the organisation it abandoned a year ago over its problems with Pakistan.
  • SAARC has survived three decades in spite of its biggest challenge, India-Pakistan tensions.
  • Second, India must recognise that picking sides in the politics of its neighbours makes little difference to China’s success there. For instance:
  • In Sri Lanka, the Sirisena government hasn’t changed course when it comes to China, and despite its protestations that it was saddled with debt by the Rajapaksa regime, it has made no moves to clear that debt while signing up for more.

Suggestions:

  • India must recognise that doing better with its neighbours is not about investing more or undue favours. It is about following a policy of mutual interests and of respect, which India is more culturally attuned to than its larger rival is.
  • When dealing with Beijing bilaterally, India must match China’s aggression, and counter its moves with its own. When dealing with China in South Asia, however, India must do exactly the opposite, and not allow itself to be outpaced. In short, India must “be the Un-China.
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