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Increasing Chinese Footprint in India’s Neighbourhood: Implications and Options for India

Sandeep Jain Writes:China and India share the extended neighbourhood. Many small countries who are our immediate neighbours also think of China as their neighbour. Over a period of time China’s influence in these small countries has been constantly increasing. China has emerged as their largest trading partner in most cases. China is also willing to make substantial investments as also provide economic aid.

Sandeep Jain Writes:China and India share the extended neighbourhood. Many small countries who are our immediate neighbours also think of China as their neighbour. Over a period of time China’s influence in these small countries has been constantly increasing. China has emerged as their largest trading partner in most cases. China is also willing to make substantial investments as also provide economic aid.

In addition to this cheque book diplomacy, China has also been generous with military aid in terms of providing military hardware. Some of the hardware is being gifted while some other is being sold at lower rates than similar weaponry from Western sources.

The crowning effort by China has been in the form of OBOR wherein, physical connectivity between these countries and China has been enhanced along with an even greater economic dependence.

Naturally this caused certain apprehensions and concerns in Indian strategic community. Many nations such as Nepal which had deep historical linkages with India were now perceived by some as tilting towards China. Similarly nations such as Sri-Lanka and Maldives were perceived to be indirectly aiding the Chinese in strategic encirclement of India.

Most nations in our neighbourhood are developing nations and as such seek economic aid/ investment. Therefore it was natural for them to seek such economic cooperation from both China and India. The former obviously has much deeper pockets. The fact also remains that being sovereign nations our neighbours can align with China if they so perceive it to be in their national interests.

The question is whether India should be greatly alarmed and take counter measures. While there is no doubt that we should continue to engage our neighbours in constructive economic and strategic partnerships, the worry of Chinese engagement seems to be overstated.

To start with, most countries in the neighbourhood have come to realise that Chinese investments are often expensive and the repayments difficult. Classic example is that of Hambantota port in Sri Lanka where the repayments were not possible by Sri-Lanka and the country was forced to sell some equity stakes of the port to China. Thus countries like Myanmar are rethinking the extent of investment they were previously seeking from China. Chinese investments are often also routed through Chinese firms, thereby not really helping in creation of local jobs. The prospect of the permanent presence of Chinese nationals to oversee these projects also has to be considered.

Nationals of countries like Nepal and Bangladesh could seek jobs in India. Similar concessions are unlikely to be provided by China. Chinese investments are really a one way affair.

Even in terms of military hardware, quite often the countries may not really be getting the value for money. Even for gifted hardware, the countries may have to fork out money for spares etc and in the long term such aid may turn out to be expensive.

India has always been benign towards its smaller neighbours and always willing to walk the extra mile. We should stay the course rather than get into competition with China. Let the neighbours decide the relative merits of engaging with the two big neighbours. The verdict is more likely to be in favour of India.

 

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