Global Times
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BEIJING, Dec 6 (APP):The Maldives’ signing of the FTA with China demonstrates that South Asian countries are fed up with India’s geopolitical games, and are looking to achieve a strategic balance between Beijing and New Delhi for more economic and societal leverage.
But India’s strong response to this is upsetting these countries’ needs for development, which will surely drive more South Asian countries away.
Now, it all depends on whether New Delhi can overcome its zero-sum mentality for the benefit of all, according to an article published in the Chinese newspapers Global Times here on Wednesday.
Because of geopolitical considerations, New Delhi is always sensitive toward Sino-Indian economic collaboration and China’s cooperation with other South Asian countries.
A number of factors contribute to India’s strong reaction toward the Sino-Maldives FTA. New Delhi has long been pursuing hegemony in the Indian Ocean and sought to inherit the British Empire’s previous glories in the region.
After its independence, New Delhi hoped to inherit Britain’s military bases in the Indian Ocean, and took a series of measures that upset Washington’s clout in the 1970s and 80s after the bases were taken over by the US. After failed attempts to deter Washington, India realized it lacked maritime military strength compared with the US and decided instead to cooperate with the latter.
With China’s expanding economic influence, New Delhi has now diverted its attention to Beijing, insisting that China has infringed on its backyard interests.
Indian scholar K. M. Panikkar has long since expressed his concerns that China may expand its maritime influence. Under such a backdrop, China’s interactions with Indian Ocean states, including the Maldives, will be a sensitive topic for India.
New Delhi’s overreaction is also a result of its cautious approach toward China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road project.
India, in viewing China’s Belt and Road initiative from a geopolitical perspective, is ever skeptical of China’s economic and infrastructure cooperation with countries along the route, for example, the Maldives.
After China put forward the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road concept, India then proposed its own Project Mausam. The Maldives has long been regarded by India as its partner in the Indian Ocean, thus India will surely interpret its clinching of the FTA with Beijing as a Chinese attempt to encircle India.
New Delhi regards Beijing as its strategic rival. Although India once demonstrated good bearing during Manmohan Singh’s term in office by claiming that Asia is big enough to accommodate the ambitions of both rising powers, since Narendra Modi took power, India has been anxious about China’s development and regarded it as a geopolitical rival.
During the Doklam territorial standoff earlier this year, former Indian defense minister Arun Jaitley asserted that the India of 2017 is different from what it was in 1962, demonstrating that New Delhi is now ready for a strategic rivalry with Beijing.
To contain Beijing’s expanding influence in the Indian Ocean and South Asia, India took advantage of domestic political changes to exert influence on Sri Lanka and made excuses to lay an embargo on Nepal. New Delhi used its leverage on Bhutan and started a faceoff against Beijing in Doklam.
It seems that India is concerned that China’s cooperation with other South Asian countries may jeopardize its strategic interests in the region, the same reason for the country’s overreaction to the Sino-Maldives FTA.
New Delhi’s attitude is also a natural reaction to the country’s distorted electoral politics. Any policy of India is affected by political struggles and voters’ psychological shifts.
By advocating the political motives of the Sino-Maldives FTA, Indian media outlets are re-hyping the “China threat” theory, and Indian politicians are taking advantage of the theory to gain more popularity.
India may later impose pressure on the Maldives. Its zero-sum geopolitical mentality brings good to none and is perilous to New Delhi’s future development.
India is still a developing country with many living in poverty, thus Modi should focus more on India’s own development. However, Modi’s geopolitical game in recent years has jeopardized Sino-Indian economic ties.
Now, it all depends on whether New Delhi can overcome its zero-sum mentality for the benefit of all.