Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

India’s growing neighbourhood dilemmas


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: focus on reducing anti-India sentiments

McMOHAN LINE | UPSC Current Affairs | IAS GYAN

Central idea

The central idea revolves around the challenges in India’s neighborhood, marked by politically anti-India regimes, China’s growing influence, and a changing geopolitical landscape. The dilemmas stem from a shift in power dynamics, policy stances, and mistaken assumptions, necessitating a realistic approach, proactive diplomacy, and addressing workforce shortages for effective foreign policy implementation.

Key Highlights:

  • Neighbourhood Challenges: The Achilles heel of Indian foreign policy lies in its neighbourhood, posing three types of dilemmas: politically anti-India regimes, structural challenges from Beijing’s growing influence, and the overarching geopolitical architecture.
  • China’s Rising Influence: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and strategic outreach in South Asia present challenges, making India geopolitically vulnerable within an unfriendly neighbourhood.
  • Causes of Dilemmas: Regional geopolitical architecture, China’s ascendance, normative approach vs. China’s non-normative stance, and the shift from resident to non-resident power dynamics contribute to India’s dilemmas.
  • Policy Stance Dilemma: India’s status quo bias in dealing with regional politics and a focus on power centers contribute to path-dependencies and sometimes alienate other centers of power or opposition leaders.
  • Mistaken Assumptions: Assumptions that South Asia minus Pakistan would align with Indian geopolitical reasoning and that cultural connections would ensure better relations have proven inaccurate.

Key Challenges:

  • Changing Balance of Power: India must adapt to the changed balance of power in Southern Asia, acknowledging China’s emergence as a serious contender for regional primacy.
  • Involvement of External Actors: Proactively involving friendly external actors in the region is crucial to prevent it from becoming Sino-centric.
  • Flexible Diplomacy: Indian diplomacy needs to be flexible, engaging multiple actors in each neighboring country and focusing on lessening anti-India attitudes rather than solely dealing with those in power.
  • Diplomatic Workforce Shortage: The shortage of diplomats is a critical challenge, hindering India’s ability to implement foreign policy effectively and respond to global opportunities or crises.

Key Quotes:

  • “India’s neighbours and periphery are China’s too, even if we do not like it.”
  • “Dealing with whoever is in power is a good policy, but engaging only those in power is a bad policy.”

Critical Analysis:

  • India faces complex geopolitical challenges in its neighborhood, requiring a pragmatic approach to the changed power dynamics. The need for a mental switch, proactive diplomacy, and addressing workforce shortages emerges as critical. The evolving scenario necessitates a shift from traditional assumptions and a more nuanced engagement strategy.

Way Forward:

  • Realistic Framing: India should acknowledge the fundamental changes in the regional balance of power and operate within the framework of a new geopolitical reality.
  • External Actor Engagement: Actively involve friendly external actors to counterbalance China’s influence in the region.
  • Flexible Diplomacy: Adopt a flexible diplomatic approach that engages with multiple actors in neighboring countries, focusing on reducing anti-India sentiments.
  • Diplomatic Workforce Enhancement: Address the shortage of diplomats by significantly enhancing India’s diplomatic workforce to effectively implement foreign policy objectives.

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