[op-ed snap] Mind the power gap

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Mains Paper 2: IR | India and its neighborhood- relations.

Op-ed discusses China’s recent developments in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Apart from the Doklam stand off now China increasing their influence on Indian Ocean region.

Once you are done reading this op-ed, you will be able to fully attempt the below.

Do you think China’s growing ties with Myanmar and Sri Lanka leads to strategic encirclement of India? What are its implications for India?

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Special economic zone, Kyaukpyu Island, Hambantota port, Sittwe port

Mains level: India-China relations.


News

Context:

  1. Sri Lanka, Colombo handed over the Hambantota port, sitting astride the sea lines of communication of the Indian Ocean, to a Chinese consortium.
  2. Similarly in Myanmar, the government is close to a deal with a Chinese company for the commercial development of the Kyaukpyu island on its Bay of Bengal coast. 
  3. Chinese companies are promising that the two deep sea ports will integrate Lanka and Myanmar into the global trade and production networks.

India’s concern over these new developments?

  1. Once Yangon signs on the dotted line, the Chinese company will start building a deep seaport, special economic zone and an industrial park.
  2. The port contracts lay the foundation for China’s long-term economic influence in India’s immediate neighbourhood.
  3. India no longer has the luxury of contesting Chinese strategic incursions into the Subcontinent one piece at a time.
  4. While some of India’s concerns have been addressed in Colombo, Delhi has not been a part of Myanmar’s discourse on Kyaukpyu.

Kyaukpyu Island significance?

  1. Sittwe port which India is building is not far from Kyaukpyu
  2. Kyaukpyu becomes the energy gateway for petroleum imports into western China through a twin oil and gas pipeline system running from the Bay of Bengal.
  3. But Delhi did not have the bandwidth to compete with China on the Kyaukpyu project worth $10 billion

Four other factors add to India’s problem.

  1. China, under Xi Jinping, has brought abundant political will to match the expanded national power resources. Xi thinks the era of China deferring to other nations’ sensitivities is now over and now its others’ turn to adapt to Beijing’s rise as the foremost power in Asia.
  2. Widening strategic gap between China and India. China’s current GDP is five times larger than that of India and its defence spending is four times as big.
  3. India had underestimated the implications of China’s rise for India. Changing power balance in Beijing’s favour could alter the dynamic on India’s long and disputed frontier with China.
  4. India had taken its regional primacy for granted all these decades. China had never accepted the proposition that the Subcontinent is India’s exclusive sphere of influence. It now has the will and resources to challenge that premise on a routine basis. That leaves India scrambling to restore its economic and strategic centrality in the region.

Power gap with Beijing

  1. Delhi is now far more conscious of the existential challenges that the power gap with Beijing generates.
  2. China has been transforming the southern tip of Sri Lanka and the western seaboard of Myanmar over the last few years. But Delhi is doing nothing with its forgotten national asset in the Bay of Bengal — the Andaman and Nicobar Island chain.
  3. The longer Delhi takes to act vigorously on its frontier region development, military modernisation and regional economic integration, the greater will be its degree of difficulty in coping with China’s rise and future Doklams, Hambantotas, and Kyaukpyus.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-China
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