Friday, July 8, 2011




China is not a South Asian power, but it has acquired an important South Asian presence by taking advantage of certain factors which work in its favour and to India’s detriment:

(a). Firstly, no contentious issues bedevil its relations with any of the South Asian nations. It has not allowed the absence of an agreement with Bhutan on the border issue and its concerns over the activities of Tibetan refugees from Nepalese territory to come in the way of its strengthening its bilateral relations with the countries of the South Asian region. As against this, persisting problems in India’s bilateral relations with these countries work to India’s detriment. These countries have a higher comfort level in their relations with China than in their relations with India.

(b).Secondly, there is a huge hunger for the development of infrastructure in the South Asian counties in the form of ports, railways, roads etc. China, which has built up a huge cash reserve from its surplus external trade balances, has been able to meet their requirements of funds for infrastructure projects. Indian ability in this regard is severely limited. China has built up a large reserve of construction engineers of world class with experience in developing the infrastructure under difficult conditions in China. It has been able to utilise them for its construction projects in these countries. India’s over-focus on the IT sector and under-focus on the engineering sector have come in the way of building a similar pool of construction engineers. As a result, China has been better able to meet the infrastructure requirements of the South Asian countries than India.

( c ) Thirdly,China has been aggressive in meeting the requirements of these countries for arms and ammunition. It has also been actively helping Pakistan in developing a civil and military nuclear capability. There have been reports that it might help Bangladesh in developing a civil nuclear capability.

2.It is important for India to challenge China’s monopoly in the infrastructure development sector. Presence in the infrastructure sector has a strategic importance. We must be able to find the funds and the required number of construction engineers for this. India has three advantages over China which it must exploit vigorously to increase its strategic presence in the region and to counter the Chinese presence.

(a).Firstly, India provides a huge market next door for the products of these countries. Their traders value the Indian market more than the Chinese market. We should be generous in our trade concessions in order to keep them attracted to India and prevent them from drifting towards China.

(b).Secondly, India could play an important role in helping these countries develop their educational facilities such as institutions for technology studies.

(c).Thirdly, culturally, the people of these countries still look up to India and not to China. India’s soft power has to be effectively utilised for strengthening our presence and influence in these countries. China is not in a position to compete with us in soft power.

3.Whether India should compete with China in selling arms and ammunition and nuclear technology to these countries has to be carefully considered keeping in view the implications of the likely use of Indian arms and ammunition by these countries against their dissident elements, which often look up to India for moral support. As regards the supply of nuclear technology, India may not be in a position to providee the kind of financial back-up that China provides.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )


nri2008 said...

Bravo Weel said ramanji! But has the top Indian political leadrship the maturity and foresight to seize the intiative?Future PM in waiting is more anxious to score points in Batta-Parsaul ................and is sure to have crash landing in UP polls as well. Dynastic politics has been the bane of India and will continue to cast big shadow and deny opportunities to the citizens of India. Why does India have money to squander on CWG but cannot [provide quality eduication to millions of deserving school children in rural and urabn India. As a strategic expert I do hope you will shed light on the grave implications of this short sighted policy ion security and integrity of India. A huge mass of illiterate, unemployed and dienchanted youth are receipr for diasater and ready pool of recuits for maoists and underworld criminal and terorists groups------SURE RECIPE FOR BIG IMPENDING DISASTER TO STRIKE! The bitter irony is Indian leadership will wait for storm to break and then look to firefight as usual with disastrous consequences.

Esoteric said...

I disagree with your some of the causative factors of animosity towards India in the region.

- Indian bureacrats (..and some politicans) behave as arrogant rent seekers within India as rent seekers and replicate same behaviour outside.Within they are facing the music now wrt anti-corruption movement,outside India they are disliked to the 'core'

- In negotiations they tend to focus on taking all and giving nothing

- Communicate poorly or do not manage media well

- Insist on taking moral high ground or playing victim on most issues.

All the above are generic comments heard repeatedly from across the world in person or on the web..over many years.So its upto the IAS officers/Politicians to ignore them or look within.

Fact also is that irrespective of whether how Indian Govt has treated these countries in reality is correctly reflected in above comments or is just a perception is not important because in the ultimate analysis what matters is geo-politics.Had Kissinger not sent the USN ACs in 71 near Indian waters..we all might have lived through a different history.

But then Kissinger 'regretably' got it right.China and US managed since 1979 to mutually benefit from closer economic relations that also as a byproduct sustained the global economy.In 1991,India joined China in this 'shift' westwards but has been a reluctant 'liberaliser' compared to China,mostly owing to less trust that Indians have of foreigners and in their own Govt(..and as UPA has proven rightly so).

This lack of national 'character' is the key difference between India and China and continuation of Congress a guarantee of its 'lack'ing.

PS: Before blaming the Indian people for having less faith in the Govt and less unity,one's holding power must introspect as to why people just dont trust them and in effect each other.Elite culture is what drives a nations culture...

Shital Gandhi said...

excellent Sirji