Mar 17th 2015

India’s Political Influence in Asia

by Daniel Wagner

Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions, a Connecticut-based cross-border risk advisory firm and author of the book Managing Country Risk. CRS provides a range of services related to the management of cross-border risk. He is also Senior Advisor with Gnarus Advisors.

"No one should underestimate India’s strategic capabilities and commitment to gaining even greater regional and global influence in international affairs"

China’s gradual political, economic and military rise continues to be a primary focus among many decision making bodies throughout Asia and beyond. But often lost in the discussion is India, its strategic objectives, its political influence in Asia and the world. As India continues to gain its footing on the global stage, it continues to revise the manner in which it approaches bilateral, regional and international relations. India is, arguably, on the right track in terms of blending long-term military strategy with political and economic goals. It is imperative to examine the state of play between India and a host of regional states, to better assess India’s ability to shape its own geopolitical reality.

Japan

The signing of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between India and Japan will soon make each country the other’s largest trading partner. Both remain concerned about the rising power and influence of China. India has, for some time, been alarmed by China’s military links with Pakistan and its growing presence in the Indian Ocean. Japan is still coming to terms with being supplanted as the world’s second biggest economy, and by China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. The deal is the latest in an emerging pattern of greater economic cooperation between India and a region looking over its shoulder at China. 

The burgeoning India-Japan relationship may ultimately impact China’s ability to achieve its own objective of strengthening bilateral ties with a number of countries in Asia. India is effectively reinforcing the concept of Japanese centrality in Asian affairs, something that had been waning in recent years. 

Southeast Asia

While being historically suspicious of Indian intentions, Southeast Asia holds a much stronger dislike of China than of India. Chinese machinations in the region are still prominent in popular memory, given China’s 1979 invasion of Vietnam, its support of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia (1976-1979), and accusation of involvement in Indonesia’s 1965 coup. Furthermore, China still has unresolved border disputes with several nations in the region, including Bhutan, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia, as well as claiming a sizeable chunk of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Tibet, of course, remains a sore bone of contention in Sino-Indian relations. 

India’s diplomacy has been heavily focussed on East and South East Asia for 20 years now. Having already signalled the renewed prominence of India’s ‘Look East’ policy, it aims to improve economic and political ties with the region and attempts to carve out a place for India in the larger Asia-Pacific dynamic. Being the world’s largest democracy lends a certain degree of transparency to India’s foreign policy motives, something that is worryingly absent from relation with China. A regional order dominated over the past two decades by open markets, international cooperation and an evolving democratic community backed by Washington’s diplomatic and security ties, has also facilitated India’s growing stature among its regional neighbours.

The stark difference in political systems, however, has at times, appeared to be the Achilles heel for both sides. For India, adherence to democratic norms, checks and balances has hindered its ability to achieve its larger regional goals. For example, for decades, India refused to have any relationship with Myanmar, leaving an opening for China and long-held political tension with Sri Lanka hindered closer ties between the two countries – a gap that China since has fully exploited. 

Myanmar

India’s relations with Myanmar have fluctuated between friendship, neglect and outright hostility, yet India’s rise on the international stage and Myanmar’s ‘democratic transition’ are forcing both governments to reassess the nature of bilateral relations based on regional geopolitical developments.

India views Myanmar’s emerging political transformation as a strategic and ideological opening that offers New Delhi an opportunity to dilute Chinese influence, while expanding India’s strategic depth. While India cannot expect to rival China’s influence in Myanmar in the near or even medium term, it can have an impact on that relationship. In turn, Myanmar stands to gain from a stronger relationship with India on a variety of levels, whereas China views the strengthening relationship between India and Myanmar as a strategic threat.

Since the 1990s, India’s approach to Myanmar’s government has been one of realism. India became one of the only eight governments in the world to sell arms to Yangon at that time, underscoring the degree to which the bilateral relationship fluctuated since independence. Indian companies’ investment in Myanmar is a small fraction of the country’s total foreign direct investment that has reached Myanmar, the majority of it from China. India is simply not in a position to effectively compete, and probably will not be for many years to come.

India’s lack of capacity to become an influential trade and investment partner is driven by several factors, which include India’s underdeveloped energy infrastructure that limits New Delhi’s capacity to transfer and distribute Myanmar’s oil and natural gas in India, the reality that the two countries’ mutual border is undeveloped, which contrasts with Myanmar’s border with China, and bureaucratic hurdles and red tape that impede the cross-border trade and investment process.

New Delhi’s interest in integrating India’s isolated northeast with the rest of the country will continue to provide Indian officials with an incentive to deepen economic, political and military ties with Myanmar. Yet, security dilemmas on both sides of the border constitute major concerns for Indian authorities. From Naypyidaw’s perspective, deeper ties with India can alleviate some of its own concerns about destabilising developments on its side of the border, while also demonstrating that the country can balance its partnership with China along with other regional actors. 

Given Myanmar’s economic and political dependence on Beijing, it should be expected that the government in Naypyidaw will only do so much, and with caution. Even if Myanmar’s relationship with China does not fundamentally shift (and we do not expect that it will), India – and other countries such as the United States and Japan – offer Naypyidaw greater leverage against Beijing by emphasising that Myanmar has other options. Chinese officials view the gradual development of economic, political and military relationships with India as a threat to Beijing’s unique relationship with the country.

Myanmar’s government understands the value it provides to both India and China. India’s security dilemmas and its interest in new sources of oil and natural gas will continue to drive its ambitions vis-à-vis Myanmar for the foreseeable future. At the same time, China’s access to the Bay of Bengal via Myanmar, and the security of energy accessibility via its landlocked southern provinces, make Myanmar an important strategic partner for Beijing. Within this context, deepening ties between India and Myanmar will remain an issue for China.

Comparative Advantages

For the time being, India and China will continue their respective economic and political ascent relatively harmoniously, as there is plenty of scope for both countries to flex their muscles in their own neighbourhood. China’s main allies in the region have been ill-chosen, with North Korea, Myanmar, and Pakistan all being perceived as bad boys for one reason or another. 

India, on the other hand, has aligned itself with countries where it appears to have more to gain than lose (Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam, amongst others). India also appears to be making more headway than China in the battle for hearts and minds, which bodes well for the long-term future of Indian relations throughout the region. This suggests that India has the upper hand in the medium-term. However, while China’s rise has been met with suspicion and in some cases alarm, it remains many Asian countries’ largest trade partner, donor, and source of investment.

Anyone who underestimates China’s ability to learn quick lessons and adapt to dynamic investment climates will be disappointed. China has proven itself to be a shrewd competitor in the global economic and political landscape, and its ability and willingness to hurl money at countries yearning for assistance will continue to enhance its influence throughout the region for many years to come.

By the same token, no one should underestimate India’s strategic capabilities and commitment to gaining even greater regional and global influence in international affairs. As one of the few giants of the developing world, India shares a unique space and responsibilities. Ultimately, the question is how well it can leverage its comparative advantages in a manner that will ensure its future security, while concurrently promoting economic growth.

Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and author of "Managing Country Risk", please see below for link to Amazon. For Country Risk Solutions' web site, please click here.

You can follow Daniel Wagner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/countryriskmgmt


Click here for ways to follow what's new on Facts & Arts.


 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."