Is India Really Losing Its Regional Superpower Status to China?

Stories of India losing its regional power and neighbourhood ties are running parallel to China gaining both. The Indian media is claiming that India has severed its neighbourhood ties with almost all neighbouring countries and the regional power of the nation is fast declining too with the intrusion of China.

The media in India is persistently portraying a helpless and isolated picture of India, and at the same time talking about China and it’s growing reign and superpower status. The fact is, all these statements about loss of regional power seem extremely exaggerated because if we look at India’s ties with Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Bangladesh, the reality is pretty different.

India Holds Regional Power and Favourable Ties: Key factors

India shares political, economic and military ties with almost all it’s neighbouring countries. In fact, these interdependent ties are actually strengthening. The nation can however work upon building more trust and goodwill but the favourable ties continue to prosper. When evaluating India’s regional power and its alliances with neighbourhood countries, there are many key considerations that must be assessed.

Firstly, India and its neighbouring countries are independent democratic nations. This makes them all positively tied together in the long run but smaller challenges are inevitable. Each of these democratic nations is similar in thought and practice, thus making them unified in that sense.

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Secondly, there looms a sense of identity politics across the world. because India is much larger in size and demographics, identity politics does come into play more often for the country. However, some political forces in the neighbouring countries find going against India in words and action, a favourable identity politics tactic. However, certain groups still see India as a force to reckon with and turn to the nation for assistance. This was clearly highlighted in the recent Maldives crisis.

Thirdly, all neighbouring sovereign states have the freedom to take action purely based on self-interest. Sometimes these actions may align with what India prefers and at other times it may oppose. India will in this regard always have a limited political hold. Interference and intervention by India in neighbouring countries and their politics will always be seen as unwanted, but this has nothing to do with losing out on regional power.

Fourthly, and lastly, although it is true that China’s dominance has increased, it in no way directly points at India losing its regional power or foothold. China has made alliances with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other neighbouring countries for India, but that has not affected the toes India shares with its neighbours. China has made investments in these countries and also tries to change it to a political involvement.

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Regional Power is Not an India Vs China Matter

The fact that most people, especially the media, is directly drawing parallels between the ascend and descend of regional power between India and China is misleading. The military presence exerted by China is still limited, whereas the regional power of India in terms of security and military ties with its neighbours is often overlooked. Additionally, although China has become a huge investor for all these neighbouring nations it is still not recognised in the top 5 importers for any of these nations. India, on the other hand, receives 94% from Bhutan and 63% from Nepal in exports.

Another point to consider is that although the India-Nepal ties are sometimes shaken, the two countries continue to have an open border and a large number of people from Nepal work in India without the need of a permit. China can never enjoy and replicate such ties. Additionally, turning to Bhutan, the country receives the largest share of Indian aid and on the other hand, does not have diplomatic ties with China.

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India’s Regional Power is Unruffled

Although on the surface it may seem like India is losing regional power and losing neighbourhood ties, a peek into the history of these neighbourhood alliances prove the contrary. India has and continues to have strong ties with its neighbouring countries and enjoys great economic, security, trade and political relationships with them. Small challenges creep up from time to time but the foundation remains unruffled. China is undoubtedly a growing superpower but weighing the regional power and influence of India and China on the same scale does not lead to factual conclusions.

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