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India's Growing Influence in Southeast Asia: A Strategy to Counterbalance China's Dominance
India's Ambitious Moves in Southeast Asia
India is making significant strides to broaden its influence in Southeast Asia, a strategy that could help other countries counterbalance China's dominance in the region. "India's ambition in Southeast Asia is unquestionable," said Harsh V. Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. India's approach towards the region has become more assertive and forthright, reflecting a strategic shift in its foreign policy.
The India-China Rivalry and its Implications
The escalating rivalry between India and China is believed to be a key factor influencing India's strategic decisions to strengthen its presence in Southeast Asia. Historically, Indian leaders have been cautious about their country's role in the region due to ongoing tensions with China along the Himalayan border. However, the border clash with Chinese forces in 2020, which resulted in the death of at least 20 Indian soldiers, has significantly strained relations between the two nations.
India's Strategic Partnerships in Southeast Asia
In light of these tensions, India's government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has ramped up its outreach to regional countries to counterbalance Beijing's aggression. This move reinforces India's ongoing comprehensive strategic partnership with Southeast Asia. For instance, in June, India announced it was gifting a naval warship to Vietnam, a clear sign of growing defense ties between the two nations.
India's 'Look East' Policy
India's 'Look East' policy, which began in 1991, has evolved into the 'Act East' policy under Modi's leadership. This policy shift reflects the changing geopolitical landscape, particularly the rise of a more assertive China under the leadership of Xi Jinping. India's strategic pivot towards Southeast Asia is seen as a response to this development.
India's Stance on the South China Sea Dispute
India made headlines in June when its foreign minister and his Filipino counterpart issued a joint statement urging China to abide by The Hague's 2016 arbitration decision on the South China Sea. This move sparked speculation that India was shifting away from its neutral stance on territorial disputes in the region. The South China Sea dispute is a contentious issue, with China claiming almost the entire sea—an assertion that is contested by several Southeast Asian nations.
India's Role in Countering Chinese Influence
India is strengthening its strategic ties—diplomatic, economic, and security—with Southeast Asian states to help them counterbalance or hedge against Chinese power. This is particularly relevant in the maritime sphere, where overlapping sovereignty disputes threaten regional stability. China's expanding influence through its Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia is also a factor driving India's strategic calculations.
India's Independent Foreign Policy
Despite the ongoing US-China rivalry, India maintains an independent foreign policy that appeals to many Southeast Asian countries. India is seen as a key player in shaping a more multipolar order rather than one dominated by US-China bipolar competition. A regional survey published by the ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute showed India's standing has improved significantly among Southeast Asian nations.
China's Waning Influence in Southeast Asia
While China remains the most influential power in Southeast Asia, its standing has diminished, according to a February survey. Several states in the region, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore, view India as an additional partner to help counter Beijing.
China's Reaction to India's Growing Influence
India's recent moves to deepen regional ties have not gone unnoticed by Chinese leaders. Analysts predict that China will be cautious about these developments. However, given that Southeast Asia is a central pillar of India's Indo-Pacific strategy, these concerns are unlikely to deter New Delhi. India's push into the region is expected to continue gaining momentum.
Implications for New Businesses Amidst India's Growing Influence in Southeast Asia
The escalating focus on Southeast Asia by India, a leading player in the global political arena, signals a significant shift in the geopolitical landscape. This could mean that new businesses, particularly those in the tech, defense, and maritime sectors, will need to adapt to an increasingly India-influenced market.
Opportunities and Challenges
On one hand, this presents considerable opportunities. The surge in demand for strategic partnerships and the growth potential highlighted by India's assertive foreign policy indicates fertile ground for new businesses to innovate and thrive. Particularly, startups in the tech and defense sectors could ride this wave to drive their growth.
On the other hand, the potential for geopolitical tensions and the unclear commercial returns on strategic investments highlight some of the challenges that new businesses might face. It's crucial for these businesses to not only focus on technological innovation but also on creating commercial value, as emphasized by India's 'Act East' policy.
In conclusion, while India's increased focus on Southeast Asia and the potential growth of the market present exciting opportunities, new businesses must navigate the challenges carefully. They need to ensure they are not only riding the India wave but also creating tangible commercial value. The companies that can strike this balance will be the ones that thrive in this new era.
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