India is a growing power in Southeast Asia that could challenge China’s hegemony

  • India is taking great steps to expand its influence in Southeast Asia, a move that will allow countries to counter China’s hegemony in the region.
  • “India is certainly becoming more ambitious in Southeast Asia. There is no doubt about it,” said Harsh V. Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Institute, a New Delhi-based think tank.
  • “India’s ‘Look East’ policy began in 1991, long before China’s growing assertiveness became a real problem in Southeast Asia,” said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation.

Indian Army T-90 Bheeshma tanks roll during the final full rehearsal for the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 23, 2009. (Photo credit: RAVEENDRAN / AFP via Getty Images)

Ravindran | Afp | Getty Images

India is taking great steps to expand its influence in Southeast Asia, a move that will allow countries to counter China’s hegemony in the region.

“India is certainly becoming more ambitious in Southeast Asia. There is no doubt about it,” said Harsh V. Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Institute, a New Delhi-based think tank.

He added that it had become “more forceful and more outspoken” regarding its relations with the region.

The growing competition between India and China is seen as affecting New Delhi’s strategic calculations in strengthening its presence.

For a long time, Indian leaders have been “hesitant and reticent” about the country’s role in the region, due to Its own tensions with China along the Himalayan border-note pant.

Relations have been tense since a border clash with Chinese forces in 2020 that resulted in at least one death 20 Indian soldiersAccording to the Indian Army.

“I think the understanding in New Delhi was: let’s not get into the waters in which China might be most upset,” Pant told CNBC, adding that Beijing had “enormous potential to make trouble for India.”

He added that since China did not “budge” on the border issue, it “now feels there has been no real return to its cautious attitude towards Southeast Asia.”

India’s foreign ministry did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

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In June, the Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, most notable The border conflict was affecting relations between the two countries.

Pant said that until Sino-Indian relations achieve “some sense of normalization”, New Delhi has few options other than stepping up relations with countries – “big or small around China’s periphery, to ensure they have some leverage”.

In recent months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has stepped up its outreach to countries in the region with the aim of counterbalancing Beijing’s aggression.

This step strengthens India’s continuity Comprehensive strategic partnership with Southeast Asia.

in June, New Delhi said it would hand over a naval warship to Vietnamsaid Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow at the Hudson Institute, based in Tokyo, in the latest sign of a growing defense relationship between the two countries.

“India also trains pilots and ground crew for combat aircraft of the Vietnamese Air Force. Indian naval vessels visit Vietnam frequently,” he added.

Nagao, who specializes in defense strategy, foreign policy and security alliances, said Vietnam is now planning to buy supersonic and surface-to-air missiles from India.

India’s ‘Look East’ policy “It started in 1991, long before China’s increasing assertiveness became a real problem in Southeast Asia,” said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation.

“But by 2014, when Modi turned politics into ‘the law of the East,’ it was clear that the region and the world were dealing with a different kind of China — China under Xi — that sought to project its power more often and farther than Chinese shores,” he said. Referring to Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Activists display anti-Chinese banners and flags during a protest in a park in Manila on June 18, 2019, after a Chinese ship collided last week with a Filipino fishing boat that sank in the disputed South China Sea and sailed away, sparking outrage. Photo by Ted Elgipp/AFP) (Photo by Ted Elgipp/AFP via Getty Images)

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India caused an uproar in late June when its foreign minister and his Philippine counterpart, Enrique Manalo, issued a joint statementurges China to abide by the 2016 Hague Arbitration Award on the South China Sea.

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The joint statement sparked speculation that New Delhi was moving away from its neutral stance over competing territorial claims in the region.

In a landmark ruling on the South China Sea dispute, the International Court in The Hague unanimously ruled in favor of the Philippines in a landmark case against China.

China rejected the 2016 ruling, describing it as “illegal and void”.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea — an assertion rejected by Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines among others, in competing claims to the resource-rich waterway.

Rand Grossman said that India “is working to strengthen strategic relations – diplomatic, economic and security – with Southeast Asian countries to help them balance or hedge against Chinese power or confront it directly.”

“This is particularly salient in the maritime domain, namely the South China Sea, where overlapping sovereignty disputes threaten regional stability and openness,” he added.

China’s expanding influence Belt and Road Initiative In Southeast Asia India’s accounts are also leading, according to Joanne Lin, co-curator of the Center for ASEAN Studies at ISEAS, at the Yusuf Isaac Institute in Singapore.

As a result, Lin added, “protecting India’s security, especially maritime security, will be important.”

Most countries in the region have Supporting the huge infrastructure project in China Xi’s signature political initiative aims to expand Beijing’s influence through a network of roads, railways and sea links across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Observers point out that Beijing’s tougher foreign policy, along with the political and economic influence it can wield through the Belt and Road, has raised concerns in the region.

India is not a follower of either side. It continues to maintain a very independent line in its foreign policy, which suits a large number of Southeast Asian countries.

harsh f. pant

Observer Research Foundation

Re-adjusting to an evolving international order primarily defined by the rivalry between China and the United States has proven particularly challenging for Southeast Asian countries.

Regional states “engage India because it is a force in its own right,” noted Prashanth Parameswaran, a Wilson Center fellow and founder of ASEAN One Week Newsletter.

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He added that they see India as “an important part of a broader strategy to shape a multipolar system rather than one centered around China or dominated by bipolar competition between the US and China”.

a regional survey A publication by the Center for ASEAN Studies at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak showed that India’s standing has improved significantly among Southeast Asian countries, although its neutral position In Russia’s war against Ukraine.

said Lynn of ISEAS, one of the authors of the survey.

Observers say that New Delhi also offers a “way out” for countries seeking to remain neutral in the US-China conflict.

“India is not in the camp of either side,” said Pant of the Observer think tank in New Delhi. He added, “It continues to maintain a very independent line in its foreign policy, which suits a large number of Southeast Asian countries.”

A survey of Southeast Asia in February showed that while China remained the most influential and strategic power in Southeast Asia, its stature had diminished.

China is still considered the most influential economic power by 59.9% of respondents. However, its influence has decreased significantly from 76.7% in 2022, as countries have become more wary of Beijing.

Grossman noted that many countries that “do not trust China in the region – namely the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore” see India as “an additional partner to help counter Beijing”.

However, analysts noted that New Delhi’s recent moves to deepen regional ties will not go unnoticed by Chinese leaders.

Lin of ISEAS said China would be “cautious” about the developments. She added that “India’s growing influence in Southeast Asia and strengthening defense cooperation” among other issues “will lead to unease in Beijing.”

“China will be watching this carefully and will send its own messages,” Pant noted.

He added that given that Southeast Asia “is a key pillar of the Indo-Pacific strategy,” New Delhi would not be deterred. India’s push into the region will continue to gain momentum.”

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