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Why is Modi’s “Neighborhood First” policy in a shambles?

SAM SPECIAL-ENG-30-06-2020-2

Recently, India and Pakistan exchanged fire in the disputed area of Kashmir, causing dozens of casualties on both sides and much damage to property. Although India and Pakistan have signed a ceasefire agreement, the situation in the border areas remains tense.

At the same time, there was a dispute between India and Nepal in the Kalapani area, over sovereignty. On the morning of June 12, a number of Indians stormed the Salahi (Sarlahi) area in southern Nepal and clashed with the Nepalese armed police, resulting in injuries. There was also a fierce stand-off on the border between China and India. India's relations with other neighboring countries, such as Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives, face a variety of problems. The current situation around India runs counter to the "Neighborhood First" policy supposedly pursued by the Narendra Modi government.

Frequent border disputes and conflicts between India and its neighbors have attracted the attention of the international community. With regard to the active involvement of the United States in the conflict between India and neighboring countries, Trump has repeatedly suggested that he mediate in the India-Pakistan conflict. He had also offered to mediate in the Sino-Indian conflict. This makes India's already complex environment, extremely complex. 

Also Read: India needs to introspect on why it is friendless in its own region

Since the beginning of this century, India has greatly increased its weight in the Indo-Pacific and global geopolitical arena. It has increasingly approached the center stage of the Indo-Pacific and Asian multipolar geopolitical arena. It has become one of the main forces in the regional geopolitical competition. 

But the premise of becoming a world power is to become a regional power first. Doing a good job with neighboring countries and having a good geo-political environment are the foundation of regional power. When the Modi government took office, it regarded "Neighborhood First" as the cornerstone of its foreign policy and worked hard to establish benign relations with neighboring countries. Taking one main axis, two platforms and three fulcrums as the path, India was to give priority to the politics and diplomacy of its neighbors in South Asia. It was to strengthen its ties with its neighbors and enhances its soft power with religious and cultural ties; and try to squeeze China's strategic space in South Asia.

Lifts-1-SAM Special-English-30 June-Why is Modi’s “Neighborhood First” policy in a shambles

India’s policy can be broken into the following elements: By actively promoting regional development frameworks such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative and Mengbu Indonesia, India would be dealing with China's growing influence in South Asia. By promoting closer connectivity and integration of the subcontinent, India would establish a South Asian order with India as the core. India's active South Asia policy will undoubtedly contribute to peace and prosperity in South Asia and be beneficial to South Asia, Asia and the world.

However, these guiding principles have not significantly improved India's diplomacy in the neighborhood. On the contrary, disturbing factors in India's neighborhood have appeared frequently. The regional geostrategic security environment is facing severe challenges. In particular, the special geographical location, the combination of land and sea around India and the resulting complex geo-environment have put India in a challenging situation.  

The law of the transfer of power based on the distance between countries-- "the closer, the stronger, the farther, the weaker", is also deeply affecting India and its two neighbors. If there are clear borders between neighboring countries, normal political, economic, cultural and security exchanges generally, the chances of conflict are less. But if there are territorial disputes with neighboring countries, accompanied by political, economic, cultural and security issues, then the possibility of conflict is greatly increased.

Also Read: Post-Galwan, India has never been so lonely in South Asia

On the face of it, the frictions between India and its neighboring countries appear to be sudden and temporary, but in fact, they are a concentrated reflection of the long-term contradiction between India and its neighboring countries, especially the long-term shelving of territorial disputes.

Of course, the strengthening of nationalism and populism in India and its neighboring countries has led to the outbreak of disputes that could have been controlled. In South Asia, where the epidemic of novel coronavirus is serious, some domestic politicians use the country's diplomatic problems to control public sentiment and divert attention from the collapse of the domestic economy.

Through the immature ideological expressions of the people, and in order to achieve the purpose of winning domestic support, and winning sympathy in the international community, politicians create a public opinion momentum, which results in India facing a conundrum.

Lifts-2-SAM Special-English-30 June-Why is Modi’s “Neighborhood First” policy in a shambles

The periphery of India is facing severe challenges, but there are also ways to solve the problems. The influencing factors in India's peripheral predicament include India, neighboring countries and international factors. If such problems are solved by demonstrating India's hard power, relying on unilateral concessions from neighboring countries and avoiding international intervention, exacerbation of tensions is bound to follow.

Therefore, in the light of the development and predicament in India's neighboring diplomacy, it is necessary to accurately judge the current trend of India's relations with its neighboring countries, adhere to the principle of good-neighborliness and friendship, and develop good relations with all neighboring countries. India must not unilaterally sacrifice the interests of other countries to achieve its own goals. 

India should regard dialogue and cooperation as the mainstream of interaction with neighboring countries. India should listen to the demands of neighboring countries, carry out interactive exchanges on the basis of peaceful consultations, and actively participate in peripheral cooperation to achieve mutual benefits and produce a win-win result.


(Huang Dekai & Huang Kanare both are scholars in the Sichuan Police College. Huang Dekai is Ph.D in International Relations)