Evaluate the impact of geopolitical shifts in the Indian Ocean region on India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, particularly in relation to the Maldives.

 

Why?

The increasing strategic competition in the Indian Ocean region is impacting India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and its relations with countries like the Maldives.

Approach:

Start your answer by introducing India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and its significance in the Indian Ocean region.

In the main body, discuss the impact of geopolitical shifts, especially focusing on the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and address specific areas like the ‘India Out’ campaign, China’s influence, economic engagements, and security cooperation.

Conclude on how India’s policy needs to adapt to these changes, emphasizing the importance of maintaining regional stability and strong bilateral relations.

 

Answer:

India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy is rooted in fostering strong and mutually beneficial relationships with its immediate neighbors, ensuring regional stability, and promoting economic development. This policy is central to India’s foreign strategy, given its geographic and strategic positioning in South Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Impact of Geopolitical Shifts in the Indian Ocean Region on India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy:

  • China’s Influence in the Maldives: China’s growing presence in the Maldives through infrastructure projects and economic investments challenges India’s traditional influence.
    • The China-Maldives Friendship Bridge.
  • Military and Security Concerns: India’s security concerns are amplified by Chinese naval presence and military developments in the Indian Ocean.
    • Chinese research vessels like the Xiang Yang Hong 03 are allowed port calls by both Maldives and Sri Lanka.
  • India Out Campaign in Maldives: symbolizes growing anti-India sentiment and reflects India’s challenge in maintaining influence amidst geopolitical competition.
    • This has necessitated a more nuanced diplomatic approach from India to reinforce its ties and counter negative perceptions while respecting the Maldives’ political autonomy.
  • Strategic Realignment with the Maldives: India’s recalibration of its relations with the Maldives is crucial to counterbalance China’s influence.
    • Increased engagement with the Maldives, seen in high-level visits and agreements, counters external influences.
  • Economic Leverage: India’s economic aid and investment in the Maldives aim to counterbalance Chinese financial influence.
    • India’s provision of a $1.4 billion financial assistance package to the Maldives in 2018 to counter Chinese debt.
    • India’s various infrastructure projects like the Greater Malé Connectivity Project.
  • Diplomatic Outreach to Sri Lanka: Balancing China’s influence in Sri Lanka through diplomatic and economic engagement.
    • India’s recent economic relief packages to Sri Lanka amid its economic crisis.
  • Leveraging US Interests: Collaborations with the US, like the Malabar naval exercises, demonstrate India’s strategy to align with global powers in safeguarding its regional interests.
  • Addressing Maritime Security: Joint maritime exercises and cooperation in maritime surveillance with Sri Lanka and the Maldives enhance regional security.
    • India’s participation in the Colombo Security Conclave.

Measures Needed to Strengthen ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy:

  • Enhanced Maritime Collaboration: Strengthening maritime security cooperation to ensure safe sea lanes and counter external threats.
  • Economic Integration and Assistance: Providing economic aid and enhancing trade ties to bolster regional economies and interdependence.
  • Cultural and People-to-People Ties: Promoting cultural exchanges, tourism, and educational cooperation to build strong societal bonds.
  • Robust Diplomatic Engagements: Maintaining high-level diplomatic engagements and dialogues to address issues and strengthen bilateral relations.
  • Regional Multilateralism: Active participation in regional forums like BIMSTEC and IORA to promote collective regional interests.

In the face of evolving geopolitical dynamics in the Indian Ocean region, India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy must adapt to ensure regional stability, counterbalance external influences, and maintain its strategic and economic interests, particularly in its relations with the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

‘+1’ Value Addition:

·         The significance of neighbourhood is pointed out by Waldo Tobler’s first law of geography “everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.”

Historically, India has never been a hegemonic power in the Indian Ocean.

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