Things have been going well for India since Narendra Modi assumed the office of Prime Minister in 2014. Industry is expanding and living standards are increasing. GDP growth was 7.2 percent at the end of last quarter and is anticipated to reach 7.5 percent by March 2019.
Modi’s stature is also doing well. He currently enjoys strong support from his party, his Make in India initiative is moving forward. It’s moving forward slower than hoped, but still progressing in the right direction.
Modi currently enjoys a prominent position on the international stage. He gave the keynote at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, where he touted Make in India to encourage foreign direct investment in India.
At the top of this positive wave is rapport with the United States and President Trump. While there are issues about H-1B visas, India’s relationship with the United States is as strong as ever. Modi and Trump and their countries are in accord on increasing trade, resisting Islamist jihad and, especially, concern over China.
The China Question
China is vigorously flexing its muscles by conducting major military exercises in the South China Sea, expanding trade globally, and pouring billions into foreign investments. A big cause for concern are the recent actions of President Xi Jinping. In short order, he consolidated power and amended the constitution to enable him to serve unlimited terms, effectively making himself “President for Life” — if he so desires.
Xi has been aggressively expanding the People’s Liberation Army, increasing the use of information technology to, in his words, “win wars,” and permitting military commanders to speak publicly in a bellicose manner about China’s expansionist intentions.
Particularly troubling is China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative with the goal of linking China and Europe via infrastructural land and maritime developments along the Silk Road. China plans to spend $150 billion annually developing the route for “increased trade.” This move will give China clear overland access to the Arabian Sea — directly to the naval base they are constructing in Pakistan.
China has also shown their commitment to developing the Maldives, which have traditionally been closely within India’s sphere of influence. This is all part of China’s “String of Pearls” tactic — designed to encircle India by sea through a network of Chinese military and commercial facilities developed by China in countries bordering the Indian Ocean.
These moves are a direct challenge in India’s backyard, with the goal of enabling China to dominate Asia economically and politically.
How Will India Push Back?
India can’t afford to let China’s moves in South Asia go unchallenged. Doing so will result in a loss of regional influence. Additionally, Indian companies will be shut out of construction and development contracts that will instead go to Chinese companies and see regional trade tilt heavily in China’s favor.
While military tensions exist concerning the Doklam plateau and other border regions, relations between both countries remain amicable. Although skewed heavily in China’s favor, trade is the primary reason for both nations to maintain cordiality — China is India’s largest trading partner, with a bilateral trade of $72 billion.
It’s unlikely that China will risk its long-term plans on military actions. Their history is largely one of attempted conquest and ultimate failure — one aircraft carrier, whose pilots are still not trained, isn’t a great way to project power. Particularly when it comes to a determined and capable foe — India’s military consistently rates as one of the world’s four strongest.
Additionally, because China’s new-found wealth rests heavily on the willingness of Western nations continuing to purchase its exports, she is unlikely to hazard any foolish moves.
Still, the Modi administration is wise to be concerned about the long run impact of China’s “String of Pearls” and “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Presently, no one is willing to openly predict the eventual impact on India. Whatever happens, it can’t hurt for Modi to expand relations with regional partners like Japan and Australia and, above all, continue strengthening his relationship with the United States and President Trump.