Amidst the great power rivalry between China and the United States, India has emerged as the regional proxy of the latter. India and China share a historic rivalry over border issues. Moreover, India also wants to be the regional hegemon. However, China’s rapid rise as the world’s new superpower has shattered the Indian dream of regional hegemony. This has further infuriated the latter.

Following the notion of “the enemy of the enemy is a friend”, the United States and India have come closer in the last decade. Both countries seek to counter the accentuating influence of China in the South Asian region and beyond.

For this purpose, both are increasing their trade and military cooperation. India perceives China as a threat to its sovereignty as well. The United States, on the other hand, is worried due to China’s increasing influence. The United States shifted its focus from the Middle Eastern region to the Indo-Pacific to contain China. The United States needed a regional partner for this purpose. The United States’ policy of meddling in the domestic affairs of its allies and it’s declining soft power has tarnished its soft image among poor countries. Pakistan, a former US ally in the region, shares a history of fraternal ties with China.

Pakistan is hosting the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative – CPEC. Moreover, the former is struggling with economic and political crises. On the other hand, India has a stable economy and a great naval presence in the Indian Ocean, which poses a seminal threat to China’s trade. All this made India the most suitable choice for the United States to further its anti-China ambitions in the region.

Due to strengthening the Indo-US partnership, China is increasing its influence in the South Asian region. China is cementing its ties with regional countries. This collaboration between China and South Asian states allows the former to achieve its foreign policy and domestic ambitions. China seeks to secure its maritime trade via significant maritime routes in the Indian Ocean through these ties. India is anxious about the ascending domination of China in the region. The latter encircles the former by isolating it in the region and holding sway through the “String of Pearls” strategy.

China has invested in infrastructure and the energy sector in different South Asian countries under the BRI project to increase its influence in the region. China’s soft image and its policy of non-interference have persuaded the struggling regional economies to look at it as a suitable opportunity to fulfil their economic and infrastructural needs. The recent most substantiation of China’s successful manoeuvres in the region is the Maldives diplomatic drift away from India. The Maldives and India enjoyed cordial ties in the past. The former is known for its luxury resorts and stunning landscape. The nation’s economy is highly dependent on the tourism industry.

The majority of the tourists in the country come from India. However, relations between the two countries have been intensified following contentious remarks by the ministers of the incumbent government in the Maldives. This sparked huge resentment in India. People in India called for a boycott of tourism in the Maldives. The country has shifted its diplomatic tilt towards China. Maldivian President Muhammad Muizzu signalled this tilt by visiting China soon after the initiation of this conflict.

The reason behind this shift in the Maldivian foreign policy is the growing Chinese investment in the country and the region. Almost 1.37 billion USD has been invested in the Maldives by Chinese firms since 2014. Moreover, China is the biggest creditor of the Maldives. India’s eastern neighbour, Bangladesh, has also strengthened its relations with China in recent years. The shift in Bangladesh’s foreign policy became evident when the Prime Minister of the country, Sheikh Hasina, sent a letter to the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, for the first time in history.

Chinese influence on Bangladesh was the prime reason behind this shift in Bangladesh’s foreign policy, as the former is its largest trading partner. Moreover, the latter has received huge investment for the BRI project.

China’s military presence at the Hambantota port and in Djibouti has exacerbated India’s concerns about the former’s rising influence in the region. China has invested more than $150 billion in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal since 2018. Nepal has also demonstrated a significant tilt towards China over the past years. However, the country has not yet been part of any security alliance, considering its economic dependence on both the regional giants.

China has also increased its presence in the Indian Ocean, further threatening India. Amidst all this strategic manoeuvre in South Asia by China, India is rapidly being isolated in the region. Although the country is growing economically, yet the anti-India sentiment is rising among the South Asian nations, especially Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan. Besides the surging influence of China, India’s use of terrorism and meddling in the domestic affairs of its neighbours is the key reason behind its deteriorating relations with the neighbouring countries. India needs to reevaluate its foreign policy towards its neighbouring countries to maintain healthy relations with them. Otherwise, the country will have to face difficulties not only at the regional level but also at the global level as China is successfully encircling India.

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