Indian Media Says New Delhi Should Give Credible Alternatives To SL Instead Of 'Crying Wolf' About Chinese Investments

The Indian media has pointed out that instead of "crying wolf" about Chinese investments in Sri Lanka, the Indian government should step up and offer 'credible alternatives'. 

In an article appearing in 'Times of India', journalist Rudroneel Jhosh says, "just raising an alarm solves nothing. The countries in the neighbourhood dealing with China have elected governments. And those governments are supposed to look out for the interests of their own countries."

Following are excerpts from his article.

"In the last few days, there have been reports that have once again raised alarm regarding Chinese encirclement. This is predicated upon three recent events – the inking of a free trade agreement between China and the Maldives, Sri Lanka leasing out its Hambantota port to the Chinese for 99 years to repay some of its debt, and the victory of a leftist alliance in elections in Nepal. All three events are being read as developments that will aid China increase its footprint in South Asia. That may well be the case.

At the moment, what these South Asian countries want is investment in infrastructure and other measures that will boost their economies. And China has shown that it can deliver on this score. Hence, even if we agree that the deals are part of China’s larger regional strategy, there are no real grounds on which India can convince these countries to rebuff the Chinese. True, India has been flagging tough conditions associated with Chinese financing for some of these projects and deals. This is a valid point but it’s simply not enough to scuttle long-term Chinese investment. The fact is China is offering something highly attractive to India’s neighbours. And unless India can step up and offer an alternative, there’s no reason for these countries to refuse the Chinese.

Speaking of alternatives, Indian investments in neighbouring countries usually have a long gestation period. Take for example the Pancheshwar multipurpose project, the first joint hydro-power project that is to serve both India and Nepal. The project has been in the works for close to two decades and yet questions remain over its fate. Understandably, developing democracies have their own complications which often hamper their ability to deliver on concrete projects. But if China is willing to step in and fill the development gap, how can South Asian countries refuse?

At the end of the day, India and China have different advantages. China, no doubt, has excelled in delivering economic growth. India, on the other hand, offers soft skills and socio-political values as the world’s largest democracy. The latter is also very important since, to quote former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, growth alone can’t be the only objective but the quality of that growth too needs to be considered. Now, India may also want to get into the growth game and match China’s investment capacity in the region. But to actualise this, India would have to grow twice as fast as China – the latter’s economy is still growing faster, that too on a base that is five times higher.

Till we get to that point, it’s counterproductive to try and scare neighbouring countries about Chinese investments. Not only won’t they buy this, it would also damage whatever capital we have with them. Hence, instead of crying wolf, India should build up its own economic strength so that it is able to match China’s development offers in the neighbourhood. And that in turn would mean making real economic growth a religion in India – the Chinese have been worshipping GDP for three decades – instead of just trotting out convenient economic data from time to time. Unless we are able to offer credible economic alternatives, China will continue to increase its economic presence in South Asia."

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