It is the Asian century that we are currently living in, and the entire world is today focussing on the rise of two countries- India and the People’s Republic of China. Both of them increasingly getting recognised as competitors, or even adversaries, have risen very differently. India is a responsible, democratic power while China is an authoritarian bully.
As the two giants compete for greater roles in driving global growth, there is a stark difference in the manner in which New Delhi and Beijing have approached ties with regional stakeholders and global superpowers. India makes friends, while China buys governments. This is why China gets kicked out with regime changes, but India’s influence remains more or less permanent with few temporary obstacles in the worst-case scenario.
China doesn’t care about cultural ties, nor does it care about human values because it has none. Therefore, China builds partnerships, not friendships. It wins governments, or buys the loyalty of leaders like Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. The Dragon doesn’t care for its own people, let alone winning the hearts of people of other countries.
This inherent difference between India and China’s approach to the world at large is also visible in how Prime Minister Modi has formulated his foreign policy and how the Chinese President Xi Jinping has built a strategy to dominate and ravage other countries, both big and small.
Any keen geopolitical observer around the world will tell you that PM Modi values cultural ties more than any other leader. During his first swearing-in ceremony, he had leaders from India’s neighbours as foreign guests. Again in 2019, when he took oath as the Prime Minister for a second consecutive term, he invited the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) leaders.
India looked at countries in the nearby region- the Maldives and Sri Lanka as friends, China looked at them as assets for creating a string of pearls around India. Therefore, China had tried to gain favour with Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka, but when he was replaced by Maithripala Sirisena, Beijing’s presence in the island nation waned. China hasn’t recovered ever since.
Similarly, in Maldives, India’s influence had temporarily waned due to the growing Chinese influence in the archipelago. But as soon as pro-China Abdulla Yameen regime paved way for an India friendly President, Ibrahim Mohammed Solih, New Delhi was able to edge out China in the archipelago.
The same thing is happening in Nepal today. China has found a puppet regime in the Communist Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli. But India has made it a point not to hamper the centuries-old Indo-Nepal ties.
Fissures have appeared within the Nepal Communist Party, and the bloc led by former Prime Minister and party president Prachanda is demanding KP Sharma Oli’s resignation. As soon as the incumbent Prime Minister gets unseated, China will be edged out in Nepal too. In fact, the Nepal Communist Party was already headed for a split when the Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi had intervened to save the day for KP Sharma Oli.
Even beyond its neighbourhood, New Delhi’s foreign policy is dictated on the tenets of goodwill, mutual respect, and people-to-people contact. Prime Minister Modi strongly believes in encouraging a strong bond with other world leaders.
Whenever he travels to other countries, PM Modi makes it a point to put up a great show like he did during the Howdy Modi event in Houston, Texas in the United States. He interacts with the Indian diaspora, uses the language of a commoner on twitter, and strongly invokes cultural and traditional ties between India and the country that he is visiting.
This is how he has built strong ties with leaders from across the world- US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
When these leaders arrive in India, PM Modi gives them a good show too, and tells them how important their countries are to the people of India. The citizenry of India, and other countries and the relations inter se are central to PM Modi’s diplomatic strategy.
This is why the Namaste Trump event at Motera Stadium, Ahmedabad featuring Donald Trump and PM Modi earlier this year also turned out to be a grand success.
Prime Minister Modi has displayed that India wants to be a friend of other countries. His trips abroad are dominated by values of mutual respect and shared goodwill. This is why he has been doling out soft loans to all kinds of countries.
During Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s visit to India this year, New Delhi announced a 450 million US dollars to Colombo.
Last year, on his visit to Russia, PM Modi also extended a $1 billion line of credit to Russia for the development of the Far East region. This goodwill measure was also strategic because this resource-rich region is an area of misunderstanding and territorial claims between Moscow and Beijing.
China’s flagship programme- the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) brings along with it, unstainable debt for which the countries have to often pay up in terms of compromising territorial sovereignty.
As far as people-to-people contact is concerned China doesn’t have anything to offer. To someone outside China, the country looks like a prison confining 139 crore people. Mainland China still remains an enigma, even more so after China created the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Social media is blocked in China, and those who try to speak either end up dying or getting mysteriously disappeared. The news reports we get from Chinese State media are actually the Communist Party of China (CCP) statements that rarely carry truth.
While India is a country with unparalleled soft power, goodwill, and a harbinger of human values, China remains a back-stabbing bully without any real soft power. China’s foreign relations are transactional and temporary, while New Delhi’s foreign relations are time-tested and permanent.