India-China-Maldives Triangle: Is India ready to be a regional hegemon?

By Abhijit Korde                                                                                                                      Image

The India-China-Maldives Triangle: Is India ready to be a regional hegemon?

India has by and large sought to balance own strategic interests in nations within its sphere of influence, without interfering in domestic politics of sovereign nations. Often, this ideological position has resulted in strategic paradoxes.

India wants to be recognized as a global power but still cannot let go of its isolationism. If India fancies itself as a security guarantor in Indo-Pacific, it is the need of the hour to develop a more proactive policy in its immediate neighborhood. However, the Indian approach towards a recent crisis in the Maldives shows that India is not yet ready to take up a role of regional police.

While assessing the arguments for intervention during the state of emergency declared by President Yameen in Maldives, it would be prudent to calculate the wider implications and legal hurdles. The need for authorization for the use of force, the question of the impact of a unilateral action on UNSC reform advocated by India, and the implicit nod to potential future intervention by other states are all factors that need to be considered.

Firstly, the unilateral intervention is not permitted as per the UN Charter, and would be illegal under international law. While previous intervention by India in the Maldives in 1988 could be brought up, it was at the express invitation of the government of the Maldives and within the bounds of legality per the ICJ Nicaragua decision. In contrast, Nasheed’s appeal, coming from an exiled politician, does not offer India a solid reason to intervene. Moreover, even if India decides to intervene, it cannot pull out of the country easily, since it must facilitate a peaceful transition of power through elections. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that a successor to Yameen would sustain his power. Nasheed himself was forced out of power in 2012.

Secondly, even more important for India is to consider China’s reaction on India’s military intervention. In its statement on the situation in Maldives, China remained circumspect with no direct criticism of Yameen. Beijing’s interest in Maldives is strategic. China has already issued warning against any military step to be taken by India. While Maldives is important to India, it is not important enough to drag India into an unnecessary face-off with China in the Indian Ocean.

Furthermore, India’s latest intervention in its neighborhood did not pan out well. In response to Nepal’s new constitution, which disfavored the ethnic Madhesis, who share close ties with India across the border, the Narendra Modi government imposed an unofficial trade blockade on Nepal. It alerted neighboring countries that are heavily reliant on Indian trade and paved the way for China to outshine India in Nepal, as evidenced by Nepal’s signing of a fuel supply deal with Beijing. Moreover, in Sri Lanka the Rajapakse clan of Sri Lanka Freedom Party with the history of anti-India stance had a victory in last polls. Therefore, if Indian’s intervention in the Maldives goes awry, the chance is that it will drive Malé toward China’s sphere of influence at a faster pace if not immediately, then later. India clearly does not want that to happen.

Thirdly, Indians are going for polls next year. Although Narendra Modi’s position seems robust, there are indications that he could face strong competition from the opposition. Given the importance of this year in domestic politics, the Modi government is expected to stay risk-averse in the foreign policy front.

India, thus, continues to maintain political pressure on Malé while keeping the options for dialogue open. If India wants to see itself as a global power, it must maintain its influence over the countries in its vicinity. In dealing with the Maldives, India must have a more coercive and forceful approach.


About the author

Abhijit Korde is a member of Information Services team at MitKat.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions represented in this blog are of the author and do not represent those of MitKat. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.

Published On - Mar 22,2018


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