- A COVID blot on India’s foreign policy canvas
- The second wave of COVID-19 and its agonising consequences, prompting the country to accept foreign aid after a gap of 17 years, is bound to have far-reaching strategic implications for India.
- As a direct consequence of the pandemic, India’s claim to regional primacy and leadership will take a major hit, its ‘leading power’ aspirations will be dented, and accentuate its domestic political contestations.
GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbors, International Developments and Policies affecting India’s Interests)
To what extent will the raging pandemic affect India’s claim to regional primacy and leadership? Discuss, throwing light on the direct and indirect consequences of the second wave of Covid-19 on India’s foreign policy. (15 Marks)
Dimensions of the Article:
- Strategic Consequences of India’s COVID-19 Crisis
- Implications on foreign investments
- Impact on Regional primacy
- Losing Balance with the Quad
- Strategic autonomy
- Expectations of U.S. Relations
Strategic Consequences of India’s COVID-19 Crisis
- As the magnitude of the second wave of India’s coronavirus surge became increasingly clear to the world, various countries (around 40 nations) all around the globe pledged their commitments to send medical supplies, including oxygen, vaccine materials, and therapeutics to India, while seeking additional ways to address India’s crisis.
- COVID-19 already inflicted a crushing blow to India’s economy and India now faces this wave of the virus exhausted and depleted due to a devastating combination of new viral strains and inadequate public health preparations.
- For India, these challenges have coincided with its aspirations to play a leading role in global politics as a role shaper. Especially considering that it is now having to contend with the structural realities of a rising power in its vicinity (China), one that doesn’t want to play by the rules set by others.
- China poses to India is, in many ways, a microcosm of the challenge the Chinese Communist Party’s malevolent intent poses to the liberal order. As powers rise and fall, they inevitably produce consequences; some are structural about balancing and band-wagoning, while others are institutional and normative.
Implications on foreign investments
- COVID-19 has impacted varied industries alike resultantly restricting the feasibility of mergers and acquisitions including inbound foreign investments in India. The global and domestic economic disruption has caused delay (in several cases indefinitely) in completing bona fide transactions. The global supply chain fallout and restricted international borders have forced investors to take a relook at the valuation of the assets underlying the ongoing and future deals.
- As per a report released by CRISIL (Indian analytical company) in 2020 the private equity and venture capital investments have grown significantly over the past five years but have shown a downward trend since the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020.
- The report states that monthly investments in March-June 2020, declined about 60-70% as compared to the monthly average of the last three years.
Impact on Regional primacy
- India’s traditional primacy in the region was built on a mix of material aid, political influence and historical ties.
- The country’s geopolitical decline is likely to begin in the neighbourhood itself, a strategic space which New Delhi has been forced to cede to Beijing over the past decade or so.
- Now, India’s political influence is steadily declining, its ability to materially help the neighbourhood will shrink in the wake of Covid-19, and its historical ties alone may not maintain India’s regional hegemony. The Second COVID wave has quickened the demise of India’s regional primacy.
- As a result, South Asian states are likely to board the Chinese bandwagon, if they haven’t already. COVID-19, therefore, comes at a time when India’s standing in the region is already shrinking: the pandemic will unfortunately quicken the inevitable.
The China Factor
- China has been already pushing India in its strategic space (i.e., Indian subcontinent) due to its chequebook diplomacy. [Chequebook diplomacy, is used to describe a foreign policy which openly uses economic aid and investment between countries to curry diplomatic favour.]
- The second wave of Covid-19 has quickened this process, as India’s ability to stand up to China stands vastly diminished today: in material power, in terms of balance of power considerations, and political will.
Losing Balance with the Quad
- Covid-19, will prevent any ambitious military spending or modernisation plans and limit the country’s attention on global diplomacy and regional geopolitics.
- With reduced military spending and lesser diplomatic attention to regional geopolitics, India’s ability to project power and contribute to the growth of the Quad will be uncertain.
- Covid-19 has led to a general economic distress, a fall in foreign direct investment and industrial production, and a rise in unemployment will also limit India’s strategic ambitions. Post-Covid-19, Indian foreign policy is therefore likely to be a holding operation.
- India is pivotal to the Indo-Pacific project, but with India’s inability to take a lead role and China wooing smaller states in the region will eventually turn the balance of power in China’s favour.
- The pandemic would, at the very least indirectly, impact India’s policy of maintaining strategic autonomy- the strategic consequences of the pandemic are bound to shape and structure New Delhi’s foreign policy choices as well as constrain India’s foreign policy agency.
- It could, for instance, become more susceptible to external criticism for, after all, New Delhi cannot say ‘yes’ to just aid and ‘no’ to criticism.
- A post-COVID-19 New Delhi might find it harder to resist demands of a closer military relationship with the U.S.
Expectations of U.S. Relations
- A post-COVID-19 India might find it harder to resist demands of a closer military relationship with the U.S.
- With the rise of China and India’s Covid-19-related troubles could prompt the US to normalise relations with China.
- Other potential impact of COVID-19’s devastating return and the damage it has done would be that India might be forced to be more conciliatory towards China.
- Every crisis opens up the possibility for change and new thinking. As the diplomatic bandwidth for expansive foreign policy goals would be limited, in post-Covid-19, Indian foreign policy is unlikely to be business as usual. However, Covid-19 may have opened precisely such an opportunity to the world’s least integrated region.
- Covid-19 will also open up new regional opportunities for cooperation especially under the ambit of SAARC, an initiative that already saw some small beginnings during the first wave of the pandemic.
- India might do well to get the region’s collective focus on ‘regional health multilateralism’ to promote mutual assistance and joint action on health emergencies such as this.
-Source: The Hindu