Focus: GS-II International Relations

Introduction

  • As India-China border tensions continue to fester China is chipping away at India’s interests in South Asia.
  • China’s proximity to Pakistan, Nepal moving closer to China and China wooing Bangladesh by offering tariff exemption to 97% of Bangladeshi products – can be a major cause for concern.
  • Most South Asian nations are now largely dependent on China for imports despite geographical proximity to India.

Reinvigorating SAARC

  • Several foreign policy experts argue that India’s strategic dealing with China has to begin with South Asia.
  • In this regard, it is important to reinvigorate SAARC as India’s political interest in SAARC dipped significantly (due to increasing animosity with Pakistan).
  • India has been trying hard to isolate Pakistan internationally for its role in promoting terrorism in India.

What about Bimstec?

  • India has invested in other regional instruments, such as BIMSTEC, as an alternative to SAARC, however, BIMSTEC cannot replace SAARC for reasons such as lack of a common identity and history among all BIMSTEC members.
  • Moreover, BIMSTEC’s focus is on the Bay of Bengal region, thus making it an inappropriate forum to engage all South Asian nations.

How to revive SAARC?

  • Reviving the process of South Asian economic integration is an important step as South Asia is one of the least integrated regions in the world with intra-regional trade teetering at barely 5% of total South Asian trade, compared to 25% of intra-regional trade in the ASEAN region.
  • India should take the lead and work with its neighbours to slash the tariff and non-tariff barriers.
  • There’s a need to resuscitate the negotiations on a SAARC investment treaty, pending since 2007.
  • The SAARC region can likewise benefit from higher intra-SAARC investment flows.

Domestic challenges

There are two major domestic challenges that India faces in revitalising SAARC:

  1. There has been an unrelenting top-dressing of anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobia on the Indian soil- to reap political dividends at home. There’s also a recurrent use of the ‘Bangladeshi migrant’ rhetoric. It dents India’s soft power of being a liberal and secular democracy, which gives moral legitimacy to India’s leadership in the region.
  2. The economic vision with slogans of atma nirbharta (self-reliance) and ‘vocal for local’ should not indicate a return to the obsolete economic philosophy of import substitution. If this marks sliding back to protectionism, one is unsure if India will be interested in deepening South Asian economic integration.

Click Here to read more about SAARC

-Source: The Hindu

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