India must now scout for new friends to strengthen its position in the region, especially as it has become certain that New Delhi will not be party to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
The issue also gains importance as the crucial US elections are just a few months away. Three analysts IN spoke to pointed out that a new geopolitical order could be emerging in the region as several countries have openly shown their discomfort with China’s growing influence. India, they opine, must act fast to grab a much bigger role in the new order.
China has been aggressively forging new alliances. It has actively started participating in Nepal’s internal political developments. It is widely believed that China has had a role to play in averting a possible split in the Nepal Communist Party. Similarly, the dragon has been trying to cozy up to Bangladesh.
China has already pumped in over $31 billion into Bangladesh as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. In June, it also announced exemption of tariff on 97 per cent of the products made in Bangladesh. Further, it has worked out a $400-billion deal with Iran.
It needs to be mentioned here that India has maintained close relations with these countries.
While backing out from the RCEP trade deal involving 15 countries will not have any economic impact on India, there could be some political ramifications.
“What is crucial now is to boost bilateral relations with countries, with which India has not had a close relation until now. Taiwan, for example is one such country. We must strengthen our bilateral relationship with Taiwan,” Nirupama Soudararajan, senior fellow and head of research, Pahle India Foundation, said.
It is critical for India to act nimbly, she added. Due to the ‘One China policy’ that New Delhi follows, it could not have full formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. So, it set up the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center (TECC) in 1995 as its government representative office in India. However, with the recent escalation of tensions between India and China, there has been a shift in the stance.
“Several countries at present are miffed with China for its role in handling the coronavirus pandemic as well as its military and economic aggression. We need to identify those countries and boost relations with them,” another analyst, who wished to remain anonymous said.
Australia has shown its willingness to ink a bilateral free trade agreement with India much on lines of RCEP. Earlier, Australia’s Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham had said that the two countries have already started talks on the issue. Analysts also underlined the need for India to take well thought out measures to ensure that its existing ties with other countries get strengthened..