India must join East
Vietnam has urged India to stick around in the South China Sea. The message is clear: India is considered as a credible ally by the countries in Southeast Asia, despite Chinese objections to India's role. And that should be a reason for India to focus on that region and ensure its presence even further.
It's true that compared to Chinese capacity, India is lagging behind in many sectors. But it is important that India uses its expertise in defence sector in particular to revamp its ties with the Southeast Asian nations. Which is what India has done in case of Vietnam, by means of defence cooperation agreements. And that should be India's policy in respect of other Southeast Asian countries as well. If China wants to encircle India, then India needs to respond. The best way is to align with the nations that are not in very good terms with China, especially over the disputed islands. This is not rocket science that will require experts to explain. This is simple logic. However, for reasons not clear, India has always been reluctant.
But in recent times India has been showing some signs of courage. It has not backed out of the South China Sea and has been pursuing a policy of partnering with the Southeast Asian nations. It is important that New Delhi continues to follow the 'Look East' policy with more gusto rather than remaining a subtle partner of those nations. India's cooperation should be robust, covering several latitudes, and it must not get hindered in any way by China's aggressive posture.
On its part China will always oppose India's moves. In recent times Chinese foreign ministry has objected to Vietnam's invitation to India for exploring the South China Sea. India must keep in mind Chinese opposition may not remain limited to words. There can be increasing aggressive actions along the India-China borders as a counter measure. India should be prepared to face China's actions and retaliate if needed.
Besides dealing with China, India must involve its neighbours in the 'Look East' policy. India's neighbourhood must be benefited as well. In this context it must be pointed out that India's investments in Myanmar must become bigger and better, and India can act as a facilitator to help rest of the world interact with Myanmar. In other words, India must revamp its entire foreign policy architecture and should play the leadership role in the continent, rather than remaining just a South Asian major.
There is something more I would like to add here. While India needs to improve its internal structures --- ensure more foreign investments and ease of business --- it must also do the needful to cooperate with the poorer nations. India must unleash its soft power in other countries --- not just in Afghanistan or the African nations, to ensure a positive perception about the country which has been in recent times described as an international obstructionist. That perception has to change for good.