Date: Apr 02, 2018

Against the backdrop of the crisis in Maldives, India’s political pundits sense a decline in New Delhi’s authority and agency in maritime-South Asia. After President Abdulla Yameen declared emergency in the island nation in February, refusing to relent to diplomatic pressure by India, it is clear that the Maldivian strongman is being propped up by an assertive China. Not surprisingly, his government has chosen to overlook New Delhi’s interests and authority in its neighbourhood.

For many foreign policy watchers, Maldives appears only to be a symptom of a larger malady afflicting the sub-continental littorals. From Sri Lanka to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar, a string of South Asian states seem politically and economically beholden to Beijing, many falling victim to debt traps created by the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Ruefully, while China’s significant investments in infrastructure projects in these states is reshaping regional power dynamics, New Delhi is struggling to maintain its political influence.

Apart from the China factor, there appear to be two other drivers of this process: the relative decline of the United States, and India’s inability to build inter-dependencies for the future. Much as New Delhi has tried to preserve its preeminence in South Asia, Beijing’s growing political footprint has become a dominant factor in the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean.

Our panelists will discuss the disquieting possibility that India’s authority in its neighbourhood may already have substantially eroded. Among other issues, the speakers will address the following questions:

  1. Does the present situation in Maldives represent an inflection point in regional geopolitics – an irreversible decline in New Delhi’s strategic leverage in the Indian Ocean littorals?
  2. Will changing geo-politics and economics in South Asia bring about new strategic alignments? What might be the shape of maritime power play in the near future?
  3. How successful might a solid counter-containment strategy be in negating Chinese encirclement tactics in the region? How might New Delhi pick its partners going ahead?

The discussion will feature the following panelists.

Abhijit Singh, (Chair), Senior Fellow and Head, Maritime Policy Initiative, ORF

Indrani Bagchi, Diplomatic Editor, Times of India

RAdm K. Raja Menon (Retd.), Former Assistant Chief of Naval Staff, Indian Navy

Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF

Dr Abhijnan Rej, Fellow, ORF

The timing of this discussion is from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Venue Address

Conference Hall, ORF New Delhi