mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
India Falls Behind Rivals in "Great Game East"

The opening of Burma’s economy should have galvanized Indian policymakers and businessmen, but Delhi has already fallen behind behind its rivals in the race to take advantage of new business and diplomatic opportunities there. Not long after Burma began its reform process, India announced it would redouble efforts in its “Look East” policy. The architects of the policy argued that too much of Delhi’s focus is on Pakistan, and that India’s eastern neighbors, especially Burma, offer more promising chances for cooperation and mutual enrichment. So what happened?

India “has largely failed to implement its ‘Look East’ policy in any meaningful, concrete way,” the Irrawaddy magazine reports. Proposed railroads have gone unbuilt, and highways between eastern India and Burma remain closed. Modernization projects have been slow to show progress. Weapons, drugs and insurgents still pass freely over the long border the two countries share. Even if these issues were resolved, Burma’s interest in Indian assets may be limited:

While Myanmar’s government has sought Indian expertise in certain areas such as software development, telecoms and services, it is less interested in what India may have to offer in key economic areas such as mining, heavy industries or infrastructure building. Nor does Myanmar’s army look to India as an alternative to China as a source of military hardware: Now that relations with the West are on the mend, the Tatmadaw [Burma’s armed forces] can anticipate eventually having access to the world’s most advanced military technology. Development megaprojects are also beyond India’s means—for these, Myanmar is more likely to seek partners in Japan or Asean.

“India’s biggest weakness,” as the Economist wrote in a 2011 review of David Malone’s book on Indian foreign policy,

is in its own region….As the local hegemon it should be doing much more to foster economic ties and stability all over its back yard. Instead relations with all its neighbours, with the exception of a couple of minnows like Bhutan and the Maldives, are mostly sour, and regional trade is pitiful. Until India shows more charm—or strength—to those nearby, distant powers are unlikely to take its global pretensions very seriously.

In Burma, as in much of Southeast Asia, India is trying to catch up with China, which has been heavily involved in this region for years. Diplomatic ties between Japan and ASEAN, too, have grown considerably warmer in the past few years, and business is booming. As the world’s largest democracy and an emerging global power, India has an interest and the ability to also connect with its eastern neighbors, but so far those opportunities have unfortunately gone largely unrealized.

Features Icon
show comments
  • J R Yankovic

    “As the world’s largest democracy and an emerging global power, India has an interest and the ability to also connect with its eastern neighbors, but so far those opportunities have unfortunately gone largely unrealized.”

    Idiots. Sorry, but that’s the kindest word I can think of for the present Indian elite and their (never thought I’d be guilty of this phrase) deplorable lack of opportunism.

  • Fat_Man

    What happened to the print button on each page of this blog?

  • tarentius

    An emerging global power? The Indians smugly and arrogantly have convinced themselves of this, but the raw reality is that they are a long way from being one. are stuck in their current level, and will be for the foreseeable future.

  • USNK2

    India is an “..emerging global power…” because it is a continent sized nation of more than one billion humans that is still developing the internal ‘conglomeration’ of so many pre-colonial nations/territories/princely states/automous tribal regions that fall within the borders of post-colonial India.
    Include the astonishingly diverse climate zones, eco-systems…
    In 2012, Nagaland finally moved towards full integration with India. That is “looking East”
    oto part of Mr. Mead’s post, why would anyone trust Burma with advanced military technology?

  • Atanu Maulik

    All those pinning high hopes on India, will be disappointed, highly disappointed.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service