Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trumpeting a firm new diplomatic stance against China, a move that is sure to make President Obama’s upcoming visit a warm one. Modi has labeled his new, more aggressive China policy “Act East” (rather than simply “Look East”). India’s biggest play is in Sri Lanka, which recently ejected its longtime, strongly pro-China leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in favor of one more interested in good relations with New Delhi. Reuters explains the impact of Indian diplomacy on developments in Sri Lanka and the region at large:
Despite New Delhi’s protestations, diplomats and politicians in the region say India played a role in organizing the opposition against pro-China Rajapaksa.His successor, President Maithripala Sirisena, has said India is the “first, main concern” of his foreign policy and that he will review all projects awarded to Chinese firms, including a sea reclamation development in Colombo that would give Beijing a strategic toehold on India’s doorstep.India has pushed back against China elsewhere in the region since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in May, improving ties with Japan and Vietnam, both locked in territorial disputes with Beijing, and contesting a port project in Bangladesh that could otherwise have been a cakewalk for China.
New Delhi’s win is Beijing’s loss; China was banking on Colombo’s friendship for its “string of pearls” strategy in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, a plan to establish a chain of friendly ports and bases in order to secure strategic maritime superiority and trade routes in the region. That plan is now in danger, as Sri Lanka’s new President, Maithripala Sirisena, is rethinking a decision to allow China to build a new deep water port in Colombo and looks to be reversing the decade-long trend toward closer relations with Beijing.With India “acting East” and the U.S. still “pivoting to Asia,” Washington and New Delhi are aligned. Both want to thwart China’s plans to become regional hegemon while encouraging peaceful Chinese growth. As Modi’s robust foreign policy continues to emerge, expect sunny days for U.S.-Indian diplomacy.