Like 'Palestine strategy', Modi can counter China in ASEAN, South Asia

As far as South Asia and ASEAN are concerned, the Modi government has mostly followed the regular path even as China has increasingly tied its foreign policy with its economic interests, writes Shivani Kumar.

'Look East' policy

Since independence India has focused its foreign policies on the principles of peace, non-violence, non-alignment, equality and universal brotherhood, however in the recent year India has put trade and commerce as the top foreign policy priority.

From attending summit and economic forums in various major world powers like US, UK, to his visit in the UAE, Modi's foreign visits are broadly based on the countries that would bring trade and help in economic development.

When the Modi government came to power in 2014, the prime foreign policy agenda was to take the 'Look East' policy further which was initiated by former prime minister Narasimha Rao in 1992.

Better relations with South Asia

PM Modi made it clear that India will focus on improving relations with neighboring countries in South Asia and with its extended southeast Asian countries.

But as Modi's term comes to an end next year it is becoming clear that his policies are more focused on trade and building presence of India as a global market on the international platform than on taking the 'Look East' policy further.

In the list of Southeast Asian countries, PM Modi has only made four state visits to the ASEAN countries which includes Vietnam in 2016 and Singapore in 2015 and Myanmar in 2017. The Indian prime minister hasn't visited Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei.

Modi's visits

Modi has visited other South Asian countries but those were either "working visits " or to attend the summits which negates chances of deep and solid engagement at the face-to-face level.

In 2016, Modi made a "working visit" to Thailand, the Philippines in 2017 for 12th East Asia summit, Malaysia in 2015 for ASEAN-India Summit & East Asia Summit, Laos in 2016 for East Asia summit.

And far as India's neighbours are concerned, Modi made a "state visit" to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal in 2014 and Sri Lanka in 2015.

Apart from UAE, Modi has so far visited 58 countries that includes Brazil, Japan, United Staes, Australia, Fiji, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Singapore, France, Germany, Canada, China, Mongolia, South Korea, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Kyryzstan, Tajikistan and others.

Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen

However, in the present climate post-Doklam and with President Trump not in favour of the "One China Policy", Modi could have played a "new game" with China and aligned with the Trump administration. It cannot be forgotten that Trump had spoken to Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen over the phone, should Modi have tried something similar?

The 'Taiwan card' hasn't been played by India so far even as China has openly interfered in Arunachal Pradesh and border areas in the North-East.

Even during the 2016 Rohingya crisis, China played an active role by working as a "mediator" between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The One Belt, One Road(OBOR) initiative has led China to openly engage with Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and even India's long time ally Afghanistan.

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and PM Modi

Another South Asian country and close neighbour Maldives which is currently facing a political crisis, has approached India in the past and invited Modi to visit, there were reports that Modi had agreed to visit the Maldives but with the current turn of events it is unlikely he will visit the island nation.

With the growing influence of China in the Maldives, India has to be careful not to disassociate with the Maldives government.

Taiwan in South East Asia that operates as an "independent" country has never been visited by any Indian prime minister, Modi could have crafted a whole new strategy to take on China, at least softly. The Indian government has always maintained a distance with Taiwan keeping in view its "conflict" with China and adhered to 'One China Policy'.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and PM Modi

In South Asia, Modi has mainly batted on the backfoot even as China has slowly increased its footprint in the region

Currently in Palestine, Modi has become the first Indian prime minister to ever visit the troubled state which has been India's friend for a long time. The government has clearly indicated it wants to run its Israel and Palestine polices on independent tracks.

However, as far as South Asia and ASEAN are concerned, the Modi government has mostly followed the regular path even as China has increasingly tied its foreign policy with its economic interests.