Indian Preeminence in South Asia

This divided landscape has historically made it easier for foreign powers, most notably the British, to conquer it.

9 mins read
Indian Flag (File Photo)

It is generally recognized that any discussion on South Asia without reference to India would be putting the cart before the horse. In this article as well Indian geopolitical concerns would take precedence over other countries of South Asia. In an article, Antonia Collabasanu (July 20 2034-Geopolitical futures) has emphasized the importance of Franco-Indian collaboration as a preeminent feature of Indian politico-economic interest despite India’s isolationist policy she had been following since her adoption of non-alignment as her foreign policy anchor ever since her freedom from British domination in 1948.  

Antonio Collabasanu writes in her article that France is a natural strategic ally to India. India’s relative isolation from the rest of the world – with no imposed borders, a large and dense population, and a central government having no choice but to deal with a broad subcontinent – has resulted in a country formed of shifting systems that continuously challenge central authority. This divided landscape has historically made it easier for foreign powers, most notably the British, to conquer it. India’s birth as a modern state in the early 1950s was New Delhi’s first lesson in how shifting economics may alter political realities. Traditionally, Indian security threats have come either from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border or from the sea.


As it matured, India came to understand that while the land threat was difficult to manage, sea lanes were vital. During the Cold War, India conducted a nonalignment strategy. Both superpowers courted India, but instead, India chose to work closely with France, the only remaining European power in the Indian Ocean with whom it shared an interest in maintaining regional peace and stability.

Later, India and France formally established a strategic partnership in 1998, and in 2008 the two signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement. In 2016, they signed a Joint Strategic Vision for the Indo-Pacific, which outlines their shared interests in the region and obligates them to work together to address challenges. At the meeting last week in Paris, the two countries committed to a new joint statement on the Indo-Pacific, reaffirming their shared commitment to the region and setting out a number of areas for cooperation, including maritime security, trade and investment, and climate change.

The document was accompanied by a joint statement on cooperation in the field of space, which sets out a number of areas for future cooperation, including satellite navigation, Earth observation, and space exploration. In February, the Indian Air Force released a revised and somewhat ambitious doctrine aimed at transitioning India from an air power to an aerospace power. As India strives to develop a new, powerful personality as a spacefaring nation and an aerospace power, it seeks mutually advantageous relationships with other spacefarers, particularly those with whom India has a history of dependability, mutual understanding, and good faith. India has some experience in the field; the Indian Space Research Organization was founded in 1969, and it has since launched several satellites and space probes and has even launched its third moon mission. Partnering with another space player would make Indian space endeavors much more cost-effective.


France suits India’s needs perfectly. It established its Space Force in 2019, becoming the first European country to have a branch of its armed forces dedicated to space. Since the 1980s, India and France have conducted numerous joint military exercises, becoming more complex and sophisticated over time to encompass a wide range of scenarios, including air, ground, and sea operations. Moreover, as India’s traditional military patron, Russia grows more distracted and unreliable, New Delhi has become more attractive as a defense partner, becoming a loyal customer of the French military industry. In recent years, India has purchased a number of French-made weapons systems.   They have also cooperated in the development of defense technologies, particularly aircraft engines. This fits nicely with India’s strategic outlook. India keeps a watchful eye on the waters from the Andaman Sea to the Malacca Strait, the Gulf of Aden to the Suez Canal, and the Strait of Hormuz to the Persian Gulf.

Given the natural topographical fortifications that encircle most of India, the shoreline is one of the only locations exposed to attack or invasion. France’s military proximity to the straits gives India an advantage, especially since their interests in the region are largely aligned as they work with the U.S. there. In more practical terms, France helps India to keep Indian Ocean maritime routes safe and open. The importance of France is evident despite the refusal by Vladimir Putin to let France attend the summit of BRICS countries composed of Brazil, India, China, Russia, and South Africa.

China’s economic and geopolitical rise over the last two decades has included a growing presence and influence across the globe, not least in the Global South, where it is an important investor across multiple sectors. The Understanding Violent Conflict (UVC) and the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum (CPPF), through a decade of activities, are a leading node for a growing, yet fragmented interest in China’s engagement with the world.


China and the Global South initiative aims to develop research capacity about China in the Global South and connect institutions and researchers producing knowledge on China in a global network. It builds capacity for knowledge generation and dissemination in China in the Global South by supporting research institutions, linking them to each other in an international network, and giving locally produced knowledge a greater voice in global academic and policy conversations.  China’s growth as the richest country in the world has changed its policy under Xi Jinping from that of Hu Jintao who advocated caution in letting the world know of China’s growth lest it draws the attention of the developed First World. Xi Jinping totally disregarded this lesson and made no bones about China’s ambition regarding Global South. In an article in Foreign Affairs( China’s Southern Strategy Beijing Is Using the Global South to Constrain America By Nadège Rolland June 9, 2022). For the past decade, Nadege Rolland wrote that Chinese President Xi Jinping has endeavored to help China attain what it considers to be its rightful position at the center of the world stage. To do this, Xi—along with the rest of China’s leadership—is attempting to consolidate the country’s economic, political, diplomatic, and military power. It is also working to counter U.S. pressure in the Indo-Pacific region.

Xi’s desire to turn China into the world’s most powerful state is, after all, coupled with an inextricable corollary: the imperative of stopping what he sees as efforts by the West to contain it. But China’s grand strategy includes a third component: asserting its dominant position over a different international system of states. Chinese policymakers are attempting to create a sphere of influence comprising not just their country’s immediately contiguous region but also the entire emerging, non-Western, and largely non-democratic world—the “global South.” Securing dominance over this vast swath of nations would provide a strong base for China’s power while restricting the United States’ actions and influence. Ultimately, that could help spell the end of U.S. global hegemony.  Between 1946 and 1974, Mao Zedong perfected his vision of how the struggle against imperialist powers should unfold by focusing on the global South. His “three worlds” theory envisioned a united front bringing together countries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, constituting the Third World, in a common fight against the First World—composed of the imperialist United States and (after the Sino-Soviet split) the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, China would cajole and neutralize the Second World, made up of middle powers such as Australia, Canada, Japan, and the states in Western Europe. Mao believed that a united front of developing countries led by China could encircle and isolate the hegemonic powers, much as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in its early years of political struggle had “surrounded the cities from the countryside,” in Mao’s words, eventually enabling the communist revolution to triumph. Toward this end, starting in the mid-1950s, Beijing provided technical and financial assistance to revolutionary and anticolonial liberation movements in the Third World.


 Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative is aimed at developing the infrastructure of poor developing countries of Asia and Africa that did not have the resources to finance such projects but were grateful to China for her assistance. One would be amiss in not pointing out the public warning sounded by Donald Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence of the “ Chinese Debt Trap”, Sri Lankan position on Humberto Port, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed’s refusal to accept a Chinese loan at a concessional rate, and Laotian Rail Road fiasco. The 16th Party Congress, in 2002, officially included developing countries as “the foundation” for China’s diplomacy—behind relationships with great powers and with China’s neighbors, but ahead of its work in multilateral institutions. But China still nurtured developing countries in order to achieve major geopolitical objectives. By openly using economic aid and investment as incentives, China got countries in the global South to break off relations with Taiwan, helping diplomatically asphyxiate the island. Through a mix of similar inducements and appeals to shared anti-Western sentiment, Beijing leveraged the votes of developing countries in the United Nations to avoid international condemnation of its persistent human rights abuses. It was clear that China wanted its influence in the Global South.

Marlea Clark of the University of Victoria has tried to define Global South generally as referring to countries classified by the World Bank as low or middle-income that are located in Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America, and the Caribbean. This definition uses the term in a descriptive manner and is simply the most recent in a long list of concepts used to identify, define, and cluster the ‘poorer parts of the world’. Therefore, like its predecessors (periphery; less-developed, developing, underdeveloped; third world) it lumps together very diverse economic, social, and political experiences and positions into one overarching category. This definition has been critiqued by some.   Drawing on the work of Antonio Gramsci, whose essay “The Southern Question” drew attention to uneven national processes of economic development and the role of capitalists in processes of ‘internal colonization’, these scholars use the term global South “to address spaces and peoples negatively impacted by globalization”, including subjugated peoples and poorer regions within wealthier countries. 

Increasingly, many scholars note that while geography and geopolitical relations remain important, growing gaps in wealth and power within countries must be acknowledged. As an expert succinctly puts it, “There are Souths in the geographic North and Norths in the geographic South”.    Linked to this second definition, other scholars and activists use the term to refer to transnational political subjectivity and subaltern resistance under contemporary capitalist globalization.   Thus, this third definition of the global South looks beyond specificities of geographic location to identify the social agency of dominated groups. So, the answer to the question.


According to generally accepted terminology, the Western world is the First World; the Soviet Union is the second world; and the rest is defined as the Third World. But then the Third World definition had to be amended due to the phenomenal economic growth of China and her ambition for a seat at the table framing the rules binding the rest of the world. China’s ambition notwithstanding India, for example, stood in China’s way. Though India’s economic growth is miles behind that of China, her border dispute mainly in Arunachal Pradesh and eternal enmity with Pakistan which considers itself as the country of refuge for Indian Muslims forgetting that these Muslims had voted with their feet to remain in India.  But then the controversial rule of the BJP regarding Muslims and the teachings of Vinay Savarkar may have become the instrument of killing the Muslims or in some cases, their forced conversion to Hinduism. According to available reports during 1947-1973 six million Hindus went to India from East Pakistan. This report indicates that Hindus were no less persecuted in then East Pakistan.

There are reports of young Hindu girls being abducted and subjected to unspeakable atrocities. Though persecution of Muslims in India is not readily available Muslims in India were also met with atrocious treatment. Decades have passed from then and now. Unfortunately, the ruling party’s treatment of the Muslim minority population leaves much to be desired. Countries of South Asia while acknowledging the preeminence of India in this region would prefer to give more attention to bread-and-butter issues. For us eradication of poverty is of far greater importance. Poverty, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, is the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. Poverty is said to exist when people lack the means to satisfy their basic needs…

The problem of definition is further compounded by the noneconomic connotations that the word poverty has acquired. Poverty has been associated, for example, with poor health, low levels of education or skills, an inability or an unwillingness to work, high rates of disruptive or disorderly behavior, and improvidence. While these attributes have often been found to exist with poverty, their inclusion in a definition of poverty would tend to obscure the relation between them and the inability to provide for one’s basic needs. Whatever definition one uses, authorities and laypersons alike commonly assume that the effects of poverty are harmful to both individuals and society. South Asians facing at the risk of de-globalization or decoupling which appear to be knocking at the door would like to bring back millions of people who have vanished under the carpet laid by the likes of  Roman Senators who used to speak for the poor whom most of them had never met but paid obeisance to mad Emperors like Caligula. 

Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany

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