Don’t turn South Asian countries into geopolitical tool
The pointing finger of the US turns to the Maldivian archipelago. The small nation has just seen the election victory of the opposition candidate against incumbent Abdullah Yameen, who however is seeking to overturn his election defeat. “The US is concerned by troubling actions by outgoing Pres Yameen that threaten to undermine the will of the Maldivian people, and will consider appropriate measures against anyone who undermines a peaceful transfer of power in Maldives,” State Department Spokesperson Robert Palladino posted on Twitter.
These remarks seem to puff up the air of New Delhi with extra confidence, as Indian media believe the US warning was a hint for China. The Maldives is seen as India’s traditional sphere of influence by both India and the US.
A power shift in South Asian countries is common and what the other countries should do is adjust to the flow of political change in that country and try to form favorable relations with the new leadership. Risks do exist as cooperation projects with the previous government may get revoked by the new, and it tests the wisdom of relevant parties to retain positive momentum and forge bilateral relations.
China has not interfered in the politics of another country. In the case of the Maldives, China welcomed the Indian Ocean nation to participate in its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative and Yameen supported it. When the opposition leader who vowed to review Chinese projects won the election in late September, China also expressed willingness to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with the country and cement their long-standing friendship.
Many observers view elections in South Asian nations as a head-for- head battle for influence between China and India, as in Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
US strategic goals often align with those of India based on Washington’s intention to counter China’s rise and export its own political standards. US interests are better served by helping India get an upper hand in the region. Therefore the US will support pro-India forces in a country while denouncing others. Such interference differs fundamentally with Chinese approaches.
China does not see elections in South Asian countries as a win-orlose game with India. But it does not want to see India, along with the US, view the region as their sphere of influence and woo regional countries to counter China. They may not be able to thwart China’s rise in the region, but they can put regional peace and development at risk.