By Huang Dekai Source (Global Times, 15 January 2018) – Maldivian Foreign Minister Mohamed Asim’s three-day visit to India last week during which he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj is regarded as an ice-breaking trip for the two countries.
India-Maldives relations had dropped to a new low at the end of 2017. New Delhi was extremely dissatisfied with Malé signing a free trade agreement with Beijing. The dismissal of three Maldivian officials for meeting the Indian ambassador without government permission further strained ties.
During his visit, Asim reiterated Maldives’ “India First” policy. Modi also declared that India will ever be a reliable and close neighbor of the Indian Ocean country. This suggests that while the Maldives prioritizes India in its foreign policy, New Delhi regards itself as a key player in diplomacy with the Maldives.
India harbors a sense of superiority in relations with not only the Maldives, but also other South Asian countries. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and other countries were recently criticized by India for lowering New Delhi’s status in their foreign policies. India may get a sense of loss in security and esteem, a result of New Delhi’s superiority complex in relations with regional states that the country has emphasized for years.
American political scientist Francis Fukuyama believes that people “may seek to be recognized as superior to other people, possibly on the basis of true inner worth, but more likely out of an inflated and vain estimate of themselves.” Coercing and forcing neighbors to acknowledge its “superiority” is a way for a country to gain superiority complex.
As a major power in South Asia, India insists on a superior status in its neighbors’ foreign policies, and has been wanting these countries to follow the “India First” policy since the end of WWII. Undeniably, India had reasons for having a superiority complex during the Cold War.
However, the era when international relations were based on hierarchical differences no longer exists. Insisting on superiority over other countries as a diplomatic policy will not only impede the development of international relations, but also draw the country into a “superiority” quagmire.
India, dealing with neighboring countries with a sense of superiority, triggered dissatisfaction. Pakistan became the first South Asian nation to challenge New Delhi’s arrogance and seeks ties with India on equal terms. New Delhi pushed back and ties worsened. Other South Asian countries could not resist India’s mind-set and were forced to endure it.
When China initiated the practice of a new type of modern international relations based on equality and win-win cooperation, it was warmly welcomed by other nations in South Asia. India believes this poses a big challenge to its own diplomacy, with its officials and media mistakenly believing that the development of ties between Beijing and countries in South Asia is a result of China’s expansionism. Therefore, it is not hard to understand why the Maldives committed to the “India First” policy to assuage concerns of New Delhi.
International relations have now entered a new phase. Old concepts like power politics, hegemonism and hierarchical distinctions are gradually being abandoned. Ties based on mutual respect, fairness and justice as well as win-win cooperation have increasingly acquired prominence and are the future of a new global order. As an emerging power, India should no longer stick to outdated principles, but promote change and development of global ties.
The author is a scholar with the Institute of International Studies of Yunnan University. firstname.lastname@example.org