India’s absence from the OBOR forum is testimony of Modi’s failed foreign policy

Published: May 17, 2017

China hosted a massive two-day international event between May 14 and 15 in Beijing to formally launch its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, which plans to connect Asia, Middle East, Africa and Europe. More than 65 countries participated in the summit and nearly half of them were represented by their heads of state and government.

World powers such as the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and even Japan too were in Beijing. Apart from Bhutan, which does not have any diplomatic ties with China, all other South Asian countries took part.

However, the Narendra Modi-led Indian government decided to give it a miss in spite of China’s repeated overtures. Nothing can explain this self-inflicted isolation of India except PM Modi’s foreign policy or the lack of it.

But does the Modi government have any foreign policy?

Even if there is one, no one knows what that stands for, and who is responsible for it, especially when the foreign minister’s job is restricted to only Twitter diplomacy.

Surprisingly, it’s the national security advisor and a particular Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general secretary who seem to be dictating India’s foreign policy. Both of them, however, neither have the institutional mandate nor the competence to do it.

Modi admirers miss no opportunity to highlight how the PM has undertaken nearly 50 foreign trips in the past three years and has developed “strong personal bonds” with several world leaders. Indian missions abroad have also been working overtime to mostly organise “cultural” events on yoga and ayurveda.

The critical module describing India’s “foreign policy success” has been mostly limited to Modi’s “overbearing speech” to the “drooling diaspora” during his frequent foreign visits.

Contrary to all the tall claims, the OBOR international forum in Beijing has clearly exposed the fact that India’s foreign policy in the past three years has gone into a tailspin. The China-Pakistan axis has isolated India in South Asia besides rendering it lonely in the world.

Not only did Russian President Vladimir Putin attend the OBOR international forum in Beijing, he also gave a speech at the opening ceremony. What’s more, despite increasing bilateral tensions with China, Japan sent a delegation to Beijing.

The Trump administration, though objected to North Korea’s participation, finally decided to join as well since the US does not want to be left behind. It clearly shows the growing international clout of China, and exposes the lack of careful thought and foreign policy on part of India.

Not only globally, but also within the region, India has isolated itself from others with its foreign policy. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not only attending the OBOR international forum, he also took a high-level official delegation with him including four provincial chief ministers.

Adding to the $46 billion investment for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China also seems to have promised Pakistan $50 billion investment for the Indus River Cascade.

It is not surprising considering the fact that Sino-Pakistan relation has been historically strong. However, other critical neighbours such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have also refused to side with India on the OBOR issue.

Once an Indian diplomat had told me that we occasionally push smaller countries in our neighbourhood to take a position to see where we stand vis-à-vis China. In that case, India should not have any doubt over its power equation with China in the South Asian region. Even Bangladesh, which had sided strongly with India to boycott the SAARC Summit in November 2016 at Islamabad, sent a high-level delegation to participate in the international forum in Beijing.

Bangladesh has not only received $24 billion investment from China, it has also imported 80% of its arms from China in the past decade. In this context, it is foolhardy for the Modi regime to force Bangladesh to side with it in opposing China’s ambitious OBOR initiative.

Prime Minister Modi just returned from Sri Lanka after a high-profile two-day visit. While the Indian media highlighted Sri Lanka’s refusal to let a Chinese submarine dock in Colombo, it totally avoided mentioning that immediately after Modi’s trip, the Sri Lankan prime minister flew to Beijing to take part in the OBOR meeting.

In spite of all sorts of pressure, India failed to keep even Nepal with it. On May 12th, Nepal signed a Memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China to be part of its plan to revive the ancient Silk Road trade routes. Nepal’s deputy prime minister and finance minister have travelled to Beijing to take part in the OBOR forum, and it clearly exposes the fact that India has lost out to China to continue to keep Nepal under its sphere of influence.

On the OBOR issue, the open siding with China by Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka clearly shows the abject failure of India’s whimsical foreign policy under Modi. It was absolutely unnecessary for India to boycott OBOR, while the rest of the world has joined it.

A sensible thing could have been to take part in it and work with Beijing to get an acceptable deal for it in the CPEC project.

Moreover, the Modi government’s adamant opposition to the OBOR has forced India’s friendly neighbours to take a position against it.

It was absolutely self-defeating for the Modi regime to force the usually considered pro-India regimes in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka to make this uncomfortable choice.

There was no reason to put them in such a situation where they have no option but to come out of strategic ambiguity and take a position on making individual choices.

Modi’s foreign policy seems to be less worried about India’s long-term and larger interest. Rather, it is obsessed with keeping its hard-core nationalist constituency happy. It is important for a government to stand firm on country’s core interests and basic principles, but at the same time it is critical to be flexible and bend them to accommodate reality.

The oft-repeating claim about Modi’s foreign policy success by his admirers is nothing but misleading. The “Modi fan club” coined the term “Modi Doctrine” to define the present Indian foreign policy and has even written a few books and articles to glorify it.

The Modi marketing machine has been repeatedly propagating that with Modi, India has moved to global high table taking a position on par with China and has isolated Pakistan in the region. Nothing can be far from the truth than this.

India’s isolation from the OBOR international forum is a testimony of Modi’s failed foreign policy.

This post originally appeared here

Ashok Swain

Ashok Swain

The author is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden. He tweets as @ashoswai (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ahsan Khan

    Spot on Ashok, Modi has flunked the test of time yet again. Same is the case with that hollow ICJ movement on Jadhav’s case. Nothing but hot air but it’s doing well back home for him; bhakts are ever ready to vote again for the maniac.Recommend

  • Rishabh ranjan

    My dear failed writer of this column who said we boycotted OBOR ,we didn’t agree with policies so decided not to go there …..Recommend

  • ProgressForIndia

    Fools – India was the only one absent because of the sovereignty issue of Pakistani occupation of Kashmir. Others like Japan, USA, and European countries likewise don’t support OBOR, but could still attend because they have no territorial claim involved in the OBOR. You can crow all you like about the fact that these nations attended, but make no mistake – they don’t support OBOR and never will. The OBOR dream will fall flat on its face, along with Pakistan’s dreams. All Pakistan will be left with is a high-interest debt to China, which it won’t be able to repay.Recommend

  • Gagan

    Trust, Pakistan will come to know whose foreign policies has failed over a period of time. Just wait Dear Pakistan, the real show will begin 5 years from now.

    Also, Even China Admits, If India wont join, Your CPEC will not be a success.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    India has access to all three seas/oceans surrounding her.
    Indian does not need CPEC/OBOR.Recommend

  • RZ

    Bigotry will only get you so far.Recommend

  • DoorDie

    even if Modi attended the OBOR meeting,still these people would bash him .Recommend

  • Mf’ing Hinda

    Good to see a sane voice of Indian origin.Recommend

  • Ashok Kumar

    I fully concur with the views of the author. I could not find even one concrete reason why India should not have joined the OBOR. Reasons given by India seem crap to me.Recommend

  • LS

    He is commenting about Author’s opinion.. Are you the author of this article?Recommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    I’m sorry what mess are you talking about? Have you looked in IOK? India is sending terrorists in Pakistan to make world believe pakistan is unstable and a threat to India blah blah. You elected a terrorist as your PM who was banned to enter US at one point. India is grabbing land from other nations and cry to world about Pakistan. India ‘s location is not as important as of Pakistan’s because it’s proximity to central asia and oil rich middle east. Indians are insecure! Recommend

  • Sane

    Kashmir is absolutely ours problem. People of Pakistan extremely condemn atrocities by Indian Occupied Forces against Kashmiris who are fighting to have a free land for themselves. You believe what your govt. and biased media tell you. Reality is that you are about to lose Kashmir.Recommend

  • Sane

    We don’t cry Islamophobia. This is you Indians who want to make India the land for Hindus only and you say this your right being in majority. HINDUWTA doctrine is your doctrine given by your PM Modi. You kill Muslims for beef eating and for many other concocted reasons. See your face and be ashamed,Recommend

  • Sane

    You agree with policy or not. CPEC and OBOR is a reality. India is drowning in all sectors. Your social system has collapsed badly.Recommend

  • Sane

    But, Indian plans have miserably failed and remaining are to fail.Recommend

  • Sane

    Why you have pain in your stomach for high-interest debt to be paid. We are partners in CPEC. You take care of freedom movement in Kashmir. You are losing Kashmir. Next is Khalistan. Hinduwta doctrine is to fail. There will be another freedom movement and Muslims of India shall make another Pakistan, like 1947.Recommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    It’s easy ….the greater a punjab region and kashmir region have always been part of Pakistani land becuase it shares culture with pakistan not with India. And the name INDIA was derived from Indus river and sindh in Pakistan.
    In news 60% of selected officers refused to join indian army? Recommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    Wrong!!! The land west of indus river was not called india it became british india when british forcefully occupied that land from afghnaistan and later it merged with pakistan. and the name INDIA was derived from Indus river in Pakistan, your living on a name borrowed from my land. What’s the history behind india name? Recommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    What is BSF? Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    Yesterday I refused to join party of my neighbor’s kid. No one commented nor article written in new paper! What am I doing wrong to suffer such ignominy?Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    But Kashmir is and will be part of India regardless of what you try. Can you beat nuclear armed 2 Trillian dollar economy to free Kashmir? I doubt.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    Is that the reason you massacred all minorities in Pakistan? Because you do not fear them? Muslims fear Hindus and Christians. That is why they attack minorities. Mullahs fear minorities.Recommend

  • LS

    More emotional rant. Terrorists and stone pelters will be treated in worse ways than tying to the jeep. None of your problems,, I know you sympathize with Islamist around the world, but that is YOUR problem. Not ours.Recommend

  • LS

    It was always ruled by India and Indians. There was NO pakistan based ruler ever. So get over it. Your Madrasa propaganda and logic never worked in international forum..Recommend

  • angrybird

    your land was not there before 1974, no pakiland. just because some islamic terrorists created new country for their army and terrorists nowhere makes ur rants worthyRecommend

  • Devon Smith

    India won’t give any more land for creating radical Islamic states.Period.Recommend

  • Devon Smith

    What fanatical Hindus? Muslim terrorists are killing Muslims and Non Muslims both,so where do fanatical Hindus come in.Recommend

  • Devon Smith

    You belong to that race who converted to Islam to save their skin,hahaRecommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    What is india? You african stolen name of my land and call yourselves INDIANS? Funny Recommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    Before 1947 we owned the name INDIA before you africans stole it from us and started calling yourselves INDIANS. Please go back to africa and claim your original roots rather than trying hard to be one of us. Recommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    It was ruled by us (present Pakistanis) not you fake indians who stole our land name. Don’t go claiming our past history to glorified your african selves. To us your africans, that’s all. Becuase of you fake indians the international community thinks india is located in Africa. Recommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    Hindusim was only native to present day Pakistan it was brought to northwest (pakistan) by Aryans, later it spreaded to what is now bharat, the name india also belongs to pakistani land, you stole the name of my land. You african origin fake indians are using my aryan ancestors religion and my land’s name for your idenity to disguise as real what you are not. You would you explain your real origin?? you people in Bharat think you originated from my land and your Aryans but the fact remains your africans that’s why most of you do your DNA tests to prove your not africans.
    FYI, the people of present Pakistan had mixture beliefs Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Hindus etc. We are superior race in the sub continent based on the history of our land. We lived among the greatest empires of the world. I would be happy to know what you have to say. Recommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    What is kashmir pandits?? Is that something you people made up to claim the land?? You people are so insecure. If the whole sub continent is land of hindus that makes Pakistanis the original owners and you hindus should move back to africa and have a blessed journey. Recommend

  • Devon Smith

    Pakistan is an Islamic country where other religions are treated less than animals.Recommend

  • Devon Smith

    Kashmiri pandits are original inhabitants of Kashmir dear. They were kicked out of Kashmir by radical Islamists. Many of them were killed and their women were raped and captured.
    Pakistanis have always claimed they are descendants of Arabs and Mughals. They never acknowledge their Hindu ancestry so I think Pakistanis should leave the land and go back to Arabia.Recommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    Pakistanis are the real owners of the entire indian sub continent, you came from Africa and settled there. We the present Pak people gave you name and identity. Look back at your history and identity and tell me what you are? Recommend

  • Devon Smith

    Human race comes from Africa. Are Pakistanis homo sapiens or not?Recommend

  • Duniya Hasan

    Yes we are but what are you homo erectus doing in Indian sub continent? Recommend

  • Devon Smith

    Homo erectus died out millions of years ago. We are belong to one species homo sapiens and we all originate from AfricaRecommend

  • gp65

    Just because US, UK, European countries sent observers does not mean they are investing in OBOR.Recommend