By Yang Sheng
India's regional hegemony has been shaken by the Doklam standoff, as South Asian countries, some of which have been under India's control, remain neutral or even speak up for China this time, experts said.
"India always has strong influence over many South Asian countries' decision-making on foreign policy, including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. However, when India provokes China in the border area, the interesting reactions from these countries show that India's hegemony in South Asia is not that firm, and these countries also want to take the opportunity to shake off India's control," said Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
China and Nepal agreed Wednesday to boost bilateral pragmatic cooperation, especially under the framework of the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative, to further strengthen friendly ties between the two countries, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
At a meeting with visiting Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari expressed appreciation for China's consistent support and assistance for Nepal's national development and post-disaster reconstruction.
Bhandari also noted that Nepal and China have maintained frequent high-level contacts and bilateral cooperation in various fields has continued smoothly. She also pledged that Nepal will stick to the one-China policy and will never allow any anti-China activities to take place on Nepalese soil, Xinhua reported.
Nepal's eastern border is only dozens of kilometers away from the Doklam Plateau.
Ankit Panda, senior editor at The Diplomat magazine, told New Delhi Television on Wednesday that "China knows that its checkbook diplomacy with the smaller Asian states is a sore point with India, which simply cannot afford to put up this kind of capital outlay that the Chinese promise."
Chinese experts said there is no surprise that Indian elites will show their jealousy.
"India has never treated its small neighbors equally and it even used its overwhelming military strength and political influence to annex its neighbor Sikkim in 1975. India used an oil embargo to bully Nepal because Nepal implemented a new constitution in 2015," Hu said, adding "Bhutan doesn't even have independent diplomacy due to India's hegemony."
Bhutan has no diplomatic relations with China or with any other permanent member of the UN Security Council due to India's control, and there is no Belt and Road investment in the country so far.
Except for Pakistan, no South Asian country dares say no to New Delhi, but it does not mean these Indian neighbors do not want to shake off India's control. They know how to pick a reliable partner between China and India, Hu said.
The Belt and Road initiative has benefited many South Asian countries. Pakistan will reap the benefits of the flagship project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives also welcomed investments and infrastructure projects from China. These countries are all keeping a neutral stance on the Doklam standoff, and Pakistan has clearly expressed its support to China.
Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain Monday expressed concern over the reported Indian incursions into the Chinese territory and said that Pakistan fully supports the stance of China on the issue, according to Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
Hussain, while talking to Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang at the President House, appreciated China for its adept handling of the issue and reiterated that Pakistan stands by China on the issues of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and South China Sea, a statement from Pakistan said.
India has very strong confidence on its own power, especially after Narendra Modi became the prime minister. Although Indian economic growth is faster than China's in the past few years, the Indian economy still ranks only seventh in the world, one-fifth of the Chinese economy, Ye Hailin, director of the National Institute of International Strategy under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.
India's groundless confidence will make it pay a heavy price, Ye said.
"India's global influence cannot compete with China's, even in South Asia, and if China has identified India as a rival, the difficult times for India are just beginning," Ye noted.