The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

If India plays its cards right, it could very well overtake China in the coming decades.

As S. Jaishankar, India’s Minister of External Affairs, embarks on a momentous tour of Southeast Asia, his travels signify more than routine diplomatic engagement. The itinerary, which weaves through Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia, marks not merely a succession of state engagements but a concerted campaign by India to project its influence in a region overshadowed by China’s expanding shadow.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) may have encountered skepticism for its measured actions, yet India is adeptly poised to instill a renewed dynamism into the geopolitical tapestry of the Indo-Pacific. The Act East Policy, India’s strategic orientation over the past decade, extends beyond mere symbolism. It stands as a resounding endorsement of active participation in this vital geopolitical stage, an arena where shared security concerns necessitate collaborative determination.

The foundation of this approach lies in the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI), inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi in 2019. It aims to fortify maritime security, resonating with the ASEAN Outlook and merging with the larger aspirations of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). These efforts contribute to a unified and secure maritime realm, mirroring the interconnected fabric of the region’s economic and security landscapes.

India’s emergence as a central force is driven not just by ambition but by necessity. The swift ascent of Beijing has upended global balances, instigating a quest for a counterbalance to China’s dominance—a role increasingly elusive to Western nations alone.

Emerging from the fringes of international strategic thought, India now stands on the brink of redefining its geopolitical saga. It is ready to mold a balanced regional landscape and cultivate an enduring architecture of stability.

Yet the journey is strewn with challenges. India’s socio-economic structure endures the aftermath of the pandemic, with stark economic disparities laid bare. However, the forecast for India is optimistic, suggesting robust economic potential and an elevated role as a regional pillar in the near future.

A fusion of technological, energy, and geopolitical currents is directing India’s transformative outlook for the coming decade, influencing not only its vast populace but also the geopolitical balance of Asia. India’s leap from the world’s 10th to the 5th largest economy within eight years, with an aim for the third rank by 2027, underlines its strategic significance as a counter to China’s economic influence.

By the century’s conclusion, India’s economic trajectory stands to be monumental, envisaged to secure a substantial portion of the global economic pie, propelled by demographic vitality and enduring productivity.

The affluent Indian demographic is set to expand, fueled by the Modi government’s pro-investment policies and infrastructure vitality. This burgeoning prosperity is but one aspect of a multifaceted post-pandemic resurgence, with a robust digital infrastructure at its center, signaling a digital revolution and reasserting India’s stature as a hub of innovation.

India’s digital strides extend well beyond its borders, boosting its industrial and technological prominence. With affordable Internet services propelling this advancement, India surges ahead as a pivotal figure in the global energy transition and as a formidable force in manufacturing.

What solidifies India’s central role in the Indo-Pacific? It is the synthesis of prudent governance, from renewable energy endeavors to fiscal reform, combined with a vast digital welfare network that dispenses an extraordinary amount of aid nationwide.

Drawing parallels to the infrastructural evolution of the United States, India’s advancements are decisive and collective. Policy reforms and industrial stimuli, notably through initiatives like “Make in India,” are anticipated to amplify the manufacturing sector’s contribution to the GDP in the coming decade.

With India set to take up a significant share of the rise in global energy demand, its pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070 becomes a strategic and ecological mandate, bolstering its image in the renewable sector.

In the innovation domain, India emerges as a thriving hub, with a dynamic startup ecosystem that includes numerous unicorns. As a new chapter in the Indo-Pacific begins, India’s role is unmistakably central—not as a bystander but as a conductor orchestrating the symphony of the forthcoming geopolitical narrative.

A New India

In the grand vista of India’s destiny, Modi perceives a transformative shift. Positioning India at the forefront of global economics, he casts the nation as a formidable competitor to Beijing’s clout. Economic projections of 7-8% growth are not mere statistics but the precursors of a groundbreaking era—an era marked by substantial poverty reduction, flourishing new markets, and India’s emergence as a pivotal node in the global tapestry of manufacturing and technology—a development poised to recalibrate the economic scales with China.

Yet, India’s rise teeters on a delicate equilibrium, hinging on Modi’s adept navigation through the nation’s economic and geographical divides. The southern states, housing merely a fifth of the population, wield a disproportionate influence over the nation’s economic prowess. The burgeoning contribution of these regions to the GDP accentuates a profound disparity in regional prosperity.

The economic heartbeat of India is most vigorous in the south, a region where innovation prospers and tech unicorns are commonplace. Bangalore, a citadel of creativity, catapults the nation’s IT services to international renown.

Against this backdrop of disparity, Modi’s vision for India is one of unity—a country where geographical divides are transcended to leverage economies of scale and equitable resource allocation. The groundwork for such integration has been laid by Modi’s administration through a universal tax framework and the construction of extensive transportation and digital networks.

Modi’s aspiration for India as a Vishwaguru—a global guru—rests on the nation’s technological leaps. The digital revolution is sweeping India, overhauling every layer of society, from improving financial inclusion to combatting corruption and securing fiscal efficiencies along the way. This ambition, envisaged by Rajendra Singh of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu-nationalist organization, encapsulates India’s intended role on the world stage.

As India climbs, its international commitments grow. Efforts such as the One Future Alliance and Aarogya Maitri showcase India’s commitment to leading in global health and disaster assistance, particularly in the Global South.

India’s demographic landscape is potent, with a median age of 28, in stark contrast to the aging populations of other regional countries. This young workforce is poised to contribute significantly to the global labor market over the next decade.

India’s true demographic advantage lies in its burgeoning number of STEM graduates, boosting the nation’s capacity for innovation and productivity.

While the world has noted China’s strides in poverty alleviation, India’s socio-economic evolution has also made remarkable progress, lifting millions from poverty in less than ten years.

In the Indo-Pacific—the heartland of a majority of the world’s populace and over half its GDP—India’s sway grows ever more influential. For nations like Malaysia, which grapple with Chinese complexities, India stands as a partner of historical and cultural importance.

Malaysia’s ambitions for energy transition and digitization find synergy with India’s industrial and technological ascent, presenting opportunities for collaboration, particularly in green hydrogen projects.

Investments in infrastructure and the creation of impactful roles in sectors such as semiconductors and the digital economy signal a shift in economic leadership, grounded in principles, human rights, environmental stewardship, and democratic values.

India’s quiet emergence offers a paradigm for nations like Malaysia to forge novel strategic alliances within the region. New Delhi’s staunch support for a rules-based order and its reputation for trust and normative solidity underpin its indispensability as an ally.

At an inflection point in the Indo-Pacific, India asserts itself as the balance wheel of regional stability, advocating for governance based on values and championing an open and free global order. Its leadership invigorates strategies and security frameworks for its neighbors and partners, cementing its status as Asia’s quintessential beacon of economic and security foresight—a role predicated on trust and a cooperative outlook.

Collins Chong Yew Keat has been serving in University of Malaya for more than 9 years. His areas of focus include strategic and security studies, America’s foreign policy and power projection, regional conflicts and power parity analysis and has published various publications on numerous platforms including books and chapter articles. He is also a regular contributor in providing op-eds and analytical articles for both the local and international media on various contemporary global issues and regional affairs since 2007.