The growing generosity of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to its neighbors, notably Nepal, is worthy of applause. Increased Indian pledges of aid can support growth in the recipient countries, thus contributing to the shared prosperity that China, the initiator of the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, has long advocated.
The vision of shared growth can be a gentle reminder that financial assistance shouldn't be used as a bargaining chip for India to bundle any anti-China terms and conditions with its aid packages.
India has increased its financial aid to its neighbors for the financial year 2018-19 beginning April, the Times of India reported on Wednesday.
At the top of the Modi government's financial aid rankings are Bhutan and Nepal. Bhutan is receiving the largest allocation of 1,779 crore ($273.25 million) for the financial year 2017-18 and will remain the top recipient in 2018-19 with 1,813 crore. The financial assistance to be funneled to Nepal, second on the list, totals 650 crore for 2018-19, a steep rise of 73 percent from the previous year, the article said.
However, the Times of India didn't just report the numbers; it gave a combative account of the generous aid offerings. Instead of illustrating how the aid could help in revving up growth in the recipient economies, the article focused on India's "smart" response to China's growing influence in its backyard by upping its aid to countries that New Delhi believes China is gazing at with covetous eyes.
Rather than giving in to anxieties about China's presence in India's neighborhood, New Delhi should take a broader view. Other than its neighbors, New Delhi could consider allocating more to countries in Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Africa. Overseas aid is supposed to symbolize the nation's rise as a responsible global power. Any ulterior motives India might have in pledging more foreign aid would only undermine its stakeholding in world affairs. Any intention it has to condition its aid around a misguided strategy for guarding against China would only be doomed to flop.
Strenuous efforts by China to push the B&R, intended to benefit all countries and regions along the route, could be a shining example of what India should consider doing. Greater commitments to countries where there is a need for foreign aid and investment would pave the way for India to forge closer ties with China, and also show the world that India is becoming an engine for global growth.