Economic power is to China what military might is to the USA. Both the attributes win friends, partners and strategic footprints.
But, money, often cannot get you everything in life. The rise of China, for most of its neighbours, is not a benign affair. There lies the opportunity for India. And the two countries making efforts to gain supremacy is the region has just got more competitive.
China is a $17.6 trillion economy in purchasing power parity terms. It doesn't have to worry about loosening the purse strings at will on neighbours and willing partners. On the other hand, India has to keep a delicate balance between her domestic development goals and international commitments.
Beijing's ability to pull off huge infrastructure projects at a low cost in a shorter span of time has drawn many neighbours of India like Sri Lanka and Nepal to its fold.
New Delhi is playing its part earnestly too. After many years of neglect, Indian Ocean region is getting the focus it had long deserved. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reading the signals well and moved into play cultural cards like common Buddhist heritage to the hilt. Next month, Modi will be visiting Mongolia along with China and South Korea. To cash in on this, India needs to be smarter, in ways where China cannot easily outsmart her.
For example, Chinese loans are by no means cheap compared with that of multilateral agencies. This has become a cause of some resentment. India's model of developmental partnership often gets applause, before it halters on implementation. That ensures India fails to leverage the goodwill it enjoys.
India moves slow in implementing projects it has undertaken in most countries. The promises not kept abroad hit the image of the country. There has to be a realistic assessment before projects are announced for other countries. There also has to be streamlining of the way most projects hurtle from one bureaucratic hurdle to another in the government.