Issues & Insights Vol. 19, WP6 – China's Growing Engagement in South Asia: Challenges for the US

July 2, 2019

India, often considered the natural leader of South Asia, is facing stiff competition from China. The recent tilt of the “non-nuclear five” South Asian states (i.e. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan) toward China has become quite visible as China has significantly increased its influence across the region through investment, trade, military ties, diplomatic and cultural initiatives. Meanwhile, the US envisages playing a more prominent role in South Asia by teaming up with India to challenge China and exert influence in the Indo-Pacific region. A key consideration in the US “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” hinges on India’s influence in South Asia. This paper looks closely at how Chinese bilateral trade, investment, political and military ties with the “non-nuclear five” nations have evolved and how that may affect India’s ambitions in the region. Recommendations are offered for both the US and India on how they may retain their supremacy in the region despite an ambitious and resourceful China.