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India’s Energy Diplomacy in the Neighbourhood: The Way Forward; By Rakshit Mohan

Picture Courtesy: Bangkok Post 

C3S Article no: 0074/2017

The paper explores the current status of India’s energy sector while juxtaposing it with China’s attempts to dominate the energy market in the vicinity of India. It is finally explored how India can collaborate with Japan to compete with Chinese investments and ensure energy security in its neighbourhood.

Piyush Goyal, Minister for Power, has been quoted saying, “India is looked upon as a world leader now in the power, renewable energy and infrastructure sectors. The India story is gaining unparalleled sense of confidence that was never there”.[i] It is interesting to note that the statement came only a week before China’s Belt and Road Forum held on 14​th May and 15​th May, 2017. An article in The Times of India dated 15​th May, 2017 declared “India has been quietly working on creating connectivity grids in its neighbourhood and moving beyond physical connectivity ​​to​​ energy​​ as ​​a ​​tool​​ of ​​connectivity”.[ii]

In the aforementioned context, it is imperative upon India that it strives to strengthen its foothold in the neighbourhood of crucial strategic and economic relevance. The neighbourhood assumes a status of paramount importance because of the following reasons. First, the region has been India’s domain of influence and has emerged as a crucial domain of competition between India and China. The nature of such a competition is multi-faceted. The competition is limited not only to strategic and military buildup but also encompasses vying for utilization of the natural resources and immense economic potential of the region. Second, the interplay of competition and collaboration between multiple stakeholders in the region adds to its ever changing dynamics in a context where the region’s potential in the energy sector has remained largely under-utilized. Third, India’s neighbouring countries are gaining prominence as they are geographically situated at the crown of the Indo-Pacific region that has been gaining credence in the strategic and foreign policy circles of countries like United States of America (USA), Japan, Australia and India. While China looks at this region as a potential cure to its Malacca problem, India and Japan are worried about the slew of Chinese investments in the region. Fourth, besides external factors, the domestic environment of the countries in the neighbourhood would play a critical role in shaping up the regional dynamics. Instability in the region will spill over adversely on India’s own security interests and it, therefore, becomes​​ important ​​for ​​India ​​to ​​actively ​​work ​​towards ​​regional ​​stability.

India’s neighbourhood has not been able to match its growth in accordance with its potential and the problem has been persistent in the countries because of untapped potential in the energy sector among other sectors. In a situation where the energy sector of the neighbourhood is underdeveloped and its potential untapped, it is also worth noting that the energy industry has backward and forward linkages with various other industries and it can, therefore, stimulate production in related industries. Owing to availability of underutilized energy resources and underdeveloped energy infrastructure, the neighbourhood has shown immense prospects for investments in the power and energy sector of countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Such investments are bound to reap exponential returns over a sustained period of time and shall aid the process of development in India’s neighbourhood. As the prospects of high returns on investment and strong linkages with home ​​industries ​​are​​ positive,​​ global​​ powers ​​have​​ started​​ showing ​​interest ​​in ​​India’s​ ​neighbourhood.

Among the key stakeholders in the region are India, Japan and China. While India has historically exercised influence in its neighbourhood, China has emerged as a key player in the region with a slew of investments in infrastructure projects under the aegis of its One Belt One Road initiative. Japan too has ventured into the energy infrastructure of the region and is of crucial importance to India given the fact that India’s strategic interests align with those of the Japanese in the region. The fact that Chinese investments pose a threat to the security apparatus in the neighbourhood must be recognized and India and Japan must actively collaborate in the energy sector to come up with an alternative form of connectivity in the neighbourhood. However, it is important to first understand what the various stakeholders are doing in the neighbourhood and the following paragraphs shall deal​​ with ​​the​​ same.

Japan has shown noteworthy interest in the energy sector of our neighbourhood. It has made its presence felt in countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Tokyo has also broadened the horizons of it collaboration with India in the energy sector. Japan’s investment capital and its high level of technological innovation have made it a positive contributor to the neighbourhood’s quest for energy security. Japanese companies have entered into joint ventures with various coal and oil companies​​ from ​​India, ​​Bangladesh, ​​Sri ​​Lanka ​​and ​​Myanmar.

In Bangladesh, Omera Petroleum Ltd of Bangladesh has signed a joint venture with Saisan Company Ltd of Japan to “focus on the construction, operation and management of the Auto Gas stations for the sale of LPG”.[iii] The joint venture in the petroleum sector envisages “to meet increased LPG demand for residential, industrial and automotive sector”.[iv]

Similarly, Coal Power Generation Company Bangladesh Ltd has signed a $4.6 billion deal to build two coal-fired power plants of 600 mega watt capacity on an island which is 32 kilometers from Cox Bazar. The deal has attracted investments from Sumitomo Corp ​​and ​​Marubeni ​​Corporation​​ of​​ Japan​​ for​​ assistance ​​in ​​construction ​​of ​​the ​​power ​​plants.

Likewise, Japan has made inroads into the energy sector of Myanmar. In Myanmar, Japan is leading by an example. JFE Engineering Corporation of Japan has completed Myanmar’s first waste to energy power plant which has a power generation capacity of 760 kilo watt. Yangon Waste to Energy Plant Project along with the Thilawa Industrial Zone have emerged as crucial Japanese investments ​​in ​​the​​ country ​​which ​​is ​​faced​​ with ​​a ​​lack​​ of ​​industrial​​ and​​ power ​​infrastructure.

Japan’s commitment to the energy sector in Sri Lanka is also reassuring for the development of energy and power infrastructure in the neighbourhood. Japan has discussed cooperation in requisite infrastructure development with the Lankan Prime Minister for “stabilizing energy supply…for the country as well as the related imports which are driving the current account deficit”.[v] In pursuit of its commitment to the energy sector of Sri Lanka, Japan has entered into a joint venture with India to build a gas import terminal on the west coast of Sri Lanka in Kerawalapitiya. The $250 million deal is an example of collaboration between the three nations which needs to be replicated in India’s neighbourhood on a much larger scale. The project will be undertaken by Petronet and a Japanese company, and shall help Sri Lanka achieve its plans to build a 300 megawatt gas-fired power plant in Kerawalapitiya. Japan has assisted in development of power sector of Sri Lanka through financial assistance provided by The Japan Bank for​​ International​​ Cooperation.[vi]

Japan’s commitment to the clean and renewable energy sector in India and its neighbourhood is an exemplification of its commitment to sustainable development and cleaner future. Japan has not only invested in the renewable energy sector in the Indian subcontinent but has also worked towards innovation in solar power technology. Japanese innovation has significantly contributed in making solar energy cost-effective and more efficient. Japan’s Softbank “has plans to invest around $20 billion in solar-energy-power projects in India, joining forces with the country’s Bharti Enterprises and Taiwan’s Foxconn as the Indian government targets a massive expansion in the country’s solar output from some 3 gigawatts today to 100 gigawatts by 2022”.[vii] Similarly, Orix has entered into a joint venture with SUN Renewables for setting up solar power projects in India. Orix works not only in the solar power sector but also in the wind energy and biomass sector[viii]. In Sri Lanka, Takima Tech is all set to explore the solar energy consumption potential of the Sri Lankan market. As mentioned earlier, Japan has developed a waste to energy plant in Myanmar. Japanese companies have moved in to tap the vast renewable energy potential of the region ​​and​​ are ​​set ​​to​ ​contribute ​​to ​​clean​ ​and​ ​sustainable ​​development​​ in ​​India’s ​​neighbourhood.

While the Japanese investments in the energy sector of the neighbourhood is on the rise, China has appeared to be an emerging power in the region. China has, in its quest for its own energy security, started to expand its power and energy infrastructure in the neighbourhood of India. Aneja has rightly highlighted the implications of advancements made by China in power transmission technology. China’s high voltage transmission technology will enable China to transmit power across thousands of kilometres and will thus pave the path for power export to not only India’s neighbourhood but also to far away countries in Europe. In addition to the high level of technology, Chinese position is strengthened by the power surplus that it has developed over the years. Technological innovation can enable China to expand its footprints in the energy sector across the world. The Global Times reported that China is mulling market reforms in the oil and gas industry citing inefficiency of the state owned companies. Thus, it is clear that China wants to position itself as ​​a ​​key​​ player ​​in ​​global ​​power ​​trade.

China’s presence in India’s neighbourhood is only increasing in magnitude with time. Chinese investments in Myanmar are of special significance in this regard. China has, as a part of its grand project for energy security and ridding itself of the Malacca dilemma, linked Kunming in Yunnan province to Kyaukphyu in the Rakhine state of Myanmar with an oil and a natural gas pipeline. While the Sino-Myanmar oil pipeline and the resultant Chinese presence in India’s neighbourhood is a matter of concern for India’s security interests, it must be noted that the fears of Myanmar being China’s “second coast” are exaggerated. Jha highlights that Myanmar has consistently voiced its concerns to China regarding the project and has used the “China card” only to get best techno-commercial deals from India and Japan.[ix] The above argument holds ground as the Sino-Myanmar oil pipeline was beset with delays because of lack of clearances from the government of Myanmar and opened only after years of delay. Reuters, in a report dated 21​st March 2017, quoted an anonymous PetroChina official saying, “There are questions about the economics and future cooperation with Myanmar given the repeated delays and under-utilization”. However, besides tensions, Chinese presence in the oil and natural gas sector remains substantial. China National Petroleum Corporation operates two onshore oil and gas development and production project, one deep water exploration and development project, construction of chemical facilities and construction ​​of ​​pipelines.[x]

In Bangladesh, the Chinese have signed a joint venture with Bangladesh for construction of coal fired power plants and producing of 1320 megawatt of electricity. The units will be set up at Dhankhali in Patuakhali district of Bangladesh.[xi] The deal is worth $1.56 billion and is much smaller in magnitude than the power project funded by Japan near Cox Bazar in which Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has loaned out $3.7 billion to Coal Power Generation Company Bangladesh Ltd. However, Chinese investments in Bangladesh are on the rise and it strives hard to become a major player in the energy sector of Bangladesh. The Chinese have begun to show similar enthusiasm in Sri Lanka. Chinese company named China Machinery Engineering Corporation is constructing the $1.3 billion coal fired power plant in Norochcholai, Sri Lanka ostensibly to meet Sri Lanka’s demand for power.[xii]

China’s has unequivocally pursued its objectives by developing dependency through debts. However, of late, due to slowdown in the Chinese economy, it has not been able to mobilize resources as it used to at the peak years of its growth. As the Chinese slowdown has impacted the magnitude of resource utilization in India’s neighbourhood, the countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are looking for potential investors in the various sectors of the economy for optimal resource utilization. Chinese slowdown has had a negative impact on the revenue generation capacity of its investment destinations as China is not able to buy the resources in same quantity. For instance, CNPC’s investments are not yielding expected results and are functioning at only half their operational capacity in the Shwe fields. The slowdown is, therefore, an opportunity for ​​India ​​to ​​make ​​deeper ​​in roads ​​into ​​sectors ​​where ​​India ​​enjoys ​​comparative ​​advantage.

India has started looking at energy as a crucial tool for bolstering its ties with its neighbours. As mentioned earlier, the neighbourhood is energy and power deficient and requires colossal amounts of investments in the year to come. It is also worth noting that collaboration in the region can only ensure swift progress for nations in India’s neighbourhood as India cannot overcome the energy insecurity by itself. India can, therefore, work towards energy security in its neighbourhood and ensure that the neighbourhood’s developmental goals are met by collaborating with powers that face competition from China. India’s contributions are more crucial now as the Chinese economy experiences ​​a ​​slowdown ​​and​ ​India’s​ ​growth ​​is ​​resurgent.

India’s outlook towards energy has, however, been in a state of flux and it is only recently that India has started looking at energy export. The earlier efforts were dominated by the objective of meeting domestic demands for energy. The 12​th Five Year Plan argues that India “isn’t endowed with abundant energy resources. It must, therefore, meet its development needs by using all available domestic resources of coal, uranium, oil, hydro and other renewable resources, and supplementing domestic production by imports”.[xiii] However, since the power dynamics of the neighbourhood also remains in a state of flux due to an aggressive China and the resultant power play between various stakeholders in the region, India’s demand centric approach had to be shunned. India now had to look at developing connectivity through the energy sector of the neighbourhood so that it can be leveraged for securing India’s strategic interests too. However, Indian efforts to make its presence felt in the energy sector of the neighbourhood have begun to pick​​ momentum ​​only​​ recently​​ and​​ a ​​lot ​​remains ​​to ​​be ​​done.

New Delhi, however, faces a dilemma in terms of strategically executing its energy projects in the neighbourhood. The dilemma is closely related to the model of governance that democratic nations with a free and open market follow. India cannot instruct its private sector companies to invest their capital in a particular way and in areas of India’s strategic interests. This is in stark contrast with the Chinese model of investments where the state owned companies are directed by the government to channelize their resources in areas of strategic interests. In China, the corporations and companies serve only as an extended arm of the state and, therefore, implement its agenda with a singular focus. Privately owned companies, however, are fueled by the profit motive rather than national security. This dilemma needs to be addressed by incentivizing oil and gas companies to invest in areas ​​where​​ India​​ has ​​strategic ​​interests.

Indian state-owned oil companies like Oil India Ltd (OIL), Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and their subsidiaries have invested in major oil and gas blocks in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. In Myanmar, ONGC Videsh Ltd operates Block A-1, A-3, AD-2, AD-3 & AD-9 while OIL operates Block YEB and Block M-4. The blocks operated by OIL in Myanmar are being operated in partnership with Mercator Ltd (25%), Oilmax Energy (10%) and Oil Star (5%). India not only supplies diesel from Numaligarh refinery in Assam to Myanmar ​​but​​ has​​ also ​​ventured ​​into ​​the ​​LPG ​​storage ​​and​​ distribution​​ sector ​​in​​ Myanmar.

In Bangladesh, OIL operates Block SS-04 and Block SS-09 in partnership with OVL (45%) and BAPEX (10%). Besides operational assets of Indian public sector companies, India has also attempted to make inroads into the business of syncing gas grids, supplying diesel and building gas-based power plants and pipelines in Bangladesh. In the private realm, Reliance Power and Adani Power Ltd have signed agreements worth $1billion and $2billion for construction of the first phase of Meghnaghat power plant and for supplying energy to Bangladesh from Adani’s power plant in Jharkhand respectively. In addition, EXIM Bank of India is funding a project worth $1.6 billion for the construction of 1,320MW Maitree Power Project in Rampal. New Delhi has pledged a ​​total ​​investment ​​of ​​$9 ​​billion ​​in ​​the ​​power ​​and ​​energy​​ sector ​​of ​​Bangladesh.[xiv]

India’s investments and presence in the energy sector of Sri Lanka have also been significant. IOC Lanka, which is a subsidiary of IOC, dominates 43.5% of the total market share and is, therefore, a major stakeholder in the oil industry of Sri Lanka. India and Sri Lanka are jointly developing Trincomalee oil storage tank farm. Currently, IOC Lanka operates fifteen storage facilities in Trincomalee. India has also invested in Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU), a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal and a 500 megawatt LNG-fired power plant in Colombo. In terms of India’s contribution to the clean energy sector in Sri Lanka, India has invested in a solar power plant​​ Sampur​​ which ​​has ​​a​​ capacity​​ of​​ 50​​ megawatt.

India’s investments in the energy sector of the neighbourhood have been on the rise in the recent past but India’s attempts to expand its presence in the neighbourhood has to cope with the Chinese investments. The Chinese have a foreign exchange reserve of more than three trillion dollars at their disposal for investments. However, Chinese reserves are now falling and have fallen from the previous high of four trillion dollars owing to a slowdown in the Chinese economy. The Global Times puts the foreign exchange reserves for May, 2017 at $3.05 trillion. Japan is the only other country which possesses over a trillion dollar in foreign exchange reserves. Given that the Chinese can mobilize large amounts of resources and capital to singularly pursue their objectives, it is imperative that India must look for collaboration with Japan in order to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship in the neighbourhood. First, India and Japan exemplify two of the most stable and successful democracies in the world. The countries find it easy to work together as they have similar institutions and their philosophy of governance is alike. The countries share a common competitor in China and both the nations have unresolved territorial disputes with China. Second, the Japanese, owing to their commitment to a sustainable future, have invested colossal resources to be a world leader in new and renewable energy. Japanese innovation shall find market avenues of massive potential in India and its neighbourhood. India can utilize Japanese technology to produce satisfy its energy requirements through cleaner sources of energy like solar energy and wind energy. Utilization of superior technology and innovation in the field of clean fuels can help both the nations to make the technologies cost effective and efficient. Third, Indian and Japanese joint ventures in neighbouring countries shall also be a welcome break for the nations which are ensnared in Chinese debt. Bilateral or multilateral ventures with India and Japan is in the interest of nations like Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka as it gives them the best techno-commercial deals without having to bow down to the Chinese pressure. There is, therefore, a convergence of interests between the ​​countries ​​in​​ India’s ​​neighbourhood ​​in​​ matters​​ of​​ infrastructure​​ and​​ energy ​​security.

Energy has to be used as a medium of enhancing connectivity in the neighbourhood. A neighbourhood of countries with similar requirements in the energy sector must be connected through grids and transmission cables in order to build mutual dependence and coexistence. This shall help the energy deficient, low income nations of the neighbourhood to gain momentum in terms of growth. Energy, therefore, has emerged as a tool of non-traditional connectivity and India must ​​be​​ on ​​its ​​toes ​​to ​​maximize ​​its ​​presence ​​in​​ the ​​sector.

Gradually, as India and Japan, through mutual cooperation, expand their foothold in the energy sector of the neighbourhood, both the countries can consider signing joint ventures with other powers for investing their capital in the energy sector. Entry of powers like Australia, with interests that converge with those of Indian and Japanese interests, will only prove to be beneficial for the growth of the sector of the neighbourhood and can ensure that the Chinese capital is matched with equal might. Meanwhile, as a longer term strategy, India must build its own capacities and technologies through investment in science and innovation to achieve cleaner and efficient ways of satisfying its energy requirements. Development of oil terminals and storage facilities on the sea fronts of India will enhance domestic capacity and act as a launch pad for Indian investments in neighbouring countries. For example, the refinery in Mangalore can be utilized as a node for supply of oil to Sri Lanka. Finally, India must enhance its own capabilities and forge ties to expand its presence without making much pomp and show about it. The path ahead is a path which can be traversed​​ only​​ through ​​innovation​​ and​​ collaboration.

References:

[i] Prasad, ​​Gireesh ​​Chandra.​​”Power​​ reforms​​ have ​​changed​​ country’s​​ mindset”. ​​​Livemint,​​​ May ​​10,

[ii] Bagchi,​​ Indrani.​​ “Away​​ from​​ OBOR,​​ India ​​pushing ​​for ​​’energy ​​diplomacy’ ​​in ​​neighbourhood.”​​​ The Times​​ of ​​India​, ​​May​​ 15,​​ 2017. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-working-on-energy-relationship-with-neigbours-to-leverage-indias-position/articleshow/58671911.cms

[iii] “BD-Japan ​​joint ​​venture​​ in ​​petroleum​​ sector ​​introduced.”​​​ Dhaka​​ Tribune​.​​ Nov.​​ 13, ​​2016.  http://www.dhakatribune.com/business/2016/11/13/bd-japan-joint-venture-petroleum-sector-introdu ced/

[iv] “BD-Japan ​​joint ​​venture​​ in ​​petroleum​​ sector ​​introduced.”​​​ Dhaka​​ Tribune​.​​ Nov.​​ 13, ​​2016.  http://www.dhakatribune.com/business/2016/11/13/bd-japan-joint-venture-petroleum-sector-introdu ced/

[v] “METI ​​Minister​​ Soko ​​holds ​​a ​​meeting ​​with ​​H.E.​​Mr.​​Ranil ​​Wickremesinghe, ​​Prime ​​Minister ​​of ​​Sri  Lanka.” ​​​Ministry​​ of​​ Economy,​​ Trade​​ and​​ Industry​.​​ (2017).

[vi] “The ​​Government ​​of​​ Japan​​ assist ​​in​​ development​​ of​​ power ​​sector​​ in​​ Sri ​​Lanka.” ​​​Ministry​​ of​​ Power and​​ Renewable ​​Energy​. ​​(2014).​​​ http://powermin.gov.lk/english/?p=3397

[vii] Inani, ​​Rohit.​​ “Japan’s​​ Softbank ​​to ​​invest ​​$20​​billion​​ in ​​solar-energy ​​projects ​​in​​ India.”​​​ Time​,​​ June

[viii] Bhaskar,​​ Utpal.​​ “Japan’s​​ ORIX ​​seeks ​​India ​​solar ​​play ​​with​​ SUN​​ Group.”​​​ Livemint​,​​ May​​ 10,​​ 2017.  http://www.livemint.com/Companies/iRKjFy0PjbDzw3KWeEUIcI/Japans-ORIX-seeks-India-solar -play-with-SUN-Group.html

[ix] Jha,​​ Saurav.​​ “The​​ Bay ​​of ​​Bengal​​ Naval ​​Arms​​ Race”. ​​​The​​ Diplomat,​​​ Dec​​ 30,​​ 2016.

[x] “CNPC ​​in​​ Myanmar. “​​​China​​ National​​ Petroleum​​ Corporation​. ​​June​​ 8,​​ 2017.

[xi] “Bangladesh-China ​​JV ​​to​​ construct ​​$1.56 ​​bln​​ power ​​plant​​ in ​​southern​​ Bangladesh.”​​​ Reuters​. ​​March 30, ​​2016. ​​​http://in.reuters.com/article/bangladesh-power-china-idINL3N1721UK

[xii] Bhatia, ​​Rajiv,​​Kunal​​ Kulkarni,​​Lina ​​Lee​​ and​​ Shivani ​​Gyakwad,​​ “Chinese ​​investments ​​in ​​Sri  Lanka,” ​​​Gateway​​ House:​​ Indian​​ Council​​ on​​ Global​​ Relations ​​​(2016). http://www.gatewayhouse.in/chinese-investments-sri-lanka/

[xiii] “Twelfth ​​Five​​ Year ​​Plan. “​​​Planning​​ Commission​​ of​​ India​.​​ June ​​5,​​ 2017.

[xiv] Tripathi,​​ Satyendra.​​”The ​​road​​ to ​​energy​​ security​​ goes ​​through​​ diplomacy”.​​​ Swarajya,​​​ April​​ 29,

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(Rakshit Mohan is an undergraduate student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. His interests include India-China relations, Indo-Pacific security dynamics and India’s foreign policy. He is an aspiring civil services officer and wishes to pursue higher studies in the field of international relations. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. Email- rakshitmohan@live.com)

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