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Increasing geopolitical rivalry: China, India and Japan focus on Bangladesh

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One of objective of ‘Asia pivot’ policy of USA has been to target China as a military ally of Russia and keep the Asian nations away from Chinese influence. Washington has been able to put pressure on Russia not to dominate the nations in Asia with military tie ups. In this respect, there is a stiff completion and even conflict among China, India and Japan to shift Bangladesh away from China.

Obviously USA backs its NATO ally Japan in its effort to bring Bangladesh to US control by investing more money than China does in Dhaka. USA has managed to coerce a shaky Sri Lanka looking for profitable economic ties with Beijing to move away from China and ‘listen” to New Delhi by using the ‘War crimes against Tamils’ card. Since Sri Lanka is eager to save the state Singhalese war criminals, it also seeks help from Indian government that having failed in poll after poll in the country is seeking “helping” image abroad by inaugurating a cricket stadium in Colombo jointly by Indian PM Modi and Lankan President Sirisena.

China’s investment in Sri Lankan port facilities was pushed back following the US-backed regime-change in Sri Lanka, which saw the removal of former President Mahinda Rajapakse at the January 2015 election and the installation the pro-US Maithripala Sirisena as president.

New Delhi, as a new “strategic partner” of Washington and rival of Beijing, now plays for America and claims that China is encircling India under its “string of pearl strategy.” And in line with Washington’s “pivot” against China, Japan is backing US provocations in the South China Sea and supporting the territorial claims of Vietnam and Philippines.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited Bangladesh Prime minister Hasina to attend last month’s outreach meeting during the G7 Ise-Shima Summit in Japan. Abe promised Bangladesh that he would release $1.5 billion this year from a $5 billion loan agreed during his visit to Bangladesh in 2014.

After cutting Russian influence, into size world over the US regime has been making strenuous efforts to contain China in Asia. By using his black background, Obama has played too well to cut Bangladesh and Sri Lanka from China funded projects and made India the alternative beneficiary.

China

China remains Bangladesh’s main supplier of military hardware, its largest trading partner and continues to make large investments in the country. Since 2010 Beijing has supplied Dhaka with five maritime patrol vessels, two corvettes, 44 tanks, and 16 fighter jets, as well as surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles. Dhaka has also ordered new Ming-class submarines that will join the Bangladesh fleet later this year.

China is Bangladesh’s largest trading partner and the cash-strapped Hasina government is seeking more investment from China. China has substantial interests in Bangladesh. It is already involved in upgrading Chittagong port and also won a $705 million contract for a two-lane tunnel under the Karnaphuli River.

Dhaka is highly dependent on Chinese investment. China currently has a $705 million contract to build a two-lane under-water tunnel connecting Chittagong port and Karnaphuli River Valley. In early May, the Hasina government also approved the $4.47 billion Padma Bridge rail link project. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which was initiated by Beijing, recently granted a $66 million loan for two power distribution projects and the improvement of transmission lines in Bangladesh.

Chinese investors are also keen to shift labor-intensive industries, such as garment manufacturing, to Bangladesh in order to exploit its cheap labor. Bangladeshi wages—in manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors—are less than one-fourth of those in China and half of that in India.

Impact of Asia pivot on Bangladesh

Like the port at Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan, Sonadia was to be part of Beijing’s “string of pearls” strategy—a series of Chinese-funded port facilities across the Indian Ocean to safeguard its shipping from the Middle East and Africa. China is heavily dependent on these sea lanes for importing energy and raw materials.

Thus Bangladesh has become the focus for increasing geo-political rivalry between China, India and Japan—the latter two backed by the USA. Recently, Chinese investment bids in Bangladesh reportedly have been outflanked by Indian and Japanese corporations over port and power plant projects.

In line with Washington’s “pivot” to Asia, India and Japan are attempting to undermine Chinese influence throughout the region. Under pressure from the USA, India and Japan are attempting to undercut the relations between Beijing and Dhaka.

Obviously on instruction from the White House, Indian government is attempting to strengthen political relations with Bangladesh and undermine Chinese influence. The India government’s interest in Bangladesh is part of its “Act East policy,” which is backed by the US and aimed at aggressively promoting its interest in South East Asia and the South China Sea. Transit routes through Bangladesh would provide a direct land route from India to Burma and South East Asia.

Indian PM Narendra Modi visited Dhaka last June and signed agreements with the Hasina government, including a deal to end a four-decade border dispute between the two countries. The Land Boundary Agreement demarcated borders and river water sharing between the two countries. Modi also promised a $2 billion line of credit and the release of a previously agreed $800 million. A total of 22 agreements were signed, including on maritime security and the establishment of special economic zones in Bangladesh.

Indian businessmen attending the Bangladesh Investment and Policy Summit in Dhaka in January promised to invest over $11 billion in various infrastructure projects, including a gas pipeline from the Indian state Orissa to Bangladesh and an LNG power plant.

According to media reports, India’s state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) is soon to sign a $1.6 billion power station construction contract with Bangladesh after undercutting China’s Harbin Electric International Company. The 1,320MW thermal power station will be located in Khulna district, southern Bangladesh. It would be the largest foreign project by an Indian power company.

The BHEL agreement further highlights India’s efforts to undermine Beijing’s economic and strategic influence in Bangladesh and throughout South Asia, as part of Washington’s “pivot” to Asia, directed at undermining China and preparing for a possible war.

Deep sea port

Bangladesh industry has grown rapidly over the past decade but the country does not have a deep-water port. Recent years has seen intense competition between India, Japan and China for various seaport contracts in the country. Bangladesh lacked a deep-water seaport because many powerful players are pushing for too many contending plans.    

India was concerned that the planned Sonadia port would have increased China’s presence in Bay of Bengal and is close to India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This low-lying and mostly uninhabited archipelago of 572 islands is strategically important for India, housing several military bases and surveillance and monitoring stations. India’s Tri-service Andaman Nicobar Command was created in 2001 at an estimated $US2 billion to safeguard India’s interests in the region. Facilities on the islands monitor shipping through the Malacca Strait.

Bangladesh had previously agreed to assign the Sonadia seaport development to China. However, Hasina did not sign the scheduled agreement when she visited Beijing in 2014 because of pressure from the USA and India. Japan would build a new port in Matabari, a few kilometres away from Sonadia. Beijing said it wanted to develop another port at Payra. Last month Bangladesh, signed a contract with a Dutch company to build the Payra port.

China had carried out extensive feasibility assessments and agreed to provide 99 percent of funds to build Sonadia near Chittagong, the country’s major port. When Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina visited China in June 2014 it appeared likely that a deal on the multi-billion project would go ahead. While no agreement was signed, Chinese state media reported that “both sides expressed willingness to have further negotiations.” Bangladesh, however, later admitted that the port deal would not proceed because “some countries, including India and the United States, are against the Chinese involvement.”

The Indian media has reported the power station deal as a “second setback” for Beijing, following the failure of a long-planned Chinese deal with Bangladesh to build the huge Sonadia deep-sea port. It became clear last July that Bangladesh was moving to shelve the proposed Sonadia port after it signed an agreement with Japan to build a deep-water port in Matarbari, just 25 kilometres from Sonadia.

In 2005, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that China’s plans for Chittagong harbour were part of Beijing’s “string of pearls” that also involved a Chinese-built port at Gwadar in Pakistan, and facilities in Myanmar, Cambodia and the South China Sea.

Bangladesh’s Hasina government decided to build another port in Payra, to the west of Chittagong and much closer to the Indian coastline. While the project was first announced in 2013, the bill to establish the port was passed by the Bangladesh government on March 2. Dhaka is also considering an Indian proposal to build the $15.5 billion project. India’s shipping ministry warned that if New Delhi “does not take a call on the project, then the Chinese government could step in and develop it for their own commercial and strategic advantages.” China and some European governments have already expressed interests in the project.

New Delhi is currently building a transit route to the northeast of India through Bangladesh using rail, road and waterways. The northeastern states of India are currently connected by a narrow stretch of land, the Siliguri Corridor or Chicken’s Neck.

Chinese panic

Under pressure from Washington’s “pivot” against China and India’s integration into this increasingly provocative geo-strategic policy along with the expectations of great benefits form USA, Dhaka appears to be distancing itself from Beijing.

However, comprehending the new situation of USA-China rivalry and Indian role, Bangladesh is eager to expand the chances for benefits from all possible sources and it does not oblige USA and India against China.

Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan’s recent high-profile trip to Bangladesh May 28–30 further highlights the intensifying geo-political rivalry in the region. Chang, who was accompanied by a 39-member delegation, met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, President Abdul Hamid and senior defence officials, including the Bangladesh army, navy and air force chiefs.

Hasina told Chang that Bangladesh wanted to strengthen its cooperation with China, especially in the fields of economy, agriculture, and infrastructure. She also said that her government would continue working with Beijing on the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor, which aims to increase trade and economic activity in the region. Chang said China wanted to “expand strategic relations with Bangladesh,” including deepening bilateral cooperation and increasing military exchanges and personnel training in new equipment technology.

The visit followed indications that the Bangladesh government might be accommodating to economic and political pressures from India and Japan.

Observation

USA pushes other countries seeking some favors from Washington or NATO to absolute submission, by making them do exactly what the Pentagon-CIA-Neocons trio wants. India and Japan are doing exactly what USA wants in Asia. By insulting and belittling Pakistan after having misused it for terror wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere to kill Muslims, USA signals to India that it has wound up Pakistan ties in favor of ‘terror victim’ partner of USA.

The shifts and the intense international competition over infrastructure investment and other projects in Bangladesh show that every country in the region is being drawn into the maelstrom of war tensions created by the US drive against China.

India wants to seen as an ally of super power on terror gimmicks is understandable. Bangladesh dream of becoming important nation with US or Indian support is not genuine. Americans do not spend on others just for nothing.

The veto powers led by USA have increased the sale of terror goods to third world by escalating terror wars and unleashing world war propaganda. China just plays the second fiddle. New Delhi plays as official agent of USA for some false reasons.

Under conditions of sharpening geo-political tensions created by Washington’s pivot, Bangladesh’s ability to manoeuvre between the major powers to advance its interests is becoming increasingly limited. Bangladesh, like Pakistan, could lose its sovereignty if it also plays into US hands, willingly or otherwise.

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South Asia

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor: Justifications and Refutations

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This commentary discusses about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) where Chinese and Pakistani perspectives on CPEC have been highlighted along with India’s strong refutation of those perspectives or justifications. The commentary mentions that while both China and Pakistan have underlined the economic-developmental aspects of CPEC, there could be an interesting case for empathising with India’s argument that CPEC has unmistakable strategic-security aspects that has certain consequences for India’s national interests which need to be seen.

Introduction

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is an initiative under China’s Belt and Road initiative which aims at providing connectivity, infrastructure, and promotion of people to people exchanges. The BRI has been seen as a tool for promoting the Chinese Dream, which had a purpose of promoting free trade, economic cooperation,mutual benefitin member countries. China through the BRI, is trying to ensure regional stability through economic growth eventually trying to make its presence felt in the region.

This has been seen as a project which could ensure job opportunities, inclusivity and also a connectivity to the People’s Republic of China.The complete distance of this project is 3218 km. China is investing USD $64 billion in this project.[i]CPEC is useful for Pakistan, where many rail projects, power plants and special economic zones have been promised by China therefore making it attractive to foreign investments.

As part of this initiative, $11 billion was initially invested on transport infrastructure and a fibre optics link from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar in Balochistanis being established plus $ 33 billion was to be spent on power plants supplying solar, coal as well as wind energy.[ii] Also, ten Special Economic Zones have also been included in this project where they are being constructed in Mirpur, Muqpandass both situated in PoK.

China needs another base after Djibouti, where Gwadar has potential due to its strategic geographical location. This could provide an easier alternative to the Malacca Strait , which could be seen as a strategic chokepoint where two thirds of global oil trade passes through and Gwadar is a strategic point for China to exert itself in the Indian Ocean.

CPEC could be seen as an opportunity with respect to Pakistan’s high debts, weakening economy, state instability. It could prove beneficial even for Balochistan which is prone to many separatist movements plus also including it for development since it is left out from the rest of the region. Here, this article discusses about the Pakistani views on CPEC and how does it benefit Pakistan with respect to territorial disputes such as Kashmir and Balochistan. Will this project be useful at a time bad reputation which Pakistan has with respect to terrorism?

Rationale Of CPEC From Pakistan and China’s Points Of View

This initiative is not the first time Pakistan has approached China for any assistance. A common threat brings countries together in order to tackle a rising threat from any power. In Pakistan’s perception, it always had historical political and strategic issues with India since independence with respect to the Kashmir problem which has caused a deadlock between India and Pakistan ever since, where the two countries witnessed three wars in1965,1971and 1999.

The CPEC passes through the disputed areas of Mirpur, Gilgit and Baltistan where Pakistan and India are disputing for territorial claims.Immediately after the 1962 India-China war, Pakistan illegally gave away Shaksgam Valley to China as a part of a friendship agreement. Ceding of Shaksgam valley to China in a way led to increased involvement in the India-Pakistan dispute on Kashmir by providing Pakistan defence and economic assistance.

China believed that the Kashmiri people should have right to self -determination and make a wise choice, whether to join India or Pakistan. Slowly, along with improving ties with India, China started keeping a neutral approach on this issue with respect to India’s growing economic strength as well as its ties improving with the United States.China perhaps realised that it could not afford to lose out on India even though it has Pakistan’s strategic value in mind. However, the advent of CPEC has forced the veneer of formal neutrality to drop off.

CPEC could also be useful in providing vocational training skill development for students staying in the areas which are covered and need such basic facilities. The Chinese government is providing scholarships for the students staying in the areas of GilgitBaltistan, whose fate is still uncertain about which country to join.[iii]

Pakistan’s Growing Economic Interdependence on China

Historically, China-Pakistan relationship has been driven by strategic-security considerations. Except for defence trade, basically Chinese arms export to Pakistan, economic aspects of the ties were really weak. However, in last one decade, and particularly with CPEC, their relations have developed significantly. Seeing China as a strategic threat, US is counting on India for security and economic initiatives.

US ever since 2008, is seeing a decline in its economy which leads China having an edge afterwards. The two countries are in the middle of a trade war which has led to GDP growth fall in both the countries therefore impacting manufacturing.Assistance was stopped being given to Pakistan under the Donald Trump regime and reduction in US FDI inflows since 2011have led to estrangement between two countries.

A drift between US and Pakistan is making Pakistan more dependent on China for economic aid. Here,CPEC aims at bringingeconomic development along with cultural and people to people connections are bringing two powers closer. CPEC aims at building inclusivity in the country where radicalism, poverty, unemployment is a key concern. According to Xinhua, 75,000 small jobs have been created in the country along with 100 small and medium enterprises being involved. This project aimed at creating 2.3 million jobs between 2015 and 2030.[iv]

CPEC Projects

The areas around GilgitBaltistan are rich in resources such as uranium, silver plus it also houses the K2 and Nanga Parbat peaks.[v] Important hydropower projects such as dams are coming up in this area through which important rivers such as Jhelum pass some examples of energy projects include the Kohala hydropower project, which produces about 1100 MW of power and the Phandar hydropower station, producing 80 MW of power. Other hydropower plant projects are also being constructed in Bunji, located on Indus river,will provide 7100 MW of power along with the Diamer- Basha dam, whose estimated cost is about US$12-14 billion also has a capacity of providing 4500 megawatt of power.[vi]

Important railway connections are also being put into place under this initiative. The Karachi Peshawar railway line is also coming where the project is expected to be complete by 2022. The railway line covers 1872 km and the maximum operating speed on this railway line could be 160 km/hr. Railway tracks would be upgraded,new signalling systems will be setup and new safety provisions will be provided for passengers.[vii]

The Karakorum highway is one of the highest road infrastructure projects which are coming up, situated at height of 4714 m. This highway starts from HasanAbdal and goes till Kashgar, in Xinjiang Autonomous region, where the distance covered is 1300 km. This highway will cover HasanAbdal, Thakot, Havelian, Raikot, Gilgit and Skardu.[viii] The highway construction was difficult due to high altitude and terrain. Its redevelopment and up gradation is an essential portion in context to this initiative.Other projects include development of an oil refinery and a new airport in Gwadar, also the Multan Sukkur motorwaywhich is under construction is an important part of the Karachi Peshawar motorway covers 392 km and this aims at reducing the distance between Multan and Sukkur by 3 hrs. This project was inaugurated in November,2019.[ix]

These projects as a part of the CPEC would provide easy connectivity between two countries and also be useful in the infrastructure development in Pakistan. The initiative could be useful for Pakistan’s power supply and economic growth. 

India’s Refutation

Indian hegemony, in Pakistan’s perception, can be seen as a common problem for both China and Pakistan, as it is said that a common threat, a common goal or interest could lead to countries getting   together and forming a balance against a threat from a rising power that could coerce weaker countries in the near future. This is the case with CPEC being seen as a tool to counter India’s rise and influence on the Kashmir issue.

This project has been based on geopolitical considerations rather than strategic interests since Gwadar is prone to many pro-independence movements and Kashgar being a question due to Uighurs issue which the Human Rights Watch is questioning with respect to human rights violations, radicalism plus also the Kashmir issue. Incidentally, ever since Article 370 was abolished in August 2019, China feels that by including the Aksai Chin under Indian domain could be a contentious issue, which China took over in 1962. The same also went for Gilgit and Baltistan where the CPEC flows. According to a press statement China is in view about India posing a challenge to its territorial sovereignty and interests.[x] That’s why efforts are being made to speed up this project keeping India under check with respect to its claim on Kashmir.

Thus, there are genuine case of India reading strategic implications for itself. As per press statements of MEA, India had shown reservations with respect to joining BRI where many reasons were stated. Some of them included environmental protection and project costs. India prioritises its sovereignty and territorial integrity at the first place.[xi] Another statement states that connectivity is based on important factors which include rule of law, transparency.[xii]

Finally, one would point out that it is not only India that has raised concerns about CPEC. Countries such as US are also flagging concerns about Chinese influence in Pakistan with respect to any infrastructure or other projects since these initiatives are being seen as a tool being used by China in order to bring smaller countries into a debt trap.[xiii]

In case this project is implemented at a rapid pace, then the two all -weather partners can tackle secessionist movements taking place in Balochistan. Due to this about 10,000 troops have been deployed throughout the corridor since Chinese firms are slowly getting wary about these movements which they feel are against the national interests of both countries, creating further divide in the near future.

CPEC can only move at a proper pace for Pakistan if there is a stable administrative body and organising proper methods to tackle terrorism and also by putting India on loop while organising these projects instead of using force or coercion. Negotiations will play an important role with respect to achieving national interests. Putting projects on disputed territory could be seen as route to war instead of negotiating and proper demarcation of boundaries.

Economic development has played an essential role with respect to countries indirectly taking over territories from competitors instead of using coercive measures directly which will lead to further war mongering. Economic development has been seen as a tool of soft power, where through giving employment, loans and infrastructure strong countries set preferences of smaller countries. For India, these projects are seen as a power game where two countries are trying to counter the fast growing economy by using economic development in the areas which are disputed with respect to territorial claims. Actually economic infrastructure is not meant for catering to economic interests but for fulfilling geopolitical interests! Therefore, Pakistan will benefit from this project.

Criticism

The project has witnessed a lot of doubts whether it is ethnic turmoil, corruption, lack of transparency, improper terrain and an increasing debt which Pakistan has. There has been doubts in the minds of the Baloch , who feel that the Punjabis are the main beneficiaries as far as job opportunities go and there have been many protests in opposition of infrastructure projects  because the areas in Balochistanare rich in resources such as natural gas copper  and gold, many  residents in those areas feel that human development will get impacted.Balochistan is a needy region which has a long lasting demand for drinking water, electricity, roads, proper healthcare and education facilities. 2400 families have been displaced in Balochistan due to these projects, so there could be a chance of rise in Baloch insurgency if the residents in the region are not properly consulted.[xiv]

Conclusion

The CPEC has always been in India’s mind because of threat to national sovereignty and strategy. China and Pakistan both have a common threat which leads them to be together. The US is becoming dependant on countries such as India, Japan because there is a slow decline in its role in the global scenario. The US has its own reservations with China whether it’s the trade war or South China Sea Dispute so there is a reason for US to be wary of China to contain smaller countries in a debt trap, as suggested by Alice Wells ,in November 2019.[xv]

As far as India goes, it is still particular about joining BRI behind which the CPEC is a major reason when its national interests, security, territorial sovereignty is at stake. China in order to pressurise New Delhi for looking into its national interests is counting on Pakistan for support through this project since connectivity and infrastructure development will prove useful for China to get access to Pakistani soil and at later stages in the name of providing economic development for Pakistan, it could create a sense of dependency on China. Construction of dams, hydropower projects in PoK could in the near future lead to easy divergence in river flows taking place.

India’s tension is Pakistan’s gain which means that if China objects any move which is in India’s interest and China tries to bring Pakistan in whenever there is a common concern with respect to any development in India , whether it’s the NSG or the Maulana Masood Azhar issue. Pakistan will always be an all weather ally of China.

Endnotes


[i]S. A.Zaidi, “A Road Through Pakistan, and What This Means for India”,Strategic Analysis Journal, 43(3), 2019,p. 218.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Muhammad Khurshid Khan, “Balancing Relations With China and the United States In The Backdrop Of The CPEC” ,The Korean Journals Of Defence Analysis, 30(4), December 2018, pp. 577-590.

[iv]Liu Tian, “How One US Official Got It Wrong on China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation”, Xinhua, November 23,2019, at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-11/23/c_138578254.htm
(Accessed November 27, 2019).

[vi] D Jorgic,“Pakistan Eyes 2018 Start for China-funded Mega Dam Opposed India”, Reuters, June 13, 2017, at https://in.reuters.com/article/us-china-silkroad-pakistan-dam/pakistan-eyes-2018-start-for-china-funded-mega-dam-opposed-by-india-idINKBN1941P9 (Accessed November 29,2019).

[vii] “China Pakistan Economic Corridor: Expansion And Reconstruction Of Existing Line ML-1,2019,CPEC Official Website, at http://cpec.gov.pk/project-details/30 (Accessed November 28, 2019).

[viii] “Lisa Heilscher ,Karakorum Highway, Belt and Road Initiative”,2018 , https://www.beltroad-initiative.com/karakoram-highway/ (Accessed November 28, 2019).

[ix] Give full name (T. N. S.) Correspondent, “Light Traffic can Use M 5”, Dawn, November 5,2019, at
https://www.dawn.com/news/1515372 (Accessed November 28, 2019).

[x]“Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Gen Shuang’s Regular Press Conference, Ministry Of Foreign Affairs of the PRC Website, October 31,2019, athttps://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2511_665403/t1712371.shtml (Accessed November 29,2019).

[xi]“Official Spokesperson’s Response to a Query on Participation of India in OBOR/BRI Forum”,Ministry Of External Affairs (MEA), May 13,2017,at https://mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/28463/Official+Spokespersons+response+to+a+query+on+participation+of+India+in+OBORBRI+Forum, (Accessed January 3, 2020).
[xii]“Official Spokesperson’s Response to a Query on Media Reports Regarding Possible Cooperation with China on OBOR/BRI”, MEA, April 5 2018,https://www.mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/29768/Official+Spokespersons+response+to+a+query+on+media+reports+regarding+possible+cooperation+with+China+on+OBORBRI (Accessed January 3,2020).

[xiii] Liu Tian, November 2019

[xiv]ZahidShahab Ahmed, “ Impact of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor On Nation Building “, Journal Of Contemporary China, November 5, 2018, pp. 409-413

[xv] Liu Tian , November 2019

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The Dragon Elephant Tango: Indo-China relations under Modi

Ishita Gupta

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India and China have a demonstrated history of border tension since Independence, once even leading to war. Yet, a simultaneous effort to establish “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” has persisted parallelly. Every subsequent government that has come to power has had a strategy of establishing ‘mutual trust’ and a ‘shared vision’ with their Chinese counterpart. The diplomatic efforts almost turned into a blossoming ‘friendship’ under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Both countries have been carving out their space in the international arena and have commanded global attention. In their mission to establish a global footing, the neighbours have recognised each other’s importance. In 2010, after a bilateral talk, they even released a joint statement saying “there is enough space in the world for both China and India to grow”. China started displaying an interest in India since the beginning of the 21st century. India too, recognised China as a potential strategic partner, owing to its economy and geographical proximity.

Efforts from both sides since 2004 led to a chain of favourable events that helped cultivate the strategic relationship. The BRICS conference held at New Delhi in 2012, saw the two countries unite to condemn US action in Libya and Syria and asserting the importance of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states. By the next BRICS meeting in Durban in 2013, the countries had grown significantly closer, and border disputes were pretty much put on the back burner.

However, since the shift in leadership to the NDA alliance there has been a visible deterioration in the trajectory of the relationship. Gradually leading to the current heightened tension in the Galwan Valley region.

The retraction of evolving relations under the Modi regime can be attributed to three primary changes in India’s foreign and domestic policy:

1. India’s shift towards joining the US camp

The UPA government had set the stage for a grand visit by Xi Jinping in September 2014 to be carried forward by a newly anointed Prime Minister Modi. However, the Modi government treated the visit “more as a bilateral mending of fences… rather than as the culmination of a long and patiently sought rapprochement.”. Additionally, Xi Jinping’s visit was preceded by a visit to Washington by Modi and followed by a surprise visit by President Obama as the chief guest for Republic day celebrations in 2015.

The Obama visit culminated in the signing of the ‘U.S.–India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region’. This demonstrated move to the US camp sent a clear signal to China against any kind of strategic relationship with India.

In 2016, under intense tension between USA-China in the South China sea, the Modi government sent four warships with the US-Japan task force that were docked in Vietnam and Philippines ports for over two months. This was clearly seen as “a blatant assertion of India’s freedom of navigation (under American protection of course) in the South China Sea.”

Furthermore, China is concerned about India’s participation in the Quad, trilateral, and military exercises such as the Malabar naval drills which China considers a quasi alliance.

More recently, Trump’s visit to India in February’20 and the Indo-US ‘Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership’ in the support of free navigation in the Indo-Pacific, all contributed towards a retaliation from China.

2. India’s refusal to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

India has expressed concern against joining the BRI, as it breaches its territorial integrity. A portion of the BRI passes through POK- which India considers an illegal occupation by Pakistan -directly threatening India’s sovereignty. Additionally, India is wary of China’s debt-trap diplomacy that offers favourable loans, indebting the member states to China.

The primary concern, however, is that the BRI expands China’s unilateral power, threatening India’s position as an alternate power in the Indo-Pacific region.

This has invited retaliation from China through repeated vetoing of India’s membership into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and obstruction of permanent membership into the UN security council.

The 2018 Doklam standoff was a push back from India against China’s construction of a road in the disputed region with Bhutan, whose claim India supports.

3. India’s reforms in Ladakh

Another significant transgression by India, in the eyes of China, are its reforms in Ladakh and Jammu Kashmir. Part of the new territory of Ladakh contains land that Pakistan gave to China in the agreement in 1963. China made their objection to the revocation of Article 370 and 35A clear, in August last year by issuing a statement that asked India to ‘exercise restraint’ and calling out their ‘unilateral’ attempt to change the status quo in Ladakh. India dismissed these accusations by calling them ‘misplaced’ and having no bearing on the LAC or the external boundaries of India. However, soon in September, PLA troops started blocking Indian patrol in the region.

In the Chennai Connect informal summit in October, President Xi Jinping suggested an India-China-Pakistan trilateral dialogue “free from the influence of third parties”, but Modi ignored the suggestion.

Recent Obstacles

Indo-Chinese border clashes have occurred before, but the difference this time has been the changed context in domestic as well as international circumstances.

China has turned more assertive in the face of international backlash for its handling of the virus. They have implemented stricter security laws in Hong Kong despite international condemnation, cautioned Taiwan against their independence and have made assertions in the South China Sea. China has been subjected to a supply chain reshuffling due to US tariffs on Chinese products and an unofficial China-boycott leading to overproduction and fall in demand.

India on the other hand has been dealing with a deteriorating coronavirus outbreak as well as a severe economic downfall. India’s relations with its neighbours are also at a decline, Bangladesh has not been pleased with the NRC policy implementation, Bhutan is not eager to join the BBIN, ties with Nepal have hit a rough patch since the blockade in 2016 and “with Rajapaksha in power, Sri Lanka will have no love lost for India”.

An anti-climax?

The ‘Dragon Elephant Tango’ has reached a heightened climax with the growing hostilities in the Galwan Valley. The rising US-China tension has led China to diversify its trade away from the US. In this regard, India serves as a perfect market. However, the growing Indo-US ties have triggered China against India. India is stuck in a bind regarding the Huawei 5G investment, as it keeps prices down but also does not want to enter into US-China trade tensions. China’s assertions in the Galwan Valley could be China’s attempt to pull India away from playing a central role in US-Japan ties. Whatever the case, it is clear that both countries have more to lose than gain from an escalation of hostilities. Instead, there is ample scope for a quid pro quo from either side.

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Expanding Dimensions of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy

Ganesh Puthur

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“You can Change Friends, but not neighbours”-Atal Bihari Vajpyee, Former Prime Minister of India

With the changing dynamics of international politics and global equations metamorphosing from bi-polar (post the collapse of Soviet Union) to a Multi-polar world, India has been playing a vital role in the region. India’s foreign policy was always non-muscular, non-interventionist and un-exploitative. But in the altered scenario India is facing stiff competition from China over the superiority in the region and growing Islamic fundamentalism affecting the entire South Asian nations. The genuine questions that arise are what should be India’s foreign policy towards her immediate neighbours and how to tame the Pakistan-China axis?

India and the region

National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s commitment towards India’s immediate neighbourhood was visible when the leaders of all SAARC nations were invited for the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister in 2014. Immediately after assuming the office PM Modi visited Bhutan in his maiden foreign visit and had also travelled to Nepal on multiple occasions. He even stopped at Pakistan and met the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sherif as a good will gesture to enhance peace and mutual cooperation in the region. The government had also committed itself to various projects in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Iran and Maldives. Friendly summits were also organised along with China to strengthen diplomatic relations between the hostile neighbours.

India’s interest in the region traces back to the Nehruvian days. In the days of cold war, India’s position of Non-Alignment was aimed at stopping any form of Colonisation. Foreseeing a possible conflict with China even a ‘Panchsheel’ (The five principles for peaceful co-existence) doctrine was mutually agreed but the expansionist tendencies of China had cost India 1962 war and the Aksai-Chin territory. India had fought 4 wars with Pakistan in the years 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1998, even though India could defeat Pakistan in all successive wars this constant conflicts reflect the unstable relationship between the both nations. India’s involvement in the 1971 war eventually resulted in the formation of Bangladesh but the rising Islamic fundamentalism has created anti-India sentiments among the common people.

For a greater economic and cultural cooperation South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was founded in 1985 comprising of India’s immediate neighbours. But the organisation failed to achieve its target since the two major powers within SAARC i.e. India and Pakistan couldn’t come to an agreement on almost all the occasions. This jeopardizing of dialogue process has pushed India to further strengthen another initiative called Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectorial Economic and Technical Cooperation (BIMSTEC) virtually excluding Pakistan. The advantage of India in the region is the historical and cultural ties between India and these nations.

India’s Neighbourhood worries

China had always been a threat to India’s geo-political interest in the region. With a booming economy China is able to roll out financial assistance and ambitious projects to smaller economies. The Belt Road Initiative (BRI) envisioned by China aims at connecting all the nations of the region by road. The peripheries of this project including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor poses challenge to India since it passes through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). China also invested heavily in Nepal, India’s longest standing ally. It needs to be noted that the agenda behind issuing large scale grants to poorer counties is ‘debt trap’, a neo-colonising strategy of China to which these counties fall prey to.

China is also posing security challenge to India by forming a strategy called ‘String of Pearls’ in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) extending from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan in Horn of Africa. India enjoys a special benefit due to its 7,500 KM long coastline. Now, the Chinese wants to encircle India with its naval bases and ports operated by them in friendly countries, examples being the Gwadar port in Pakistan and Hambantoda port in Sri Lanka. The Chinese standoffs with the Indian army at Doklam, Ladakh and their unwillingness to recognise Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India are bone of contention between India and China.

The rise of radical Islam and the anti-India rhetoric associated with it is yet another major worry for India. With the possibility of Afghanistan falling to the hands of Taliban, the fear looms large. Pakistan has been using Jihad as a proxy weapon against India. The rise of Wahabbian ideas are even evident in Bangladesh as a result even several of the army men are radicalised. The killing of an Indian army man by Bangladeshi border security force proves this argument. Infusing of large amount of money and speedy commissioning of projects are also in China’s advantage.

Modi government’s Foreign Policy

Multiple domestic factors influence any governments’ international policy. Some of those factors are political stability, economic growth, technological advancement and the global political scenario. With the NDA getting simple majority of its own in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections India’s global positioning has been constant and  unaltered. The government also appointed S Jaishankar, a veteran diplomat as the External Affairs Minister to further professionalise India’s foreign approach.

Presently India’s foreign policy is crafted by the establishment keeping in mind the presence of hostile neighbours, Pakistan and China. It is therefore important to establish strong relation with the extended neighbours excluding the two.  India adopted new strategies to resist the looming threat from China in the region.  Modi government’s doctrine of SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) is to counter the Chinese strategy of dominating IOR with ‘String of Pearls’. India is also releasing financial assistance to its neighbours for development projects as Line of Credit (LoC) through Export-Import (EXIM) Bank which facilitates India’s export and import activities.

Terrorism and religious extremism have been key challenges in the South Asian region. Afghanistan is worst hit with these crises. Due to its geographical location as gateway to Central Asia India has both strategic and economic interest in the nation. India financed and built a new parliament building for Afghanistan which was inaugurated by PM Modi in 2015. In 2016 he also inaugurated Afghanistan – India Friendship dam in the Herat province underlying India’s commitment to rebuilt the war torn nation. For the other projects India has provided a financial assistance of $ 3 billion over the years. India had also partnered with Iran to counter China’s access to Gwadar port of Pakistan. India pledged $85 million for the development of Chabahar port and a three way memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between India- Afghanistan – Iran worth $21 billion Chabahar – Hajigak corridor.

Myanmar has a key part in NDA government’s ‘Act east’ policy since the nation is India’s ‘land bridge’ to south east nations. During the 5 year tenure of NDA 1 a sum of Rs 1,300 crore was allotted for Myanmar for various projects. India is also wary of the proposed China-Myanmar Economic Corridor as part of BRI. NDA 1 extended 2 LOCs worth $6.5 billion to Bangladesh which goes into community level development projects, construction of educational institutions and so on. China has been trying to woo Nepal with multiple infrastructural projects away from India. Being an inevitable partner India spends on an average Rs 330 crore annually for various projects in Nepal. The government was quick to grand $1 billion LOC following the earthquake in 2015. India also highlights the cultural similarities of Nepal and India. Bhutan is a key partner of India and as a buffer state to China has its strategic importance. India has been developing hydropower plants in Bhutan and had also donated $4.7 billion dollar from 2000-2017 as aid for Bhutan. With the Change of government in Maldives and declaration of their ‘India first policy’ the relationship is projected to improve substantially. NDA 1 had also given a financial assistance of $1.4 in its tenure. India’s relationship with Sri Lanka had been in shady lines due to the latter’s pro-China tilt. But the geographical location of Sri Lanka is significant for India’s security and economic interests.

Conclusion

India was always been projected as a soft power in the global political discourse. But post 2014 it marks a transition of India to a hard power determined to position itself as an alternative to China. India is a key strategic partner of United States and its allies in the Asia-pacific region. It is also important from the part of India that the neighbourhood soil is not used for anti- India activities. To prevent any such adventurism India has done cross border military actions in both Pakistan and Myanmar to target terror camps. To counter China’s influence India should boost its own economy and strengthen its military might. China has been trying to appropriate the Buddhist legacy through propaganda. Buddha, Bollywood and Cricket can be effectively used for people to people connection in South Asia which eventually fosters diplomatic relations. With the government’s target of making India a $5 Trillion economy and reconstructing institutions to make it more competitive, India has the potential to ouster Chinese influence in the region.

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