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Heartland Reunion: Geopolitical Chimera or Historical Chance?

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Anyone who has at least some idea about the theory of international relations should remember the oft-quoted formula put forward by the father of British geopolitics, Halford Mackinder: “Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world.” For those who are sceptical about geopolitical constructs and terminology, this logical chain may seem like a meaningless shamanic incantation. Over the course of a century, “Mackinder’s formula” was repeatedly criticized, corrected, repudiated, anathematized, parodied and ridiculed. And yet, strange as it may seem, not only has this formula survived an entire century, but it is also perhaps more relevant today than it was a hundred years ago.

Of course, the question hinges on how we understand the concept of Heartland. Mackinder interpreted it as the geographical centre of Eurasia, or, more precisely, as the massive central and north-eastern part of the Asian continent, which on the whole coincided with the Asian areas ruled by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Today, it seems obvious that the “Eurasian core” must be sought south of the harsh, poorly developed and scarcely populated Siberian plains and barren deserts of Central Asia. Just like in the days of Mackinder, Siberia and Central Asia remain repositories of raw materials and energy resources. Just like before, these lands may be considered the “great natural fortress” of the land peoples, adjusted for the new arsenal of means of projecting military power that appeared in the 20th century. However, these lands did not become a true “axis of history”: contrary to Mackinder’s prophecies, their transport infrastructure remained incomplete and disconnected, while their role in the development of the Eurasian continent over the past 100 years has shrunk rather than grown.

At the risk of incurring the righteous indignation of the current geopolitical orthodox, let us postulate that the Eurasian Heartland of the 21st century is actually what Mackinder saw as the “inner crescent.” Primarily China and India, in relation to which the rest of the Eurasian massif – Russia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and even the extended European peninsula of the Asian mainland – act as continental limitrophe states. Despite the undeniable significance of these border states to European history, politics, economics and security, the fate of Europe depends primarily on how relations in the new Heartland (that is, between China and India) unfold. And the future of the whole world to a great degree depends on the fate of Eurasia. This is one of Mackinder’s main points, and it is by no means outdated.

The Prerequisites for Consolidation

It would seem that there are no fundamental obstacles to the consolidation of the Heartland: the interests of Beijing and New Delhi coincide on most major international issues. China and India have much in common. Both countries are, in their own way, historically stable and internally cohesive alternatives to Atlantic civilization. China and India are, along with the Arabic East (and to a lesser extent Tropical Africa south of the Sahara), the two most important points of the crystallization of “non-western” ideals. The fact that China and India are growing stronger is the most significant indicator that the “western” stage in the development of the system of international relations has drawn to a close.

As powerful drivers of economic growth both in Eurasia and around the world, both China and India are currently experiencing a stage of long-term economic, cultural and civilizational upheaval. Neither has fully overcome the deep trauma of national consciousness caused by their status as outsiders in global politics in the 19th and 20th century, and this trauma continues to have an impact on the historical narratives that dominate China and India and the foreign policy ambitions that emanate from these narratives. Beijing and New Delhi are “revisionist” players on the global stage in the sense that both China and India are interested in revising the old rules of the game that serve the interests of the “collective West.” China is leading a broad economic and financial offensive – from Central Europe to Latin America. India, lagging behind China in terms of foreign economic expansion, is focusing instead on closing the political gap by laying claim to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The two countries are exposed to all the standard “growing pains” – the negative side effects of rapid economic and social growth. Both China and India suffer from severe environmental problems, a shortage of natural resources, growing social inequality and widespread corruption. In addition to this, there are pockets of separatism and terrorism in both countries. China and India are also witnessing a conflict between modernization and traditionalist forces. The concept of “national sovereignty” is paramount in both states, and any attempt to interfere in their domestic affairs is met with hostility. People in both countries question the stability of the current model of socioeconomic development, and many fear or predict inevitable crises and upheavals in the future.

Historically, relations between India and China have always been less conflict-ridden than, say, the relations between the Islamic and Christian worlds in the west of the Eurasian continent. In a sense, it is fair to speak not only of the economic, cultural and spiritual compatibility of these two ancient civilizations, but also of the fact that these aspects have penetrated the other country and even complement one another. There are numerous examples of this – from the epic history of the Great Silk Road to the equally impressive chronicle of how Buddhism spread across Eastern Asia. In essence, the consolidation of a China–India Heartland would not mean the creation of something fundamentally new, but simply the natural reunification of a torn Eurasia, the restoration of a recently lost continental unity.

Hence, there are objective prerequisites for the consolidation of a new Heartland. It is worth adding here that, while recognizing all the difficulties and tactical losses, such a consolidation would serve the long-term interests of both countries. The implementation of the joint China–India project would contribute to the stabilization of the geopolitical situation in the entire Eurasian space and open up fundamentally new opportunities for transcontinental cooperation in various fields.

It would not be out of place to draw a parallel with post-War Western Europe here, when the reconciliation between France and Germany led to the launch of European integration processes. In turn, it was ultimately France and Germany that benefitted most from this process: the political will and the willingness to compromise demonstrated by the leaders in Paris and Bonn paid off time after time in the following decades.

The numerous benefits of consolidating the Eurasian heartland are too obvious to not be a subject of contemplation on both sides of the Himalayas. Relations between Beijing and New Delhi have, for at least the past six decades, developed more along the lines of a rivalry than cooperation – and this rivalry has on more than one occasion turned into direct confrontation. Why is this the case? Could it be the subjective mistakes of the leadership? Personal ambitions of leadership? The underhand practices of internal forces? The tragic accidents of history? Or perhaps there are some objective “ force majeure circumstances” that stand in the way of a new Heartland coming together?

The Dimensions of the Eurasian Schism

Let us start with what everyone already knows – the two countries represent very different types of government. The differences between China and India today are greater than those between France and Germany 50 years ago. While China is much farther away from Europe than India, it is, on the whole, considerably closer in terms of being a nation state in the European mould. Despite the fact that there are a significant number of national minorities in China and substantial regional differences, ethnic Chinese (Han Chinese) are a single people and make up more than 90 per cent of the country’s population. Of the 34 Chinese provinces, including the autonomous regions and cities of central subordination, only Taiwan falls outside the vertical power system of governance, for obvious reasons.

India does not have a dominant national people. In terms of its ethnocultural and linguistic diversity, the Indian subcontinent does not resemble a separate European state or China, but rather the European Union as a whole. And in terms of religious diversity, the multi-structural nature of the economy and the regional disparities, India goes way beyond the whole of Europe put together. India is made up of 29 states and seven union territories, which exist in a state of complex political interaction. India is essentially a grandiose integration project in South Asia that is primarily turned inwards rather than outwards. If we stretch the analogies somewhat further, we can say that, as a single state, China has the same problems in its dialogue with the eclectic and insulated India that centralized Russia has in its interactions with the amorphous and insulated European Union.

Evidently, the historical trajectories of the two countries have also diverged greatly, especially over the past 250 years. India was a British colony, and the nearly 200 years of British rule left an indelible imprint not only on the country’s political system, but also on its culture. China, on the other hand, has never been colonized by a foreign country. While British democracy was a “system-forming” factor for independent India, communist China regarded the Soviet Union of the 1950s as a model to be emulated. Despite the fact that both countries have moved far from their original models of the mid-20th century, there are no grounds to suggest that their political or economic systems have drawn any closer.

In theory, the China–India partnership could even benefit from the fact that their political systems are so different: China would assume the main role in its interaction with various authoritarian regimes, while India would take the lead when it comes to developing ties with western liberal-democratic regimes. In practice, however, the dissimilarity of the systems hinders cooperation and, more importantly, mutual understanding. In is noteworthy that Beijing has found it far easier to establish relations with Moscow in the 21st century than with New Delhi, although the history of China–Russia relations is far more dramatic and controversial than the history of China–India relations.

Since China and India are the two largest countries in continental Asia, competition for natural resources, foreign markets, control of transport corridors and influence over common neighbours is inevitable. The close proximity of the two major powers gives rise to border disputes: the countries share 4000 km border, and the problem right now is not even about resolving territorial disputes, but merely about preserving the territorial status quo and preventing an escalation. The sides feel tempted to support various instruments of influence in each other’s territories. What is more, the question of what best meets the development needs of other Asian countries – Chinese socialism or Indian democracy – remains open.

Trade between China and India is growing at a rapid pace; however, both India and China are more focused on global markets than they are on each other. And for decades they have been purchasing the main resources needed for modernization – investments and modern technologies – from the West, often competing directly with each other for them. Bilateral trade remains asymmetrical, with Chinese exports to India far outweighing its imports from that country. Moreover, Chinese economic activity in India is far from always seen by the latter in an exclusively positive light.

A stable balance of powers between China and India in Asia is hindered by the fact that, right now, China is stronger than India both economically and militarily, and this asymmetry is likely to persist for the foreseeable future. A consolidated Eurasian Heartland would be less of an equal partnership than that of France and Germany in the second half of the 20th century.

India is still dogged by painful memories of the 1962 Sino–Indian Border Conflict. The model of Asia and a “closed” system is thus advantageous for Beijing, with China’s dominance in this system being in no doubt. For the same reason, New Delhi is interested in an “open” Asia, in which the asymmetry in the balance of powers between China and India could be compensated by introducing external players (who are, of course, on India’s side) into the mix.

The Interests of External Players

The interests of the United States in Asia are obvious and depend very little on the change of administration in the White House, although Donald Trump’s team has articulated these interests more clearly and more gruffly than its predecessors. Washington cannot but fear the consolidation of the European Heartland and will therefore continue to capitalize on the deepening contradictions in China–India relations. Naturally, it is trying to manage this process somehow without steering it towards a large-scale military conflict with unpredictable consequences.

Today we are witnessing an attempt by the United States to replicate the successful approaches of Henry Kissinger taken in the 1970s and to build a Eurasian geopolitical triangle. The difference is that the USSR is replaced by China, and China is replaced by India. This explains the increased attention of the United States to New Delhi and the persistent attempts to involve India in multilateral groupings that include allies of the United States that are located on the island periphery of the Eurasian continent, namely Japan and Australia (the concept of a “democratic Indo-Pacific”). If Washington had succeeded in achieving the sustainable institutionalization of these groupings in the form of a military-technical alliance similar to NATO, this would have created long-term guaranteed preventing the consolidation of the Heartland. However, at this juncture, any format of allied relations with Washington is politically unacceptable for the Indian elite, which is pushing for the preservation of the country’s strategic independence. What is more, India cannot sacrifice its continental Eurasian partners (primarily Moscow and Tehran) – not even for the sake of friendship with Washington.

The European Union is less interested in the preservation, much less the exacerbation, of the confrontation between China and India. Of course, the consolidation of the Heartland would present a serious challenge for Europe too, but one that is more to do with economics than geopolitics. The formation of a single Eurasian economic space would undoubtedly speed up the displacement of Europe as the economic centre of activity in Eurasia to Asia and reduce the role of the European Union in the Eurasian and global economies. On the other hand, China and India are two of the most promising foreign markets for the European Union, and the further development of these markets in line with the strategic interests of Brussels.

As far as the European Union is concerned, the main question is: On what basis can the consolidation of the Eurasian Heartland take place? Of course, Brussels would like to see Eurasian consolidation based on European standards, in compliance with European procedures and in line with European standards. The worst option for Brussels would be the gradual “economic absorption” of India by China and the implementation of the Eurasian integration process based on something that is entirely different from the European vision (for example, on the implementation of the One Road, One Belt initiative).

Russia’s interests in the various development scenarios for China–India relations are the subject of heated debates within the country’s expert community. On the one hand, it is often argued that maintaining tension in relations between Beijing and New Delhi makes Moscow a more valuable partner for both sides. Right now, Russia’s relations with China and India are better than those between China and India, meaning that it occupies the most advantageous position in this triangle. Based on this logic, we can assume that the consolidation of the Eurasian Heartland around the China–India axis would entail a further shift in the Eurasian centre of gravity towards the south of Russia’s borders. This would marginalize Russia even further as a participant in the Eurasian community.

On the other hand, it is safe to predict that attempts to capitalize on the contradictions between China and India will inevitably raise suspicions both in Beijing and in New Delhi, cause them to doubt the sincerity of Russia’s actions, etc. It is easy to imagine a situation in which Moscow will be unable to maintain its neutral position and be forced to choose between its two most important partners in Asia, and whatever choice it makes will inevitably entail major losses. Let us not forget that the escalation of the confrontation between China and India – a factor that stands in the way of the consolidation of the Heartland – would leave the door wide open for the United States, which is not likely to be among Moscow’s friends any time soon. Moreover, such an escalation is fraught with the risk of a major military conflict breaking out on the continent, and this would inevitably affect Russia’s security. To summarize the advantages and disadvantages of consolidation for Russia, the only reasonable conclusion is that the expected benefits of a consolidated Heartland clearly outweigh the potential costs.

Let us make it clear right away – whatever Russia’s role in the consolidation of the Eurasian Heartland, it will by no means be decisive. China–India relations have their own internal logic and their own dynamics that no external player (be it the United States, the European Union or Russia) can change. It would appear that, as the stronger party in these bilateral relations, China should go the extra mile to reduce suspicion and gain New Delhi’s trust. We could argue about what steps need to be taken and in what order, but this, strictly speaking, is not an issue for Russian foreign policy. However, this does not mean that Russia does not have a role in this most important issue.

Prospects

On December 1, 2018, an attempt was made on the side-lines of the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires to step up the activities of the mechanism of tripartite cooperation between Russia, China and India (the RIC countries) and resume the practice of regular high-level meetings after a 12-year hiatus. According to Vladimir Putin, these meetings should focus on various aspects of security and the fight against protectionism and politically motivated restrictions in international trade. Developing these ideas, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi identified four possible areas for cooperation: regional and global stability, economic prosperity, the exchange of experience in areas of mutual interest, and cooperation on how to respond to emerging challenges. Similar thoughts were expressed by the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, who stressed the special responsibilities of the three powers to support regional and global stability.

In recent years, the RIC format has remained in the shadow of the more representative five-party cooperation structure that includes Brazil and South Africa (together, the five countries make up the BRICS association). Without belittling the significance of the latter two countries, it is worth noting that the geographical expansion of RIC into BRICS entailed certain institutional costs: the two non-Eurasian countries had their own tasks and priorities that differed from the agenda of the original Eurasian members. The fact that the last presidential election was won by Jair Balsonara, a far-right congressman, the so-called “Donald Trump of Brazil” raises a number of questions about the future of the five-party structure. In any case, it would surely be a grave miscalculation for Russian policy to “dissolve” RIC into BRICS completely.

In all likelihood, in the near future, tripartite summits will be held on the side-lines of larger multilateral events (G20 summits, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Asia–Europe Meeting, etc.). However, if everything is limited to brief and infrequent interactions between leaders, statements of coinciding positions or even the signing of general political declarations, then this will do little in terms of the consolidation of the Heartland. It is necessary to articulate, in a frank manner, the existing differences with regard to the most serious problems facing Eurasia. The leaders of the three countries should focus on the problems that are standing in the way of consolidation of the Eurasian space.

At the same time, considering the fact that these trilateral meetings are inevitably short, the issues raised should be studied thoroughly beforehand by experts and the relevant ministries in the track 1.5 and track 2 formats and with a view to developing specific “road maps.” It is precisely the specifics that have traditionally been lacking in joint statements adopted at the end of the annual meetings of RIC foreign ministers. Another urgent task that could help solve the problem of trust between the Chinese and Indian militaries is the creation of a permanent tripartite mechanism for military consultations and the holding of regular military exercises.

A practical political trialogue could begin with an open discussion of such issues as the future of Syria and Afghanistan, which are of great importance for all three participants. Equally significant are the development of individual functional dimensions of the Eurasian Heartland – joint initiatives in the fight against terrorism, managing migration flows, food and energy security, issues of international information exchange and the development of artificial intelligence. It is from the widest possible set of such functional regimes, not from old or new rigid institutional blocs, that the new Eurasian Heartland should be built.

India and China are Arctic Council observer states. As one of the leading members of this organization, Russia could suggest to its partners that they discuss Arctic issues together so that none of them could have any suspicions about Moscow possibly harbouring a position on these issues that could be considered “pro-China” or “pro-India.”

And, of course, more active trilateral interaction on issues that go beyond the geographical boundaries of the Eurasian continent would serve as a powerful incentive for the consolidation of the Heartland. The future of multilateral arms control. The reform of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and other global organizations. The development of international public law in the 21st century. Climate change and environmental issues. The management of technological progress. If Russia, China and India develop a united position on these and many other issues, it will carry far greater weight on the international arena than the individual opinions of each of these countries.

Ultimately, the Eurasian Heartland of the 21st century is not just a geopolitical, or a geo-economic concept. It represents, to a certain extent, common or similar views of leading Eurasian states on the future of the world order and a strategy for restoring manageability to a world that is coming apart at the seams. It is a joint sense of global stability and a common readiness to look beyond the narrow horizons of immediate national interests. It is only in the presence of such a community that the new Heartland can become the “axis of history” the illustrious father of British geopolitics and member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom Halford Mackinder wrote about, albeit in an entirely different context and according to a completely different logic.

First published in our partner RIAC

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East Asia

Nepal-China Relations and Belt and Road Initiative

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China appears to be more “functional” in Nepal recently. A new administration led by leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has acted on the same pitch initially also. The Rasuwagadhi border crossing, which had been blocked for three years, has been reopened for two-way trade, and the much-anticipated Gyorong-Kathmandu train project’s final survey has also begun as of January 1, 2023. The second phase of the 10-lane ring road project from Kalanki to Chabhil is anticipated to start soon as well. All these accumulatively demonstrate the current nature of friendship between them and the profound Belt and Road Initiative is the key rostrum for the current complexion of the relationship between them. Hence, the trends are indicating a greater form of cooperation even in the regional domain as well.

Meanwhile, China and Nepal have inked a six-point agreement to strengthen bilateral collaboration and exchanges on governance, legislation, and supervisory practices, in line with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). On September 12, 2022, in Kathmandu’s federal parliament building, Agni Prasad Sapkota, Speaker of the Parliament, and Li Zhanshu, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress, signed the agreement. According to the agreement, the nations would exchange information about each other’s legislative, oversight, and governance activities. Five years after BRI’s founding, on May 12, 2017, Nepal formally joined the process. Nine projects – the upgrading of the Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu road, the construction of the Kimathanka-Hile road, the construction of the road from Dipayal to the Chinese border, the Tokha-Bidur Road, the Galchhi-Rasuwagadhi-Kerung400kv transmission line, the Kerung-Kathmandu rail, the 762MW Tamor Hydroelectricity Project, the 426MW Phuket Karnali were on the to do list. However, more than any other nation, China invested US$188 million in Nepal during the 2020–21 fiscal year. During KP Sharma Oli’s visit to Beijing in 2016, Nepal and China also ratified a transit transport agreement for commerce with other parties.

However, amidst the current global tension and the changing rapport of international politics, China remains as a key investor in Nepal. Besides, the recent activities from the Nepal administration showed a shift in policy domain from the previous regime which in some cases was rigid to Chinese projects. Meanwhile, the BRI becomes more eminent in the strategic, political and economic domain of the status quo. Against such backdrop, the next sections will discuss current trends of the BRI in Nepal.

Nine Projects: Token of Continuation of the Initiative

Nepal put forward nine potential projects to be undertaken under the BRI at the beginning of 2019. These included setting up a technical institution in Nepal, building new highways, tunnels, and hydroelectricity dams, as well as conducting a feasibility assessment for a trans-Himalayan railway that would connect Jilong/Keyrung, a Chinese port of entry, with Kathmandu. This enhanced the significance of the project which will direct to more prosperous China- Nepal relations.

Nepal, the “Pillar”

Hou Yanqi, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, stated in April 2022 that Nepal was one of the BRI’s most significant pillars and that projects were still moving forward despite the “speed of pragmatic collaboration” slowing down because of the coronavirus pandemic and Nepal’s changing political climate.

Transit Through China: Better Connectivity and Trade

Kathmandu protocol agreement with Beijing, Nepal will import and export goods from a third country through China through Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang seaports and land ports of Lanzhou, Lhasa and Shigatse. They will also get the facility of transporting goods through six dedicated transit points of the two countries. It will boost the trade for improved connectivity.

Extended Cooperation in Domains Except for BRI

In addition to the BRI projects, China is currently making significant investments in Nepal’s infrastructure, including ring road expansion, dry ports at the border crossings of Larcha and Syabrubesi, the establishment of China Study Centers, a new international airport in Pokhara, and optical fiber cable connectivity from Kathmandu to the Chinese border.

Energy Exploration: New Domain of Cooperation

China is also looking into the prospect of discovering gas and oil deposits in Nepal and is building a border river crossing at Hilsa, Humla. It will open a new domain of cooperation based on mutual interest.

Poverty Reduction and Generating Newer Income Sources

Currently, roughly six Chinese airlines offer regular flights to Nepal. Nepal has the fastest-growing Chinese tourist industry. Nepal granted China access to choose 16 Himalayan regions that border China to develop as part of a program to fight poverty.

Security: Bringing Peace

Joint military drills between China and Nepal are also a new development in security cooperation. It will bring peace in the region since the image of Nepal is very clean.

Increased Diplomatic Connectivity

The BRI appears to be one of the three priority pillars for the Chinese government’s organizing principles of foreign policy, along with the Global Development Initiatives and the Global Security Initiatives, in terms of developing successful international relations rather than just an economic endeavor. It will bring a fresh start in the diplomatic domain of both countries and the future prospects of ties in the diplomatic arena can be discussed robustly.

No More Landlockedness

Under BRI and the Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, which will transform Nepal from a landlocked country to a land-linked one, there are multiple road, sea, and corridor networks throughout the world. It will boost the relationship to a great extent while there will be a surge in the arena of export and import.

Regional Connectivity

The extension of the Qingzang railway from Tibet to Nepal and the border with India is among the most significant BRI projects. Three routes are being considered for this railway. The first would connect Shigatse to Kathmandu via Kerung and continue on to Pokhara and Lumbini before reaching the Indian border. The second would run from Shigatse to the Burang border and connect Humla and Darchula districts in Nepal with Pithoragdh, Uttarakhand, while the third would link Shigatse to the Yandong border of Sikkim, India.

As China and India have no trade disputes with one another, India would gain from this project as well after trading through this route. In comparison to other industrialized parts of the world, South Asia could see an increase in commerce and investment if this project is carried out on a win-win basis between China and Nepal.

Challenges

Additionally, loans are typically provided on commercial terms through the Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), both of which are led by China (SRF). Due to project site clearance delays and the nation’s political instability, along with its comparatively short repayment time, Nepal’s big projects have raised concerns that they may not get off the ground.

Besides, three primary issues with China are of particular concern to the Nepalese government. First, instead of commercial loans, the nation favors grants and lenient loans from China. Second, it wants the interest rate and repayment period to be comparable to those of multilateral funding organizations like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Thirdly, it thinks that bid competitions ought to be allowed for the BRI projects. But the Chinese authorities are not responding on the same page.

The Inception of a Recommenced Cooperation

Pradeep Gawali, Foreign Minister in the KP Sharma Oli’s government, said that from the perspective of Nepal, the BRI projects were the way to be connected to the trans-Himalayan multipurpose connectivity network. Nepal had been able to select the nine projects included in the BRI with great success. However, Chinese authority said on December 26 that it looks forward to cooperating with the new government to advance projects under the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, a day after the Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda was named as Nepal’s new prime minister (BRI). China aims to develop initiatives under the Belt and Road collaboration, according to Mao Ning, the official spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, who congratulated Prachanda on his appointment. Beijing claims that as a longtime ally and neighbor of Nepal, China cherishes Nepali relations very highly. China is prepared to collaborate with the new Nepalese administration to broaden and deepen friendly relations and cooperation on all fronts, pursue high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, strategic cooperative alliance marked by enduring friendship for growth and prosperity new impetus, and bring more benefits to peoples from both sides.

Hence, it is evident that China’s policy toward Nepal is generally stable and uncomplicated, and the two countries’ bilateral relations have been cordial and shaped by Nepal’s strategy of balancing the divergent impact of China and its southern neighbor. Through BRI projects, Nepal could gain better connectivity relations with its northern neighbors, but in order to do so, Nepal must enhance its negotiations with China.

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Territorial Rise of China: It’s Impact on International Borders

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The rise of China has had a significant impact on the international order and the way countries interact with one another. One of the main areas where this has been felt is in the realm of international borders. China has long had disputes with its neighbours over the demarcation of its borders. In recent years, it has become more assertive in advancing its territorial claims, particularly in the South China Sea. This has led to tensions and military standoffs with other countries in the region, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan.

China’s territorial claims have also been met with pushback and condemnation from the international community. Many countries and international organizations, such as the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, have criticized China for its territorial expansion and militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea. In addition to its territorial disputes, China’s rise has also led to increased competition and tensions with other major powers, such as the United States, over issues related to trade, technology, and influence in various regions around the world. Overall, the rise of China has led to a re-evaluation of the existing international borders and the way countries interact with one another, and has the potential to reshape the international order in the coming years.

Focus of the Study:

The territorial rise of China and its assertive actions in advancing its territorial claims have been seen by many countries as a threat to their own sovereignty and security. This is particularly true for countries in the Asia-Pacific region, who have territorial disputes with China over islands, reefs and waters in the South China Sea. The territorial disputes have led to increased military activity and a build-up of armed forces in the region, raising concerns about the potential for military conflict. The disputes have also led to economic disruption and have hindered freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea have also been met with pushback and condemnation from the international community. Many countries, including the United States, have called for China to abide by international law and respect the sovereignty of other countries in the region. The territorial disputes and assertiveness of China also have a broader impact on the global order. The strong opposition from other countries has led to the formation of alliances and partnerships between countries to counterbalance China’s rising power. In addition, China’s territorial expansion can also be seen as an attempt to gain control over the resources in the disputed areas, such as fisheries, oil, and gas reserves, which can be a major concern for the countries in the region that are dependent on these resources. This can also lead to economic disruption, as they can impede freedom of navigation and overflight in the region. This can disrupt the flow of goods and resources, and can negatively impact the global economy. China’s territorial rise and assertiveness in advancing its territorial claims have been seen as a threat to the sovereignty and security of other countries in the region and have the potential to destabilize the regional and global order.

Tensions and military standoffs between China and other countries in the region, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan, are primarily due to territorial disputes over islands, reefs, and waters in the South China Sea. China claims a large portion of the South China Sea as its territorial waters, including islands and reefs that are also claimed by other countries in the region. China and the Philippines have long-standing disputes over the Spratly and Scarborough islands, with both countries claiming sovereignty over the islands and their surrounding waters. China’s construction of military facilities on the disputed islands has led to a military standoff between the two countries and condemnation from the international community. Vietnam and China also have territorial disputes in the South China Sea, primarily over the Paracel and Spratly islands. China’s assertive actions in the region, such as oil and gas exploration and the building of military facilities on disputed islands, have led to tensions and military standoffs between the two countries. Similarly, China and Japan have a dispute over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands, which are uninhabited but are believed to be rich in natural resources. China’s increasing maritime activities in the area and its claim over the islands have led to tensions and military standoffs between the two countries, raising concerns about the potential for military conflict and escalating tensions between China and other countries in the region such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan.

In terms of trade, China’s rapid economic growth has made it a major player in the global economy, and it is now the world’s largest trading nation. However, its trade practices and economic policies have been a source of tension and disagreement with other major powers, particularly the United States. For example, the US has criticized China for its trade surplus, currency manipulation, and intellectual property theft. These tensions led to a trade war between the two countries, with tariffs and trade restrictions being imposed on each other’s goods, which affected the global economy. In terms of technology, China’s rapid technological advancements, particularly in areas such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and semiconductors have been a source of concern for other major powers, including the United States. The US has accused China of stealing intellectual property and engaging in forced technology transfer, and has imposed restrictions on Chinese companies such as Huawei in order to limit their access to American technology. In terms of influence, China’s rise has led to increased competition with other major powers for influence in various regions around the world. For example, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure and investment program, has been viewed by some countries as a way for China to expand its economic and political influence in Asia, Europe, and Africa. This has led to concerns about China’s increasing global influence and its potential to challenge the existing international order. China’s rise as a major economic and military power has led to increased competition and tensions with other major powers, particularly the United States, over issues related to trade, technology, and influence in various regions around the world. These tensions have the potential to disrupt the existing global order and have a significant impact on the global economy.

Conclusion:

The solution to the territorial rise of China and its assertive actions in advancing its territorial claims is a complex and multifaceted issue. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and a variety of approaches may be necessary to address the problem. One approach is to seek a diplomatic solution to the territorial disputes. This can involve negotiations and diplomatic efforts to resolve disputes peacefully and through international legal mechanisms, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Another approach is to strengthen regional security and military cooperation between countries in the region to counterbalance China’s rising power. This can involve increasing military exercises, sharing intelligence, and building a regional security architecture to manage disputes and prevent conflicts.

Economic measures such as trade sanctions, tariffs, and investment restrictions can also be used to pressure China to change its behaviour. However, this approach carries the risk of economic disruption, and it is also not guaranteed to change China’s behaviour. Another alternative solution would be to involve China in multilateral organizations and global governance systems, encouraging them to play a constructive role in maintaining international peace and security, and promoting economic cooperation, this would help in tackling China’s territorial rise of borders, by making them a responsible stakeholder in the international community.

Ultimately, a comprehensive and coordinated approach, involving a combination of diplomatic, economic, and military measures, is likely to be most effective in addressing the territorial rise of China and its assertive actions in advancing its territorial claims. It’s important to understand that this is a complex issue that requires a nuanced approach and cooperation among the international community.

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East Asia

Dependency Trap: Chinese Strategy to Mute Global Response to its Multidomain Aggression

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China is known to entrap weaker economies through its debt trap, but the bigger threat, not so much talked about, is its strategy to entrap stronger economies like USA, G7 Countries as well as India into its dependency trap, which indirectly mutes counter actions against Chinese aggressive design, irrespective of its magnitude, dimension and implications.

How Grave is Chinese Aggression?

China has launched multi-domain aggression on most countries of an unprecedented magnitude, but it has not been acknowledged globally to avoid responding aggressively to it. The western world has been keenly counting the casualties in Russia Ukraine War and collectively contesting against Russia, whereas the casualties’ figures caused by China through coronavirus by direct invasion on to global health system remains unpunished. China lied, people died is common slogan but the clamor to probe into its origin seems to be waning, once USA got dragged into the controversy of gain of function research. After two years of pandemic, it appears that world has to lump the bitter pill to assume that coronavirus originated from nowhere!

While global deaths of over 6.7 million people may not be attributed to China alone but the delay in declaration of pandemic by tamed WHO and not controlling international flights two years back to avoid its economic setback by China is certainly a direct assault on global health. The death due to coronavirus certainly exceed deaths in all wars of many decades put together.  

China has once again has unleashed the infection by suddenly opening up after draconian Zero COVID Policy due to unprecedented domestic protests and has threatened countries like Japan and South Korea trying to test people arriving from China by visa stoppages, thereby forcing them to accept infected Chinese, but there is no unified global response. Many countries like Thailand have succumbed to its pressure by doing away with tests putting their people at risk. It emboldens China that the world is ready to adjust to its needs and lump its aggression. Its blatant refusal to share data which impacts global health hasn’t seen any sanctions by world community and organizations meant to take action. No-one has gone beyond expressing concerns and no resolution was sought to force China to share information to protect lives of others.

As a token Chinese reluctantly released first official deaths toll of almost 60,000 Covid-related deaths in a month, after suddenly lifting controls of Zero COVID policy with over 90 percent casualties of over 65 years as per its National Health Commission. This appears to be gross under-report by referring COVID as fever and not reporting fever deaths as COVID related deaths. Is CCP cleansing older people using COVID, who were left least vaccinated due to its awkward policy, to get the correct demographics for mass manufacturing?

In other domains too including Chinese incremental encroachment, the global response has been inadequate, be it grabbing inhabited features in South China Sea and converting them in military bases and junking all rulings of PCA on the subject. Its aggression on Himalayan borders is being responded to by India on stand-alone mode. Its fire power demonstration on Taiwan has been responded by nothing beyond posturing. Its fishing trawlers illegally fishing all over the globe have seen limited resistance by individual affected countries. It dares to operate secret police stations in all so-called powerful countries as influence operations as part of its Three warfare Strategy hasn’t seen a worthwhile push back. Its BRI projects have pushed many weak economies into unending debt trap.

Why Global Response is Muted Against China?

By design as well as default China became the global factory due to US efforts to push China up to disintegrate USSR. The investments as well as dependence of West on China grew to an extent that during coronavirus outbreak, New York had a sanitation problem when supply chain of toilet rolls from China got disrupted. The world realized its helplessness due to over-dependence on China during COVID-19 pandemic but the magnitude of dependency was such that despite strong desire/efforts to decouple, it is finding difficulty in doing so till date.

Countries suffering Chinese aggression like Japan may be criticizing it on daily basis but their trade with China continues to grow. Chinese total goods trade touched a record high in 2022, reaching 42.07 trillion yuan ($6.3 trillion), a rise of 7.7% from 2021. Measured in US dollars, exports jumped 7% in 2022, while imports increased 1.1%. That translates into a trade surplus of $877.6 billion, surpassing 2021’s record of $676 billion.

Chinese exports to Japan in 2022 saw increase of 3.87 percent over 2021. Similar is the story of most major economies including US, which suffered maximum deaths due to coronavirus. The allegation that coronavirus was a biological weapon unleashed to dislodge US from its top position in global dominance is yet not ruled out. The nature of warfare has changed and so have the instruments of war. Its certain that commercial interest of countries have overshadowed/compromised security interest and health of their people in context of China. China has thus muted global response to its unchecked aggression making full use of global commercial dependency on it. The trade figures indicated above prove that. That’s why China is again infecting world with new variants of COVID19 & no-one has stopped its flights.

The Case of India!

While troops endure freezing winters at the LAC, MEA India says its relations with China can’t be normal till border issue is resolved. However, the trade deficit has grown to $101 billion in 2022, out of bilateral trade of $126 billion, marking a sharp rise of 46 percent tells a different story. More than 160 companies in India have Chinese CEOs. The API reliance is indirectly humbling Indian border efforts. China continues to cherish such ‘not normal relations’, which in financial terms are better than normal. Indian consumers too need to set it right besides expecting concrete measures by the Government of India.

What Needs to be done?

It is necessary to pursue some initial steps taken by the Quad countries to synergize medical, scientific, financial, manufacturing, important emerging technology, and developmental capabilities in order to create an alternative supply chain, trade, technological, and health eco system that is independent of China. To send the proper signals that the intentions of a non-military grouping can alter overnight if there is interoperability between militaries of like-minded countries, Quad members must continue freedom of navigation and military drills in the Indo-Pacific.

To prevent vulnerable economies from falling into the debt trap set up by China through the BRI, an alternative infrastructure architecture in the form of the B3W, Blue Dot Network, and Friendship Highways is crucial.   It is necessary to plan a collective reaction to threats from the cyberspace,  space terrorism, biological agents, and Chinese nuclear expansion. 

India needs to be self-reliant at unprecedented speed. India must increasingly create a negative import list of all products imported from China that have been or can be manufactured in India in response to economic and digital invasion and gradually forbid their imports, as is being done to increase self-reliance in defence manufacturing.

In addition to the Quad, strategic alliances with like-minded democracies like France and the UK as well as collective naval posturing to create a multi-front situation for China in the Indo-Pacific are crucial for containing Chinese expansionism, the challenge to international law, and the threat to the global commons posed by unilaterally enforcing Coast Guard Law and Maritime Traffic Safety Laws that are China-centric. To counter Chinese military activities near India, India is appropriately forming a variety of strategic alliances with the USA and other China-wary nations.

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