China's Growing Presence in South Asia: Concerns for India
(Diplomatic Insight (Pakistan) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) South Asian region, with rich cultural civilization, geo-strategic locations, historical experiences, variety of geographical features, world highest mountain peaks, bank of resources, diversity in language, culture, religious beliefs and customs, colonial legacies, variety of climate zones, dazzling tourist attraction sites, is surely a gateway of success, opportunities and progress.
Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Bangladesh together constitute the South Asian region. China shares common borders with four of the South Asian countries; Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Afghanistan South Asia shares a major role in international affairs and global development.
It is a land of great diversity comprising resource rich countries. The region’s total area is nearly two million square miles, home to 1/5 th of world’s population. South Asia is one of the most attractive economic destinations.
The region serves as a link to South East Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East.
The regions strategic significance is manifested with the presence of Indian Ocean in south, Arabian Sea on north-western side, Bay of Bengal on north-eastern side and access to Malaccan Strait and Persian Gulf on south-eastern and south-western side respectively.
All these areas hold significant position in China’s foreign policy with the major oil imports of China and trade shipping’s passing through these ports.
This paper aims at discussing the rising Chinese presence, investments and engagement in South Asia and its underlying interests, with a focus on its impact on the Indian dominance in the region and concerns for India.
CHINESE INTERESTS IN SOUTH ASIA
Contemporary strategic and economic trends, signifies South Asia’s importance for China. China desires to establish friendly and multidimensional relations with all the South Asian countries as manifested in part of her ‘string of pearls’ strategy.
China’s foreign policy is based on maintaining independence, regional cooperation, world peace, good neighborly relations and enhanced unity and cooperation with developing countries.
China hopes to develop friendly and cooperative relationships with all the countries on the basis of the ‘five principles of co-existence’; mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual nonaggression, noninterference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. Some key principles of China’s engagement policy in South Asia are geo-strategic competition with India, energy resource requirement, economic expansion, regime stability, noninterference principles, and resistance to multilateral cooperation.
China is also involved in several peace building and security initiatives within the region. China’s policy visà-vis South Asian region is designed at preserving her economic and security interests, most importantly its desire to get access to the Indian Ocean.
Access to South Asian markets is important for China’s economy.
China desperately wants to secure her energy trade and sea routes as most of its imported oil from Africa and Gulf region passes through the Indian Ocean along with her increasing trade shipping’s with Middle east, Africa and Europe.
Therefore, the sea lanes spread around the South Asian region hold significant position in China’s foreign policy. Besides securing her oil, trade and energy interests, china does not want to have any kind of instability in the South Asia countries, due to the large scale of investments by Chinese companies in mining, oil and gas field sectors of these countries, to ensure steady supply of resources/ raw materials to China. China is also cautious of US presence in the region and does not want her influence to be felt in the region.
South Asia also holds the key for stability in China’s south western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.
CHINESE INVESTMENTS/ ENGAGEMENT IN SOUTH ASIA
China has emerged as an economic giant and an attractive investor for South Asian countries.
The trade between China and South Asian countries has increased manifold, as it rose from $5.7 billion in 2000 to $93 billion in 2012, with an average annual increase of over 26 percent where China’s imports from South Asian countries increased from $1.9 billion to $22.6 billion.
“We’ll welcome Chinese investment in the country, especially in textiles, agro-processing, energy and power, pharmaceuticals, communications and infrastructure development. This will reduce the trade gap between the two countries,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina China has been carrying out several development projects in Bangladesh with substantial financial investment.
In past China collaborated with Bangladesh on numerous projects like, construction of bridges, nuclear co-operation, coal mining project, establishment of Dhakabased Bangladesh-China friendship exhibition center and capacity-building and training assistance programmes for civil servants and security forces personnel.
Bangladesh government has recently sought further assistance from China in implementing their vision 2021 programme. China is also interested in investing in the apparel industry of Bangladesh because it is profitable for her as it is switching to high-tech industrialization due to high manufacturing cost there. In the last nine months, China imported $100m worth of clothing items from Bangladesh and their target is to reach $1bn by next year.
China is very keen to develop a deep-water port facility at Sonadia and the Chittagong port, which handles around 92 per cent of the country’s import-export trade. As affirmed by the Shanghai Institute for International Studies South Asia director, Zhao Gancheng, “Developing the port is a very important part of China’s co-operation with Bangladesh, and China is aware of its strategic significance”.
China is Sri Lanka’s major defence supplier and financer. China is heavily investing in the infrastructural development and transport sector of Sri Lanka. recently, both sides have agreed on the extension of a railway, the southern highway, and developing the port of Colombo, where china is already working on the construction of Hambantota port.
In addition to that China has granted a development loan of worth $2.2 billion to Sri Lanka and has also agreed to collaborate with them in developing satellite communication capability, space technology and maritime industries.
China has also decided to provide defence technology and personnel training to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is also planning to launch a telecom satellite in 2015 in partnership with China Great Wall Corporation, costing $320 million.
China embassy in Maldives was opened in 2011. The relations between both countries got strengthened by visit of the current President Mohammed Waheed to China.
Last year in September 2012, China agreed to provide an aid of worth $500 million to Maldives. recently, the airport project given to the Indian company, GMr, was cancelled and was approached by China. China is investing in IT and communication sector of the country and recently China gave a loan of US $5.70 crore to Maldives to implement its Information Technology (IT) infrastructure project. Tourist arrival from China has increased significantly, adding to country’s economy.
Nepal holds a prime position for China due to its significance to suppress the political activities by Tibetan refugees. Nepal and China share strong ties, with the latter deeply getting active in security, economic and political sectors of the country.
China’s direct investment in Nepal nearly doubled between 2007 and 2011. China is assisting Nepal in developing hydropower and infrastructure facilities.
More than 60 schools in Nepal are offering courses in Chinese. China’s private sector is interested in investing in the tourism sector of the country. Chinese tourist arrival in Nepal has also increased in the last few years. China desires to open up new trade routes through Nepal and has recently promised to increase the assistance.
formal diplomatic ties do not exist between Bhutan and China. An issue of disputed territory between both the countries has not been settled yet but talks are in progress to settle the issue. Whereas, China is interested in establishing official diplomatic relations, putting the border issue at the back burner, and engaging with Bhutan.
Pakistan holds a very vital status in China’s foreign policy. Chinese interests in Pakistan are centered on trade and energy corridors access.
Pakistan offers a natural corridor to China for her regional expansion and growth by connecting western region of China to broader South Asian region as Gwadar port can make this dream possible for China.
China has made huge investments in Pakistan and the private sectors of both countries are engaged in many joint ventures. With the handing over of Gwadar port to China, the relation between the two friends has become stronger.
China is collaborating with Pakistan in numerous fields like, energy, transportation, aerospace, military, marine industries, cultural sector. Some huge Chinese investments in Pakistan.
include construction of Karakoram highway, Chashma Nuclear Power Plant, Heavy industries in Taxila. China is also assisting Pakistan in security sector and counter-terrorism policies.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to China Masood Khalid, recently elucidated China’s engagement in Pakistan, “China is engaged in several energy projects like Guddu Power Project, Kohala Energy Project, Mangala raising Project, Jimpir Energy Project in Sindh and some other projects… people to people contacts between Pakistan and China is also increasing as China would establish more language institutes for Pakistani people to learn Chinese.. and the recent agreements and MoUs during the visit of Chinese Premier, would further improve economic and trade relations between the two countries… the most important MoU is on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will help in building infrastructure in the region for further improving trade and economic ties”.
This all-weather friendship between both the countries would remain the same in and would bring many developments in the country.
Together Pakistan and China can revive the old silk route which will bring vast changes in the regional economy.
Peace and stability in Afghanistan is a key priority for many countries. China’s core interests behind engagement in Afghanistan, a resource rich country, are economic and security based. China desires to gain access to the country’s energy resources and to limit the US influence in Afghanistan, near her neighborhood. China has strategic and economic interests in Afghanistan’s neighborhood, the Central Asian region.
As the date of the departure of NATO troops draws near, China is speeding up its economic, political and security engagement in Afghanistan by making huge investments in the economic and infrastructure development sector of the country.
for instance, Aynak copper mine project, developing oil and gas reserves sector, as recently China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) assisted Afghanistan in building the country’s first commercial oil production site, which is likely to extract 1.5 million barrels of oil annually from 2013. China is the biggest investor in Afghanistan and there exists an understanding within China that due to its neutral role, it is unlikely that China’s investments will be targeted. In the security sector, China has been collaborating with Afghanistan and has signed several agreements regarding exchange of security intelligence, training of security forces and counter-terrorism cooperation.
CHINA- SOUTH ASIA EXPO
A recent first China- South Asia expo shows China’s commitment of having a strong foothold in the region. The expo was aimed to deepen China’s economic ties in the region.
On the occasion, Secretary General of SAArC from Maldives, Ahmed Saleem, showed their willingness to debate over the observer status of China at SAArC forum.
On an issue of revising role for observer countries, Hassan Shifau, Permanent Secretary, from Maldives said “We need to rethink our model of cooperation with observers, for instance, India is now investing in ASEAN, China could do likewise in South Asia. for SAArC, it is a great opportunity to have an economic powerhouse extends economic cooperation, so it makes me wonder why we haven’t taken this opportunity.”
Sri Lankan PM Jayaratne supported a greater Chinese economic presence in the region”. Advisor to PM Bangladesh, Gowher rizvi showed his government support for the rail link project between Kunming, Yangon in Myanmar and the strategically significant port at Chittagong. Nepal’s vice-President Parmanand Jha mentioned their will and plans to build a special economic zone along the border with China and wooed Chinese investment in hydropower projects.
Masood Khalid from Pakistan said “We have already taken the first step for greater connectivity during the recent historic visit of Premier Li Keqiang to Pakistan by signing an agreement on Economic Corridor.
This would benefit China, Pakistan and entire South Asia, and, will facilitate economic integration of the whole region. Our two countries have an all-weather friendship.
The visit of Premier Li served as a catalyst for enhancing our political, trade and economic cooperation. The newly elected government in Pakistan is determined to further strengthen this strategic partnership.”
But, the point of notice was that there was no high level representative present from India. All Indian neighbors showed interest in the expo.
In contemporary era, economic relations between countries serve as a deciding factor among countries for the conduct of their political relations.
Geostrategic and geopolitical apprehensions of India are the pivotal aspects manifested in her policy with regard to the relationship with the South Asian countries. India has been involved in economic, diplomatic and military relations with South Asian Countries.
China’s increasing foothold in the South Asian region, more specifically in the neighboring countries of India, is definitely a point of concern for India. This trend has the possibility of impacting the Indian dominance in the region.
In international relations, states pursue their national interests by adopting several means to achieve those interests. Sometimes in securing their own interests they create insecurities for other states.
This phenomenon is apparent in the above mentioned discussion. Once exemplified by Indian defence analyst, Anand Kumar, “A Chinese role in the development of Chittagong is particularly worrisome to India, since it would be similar to China’s involvement in the development of Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Baluchistan,….China reportedly has access to the Burmese naval base in Hanggyi Island and has established a monitoring station at Coco Island, north of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands,…Through these ports, China is trying to fulfill two objectives – encircle India as part of its ‘string of pearls’, and gain other openings to sea”.
Besides increasing economic and diplomatic relations between the two giants, India and China, mutual mistrust remains.
Since its inception, India has always aspired for a major power status. India had been one of the largest trading partners with South Asian countries, the status now being slowly overtaken by China.
Indian policy is based on keeping herself at par with China. Chinese investments in the sector of road infrastructure, rail links, satellite and communication network, telecommunication, port developments, energy exploration and resource distribution, military and defence sector in Indian neighborhood is unquestionably a point of concern which directly threatens the Indian dominance in the region.
India is in some way following the footsteps of China by getting active into the Chinese neighborhood like Australia, Japan, vietnam, South Korea etc.
China’s success in building and engaging in ports around India like Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Gwadar in Pakistan and Chittagong in Bangladesh, has raised Indian security concerns with a presence of China close to Indian waters. Pak-China relationship has always disturbed India with regard to China’s policy to contain India. India and China are the biggest foreign investors in Afghanistan.
After the withdrawal of NATO forces, India-China competition for resources and political influence in Afghanistan is yet to be seen. In Afghanistan, regional collaboration between both the countries would prove beneficial for the whole region.
Chinese engagement in Sri Lanka is also seen with suspicion, which the Sri Lankan fM has negated that such ties are not targeted at any other state and should not be a point of a concern.
China’s investment in satellite projects in South Asian countries like Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is annoying for India. Indian intelligence agencies, particularly the research and Analysis Wing (rAW) are analyzing this trend and have showed apprehension, that “China increasingly targeting nations in our immediate neighborhood is a matter of concern”, and is planning to prevent such moves.
The Chinese investment in the telecom sector of Nepal and Maldives under ‘smart Maldives project’ and installing ‘next generation network’ in Nepal, is seen with apprehension by the Indian security agencies, they doubt that the equipment used for infrastructure development might be bugged and misused for intercepting any communication between India and the two countries.
In a recent visit of Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, to India, he said “that China had no intention of containing India and called on both nations to step up co-operation in South Asian affairs and resolve border disputes.” But, these mere statements cannot overcome the long held apprehensions against each other.
Indian foreign affairs minister Salman Khurshid recently said that his country will have to accept the fact that China’s presence in several domains is exclusively aimed at cornering India. A recent poll, facing the future, conducted by Lowy Institute for International Policy and Australia-India Institute revealed that “at least 83% Indians are apprehensive of China because of its possession of nuclear weapons, military assistance to Pakistan, aggressive attitude, competition for resources in third countries, its activities in the Indian Ocean region and the India-China border dispute.”
China has been flexing her muscles in the strategic and economically significant region, South Asia. India is increasingly worried about China’s inroads into the region. So far the regional countries are benefitting from the investments. But, in the near future, how would India’s and China’s appetite for resources shape the course of events is a point of concern. Is there any end to this rivalry? Will they ever be able to get out of the hold of security dilemma?
The writer is working for Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]