The rise of China over the last two or three decades continues to make global news headlines. Competition between the two global powers (i.e. India and China) in economic, political, and diplomatic domains has garnered scholarly and media attention, most recent being the Galwan valley tensions and ban of Chinese apps by the Indian government.
China’s global investments have grown dramatically in recent years, surpassing the United States as the largest trading partner with many countries.
According to China, they are building a “new model” of major-country relations, and crafting a policy of building relations with neighbouring countries, based on “amity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness”
China is on a march toward rule of law and democracy. – Chen Guangcheng
China is growing very quickly and is clearly becoming an important player in the world economy. -Ben Bernanke
STATISTICS – What Numbers have to Say?
- 14 neighbours
- GDP growth – 6.8% per year
- The second-largest economy of the world
- BRI- Regions served- Asia, Africa, Europe, Middle East America
- India China border length- 4056 km
DESCRIPTION – Let’s take a Deep Dive
China is expanding strategic as well as the economic relations with all regions of Asia. Also, on the maritime front, China is continuously extending its influence across the Indo-Pacific region. Thus China’s extension policy has both continentals as well as maritime dimensions which are interlinked.
Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious project of China aimed at expanding China’s influence in all regions of Asia and beyond.
China is expected to spend over $1 trillion on its “Belt and Road” initiative. This initiative is already building new markets for Chinese goods and increasing China’s economic connectivity from Asia to Europe to Africa to the Americas, encompassing more than 60% of the world’s population and one-third of global GDP. More than 120 countries around the world have joined the initiative.
China’s financing for infrastructure development in other countries has created a strategic dependency and those who are unable to repay the loans have ended up lying in the debt traps by China.
When Sri Lanka faced major debt problems stemming from a Chinese-financed port project, Beijing negotiated a swap of the debt for a 99-year lease on the strategic Hambantota Port, giving China control over a key trade and shipping route in its Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese infrastructure investments have left many other countries at significant risk with large debts owed to China.
China is continuously increasing its military presence in the Indian Ocean region by building and taking control of ports in different countries in the Indian Ocean.
China established a strong foothold in South Asia when it took over the upgrading and operation of Pakistan’s Gwadar Port in 2013. Also, took a more significant step when undertook Hambantota on lease for 99 years.
India is also a major Asian country like China and both share a 4056 Km long border.
China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) which passes through the Indian territory of J&K has adverse political and security implications for India. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China provides an opportunity to expand its neighbourhood with India. BRI has also prompted China to build a new institution like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Silk Road Fund, to fund connectivity between China and the other neighbouring countries. Eventually, India’s neighbouring countries are falling into unhealthy dependencies in China.
Also, China’s dominance in South East Asia will have an impact on India’s Act East Policy.
Why west Asia is so important for India and China?
West Asia is an important region for both India and China as they source their oil supplies through this area. China, through trade, investment, and public diplomacy has succeeded in making a place for itself in the Middle East. However, Arabs also have fully supported their BRI projects.
Why India is opposing BRI?
- Security implications: CPEC which has brought the Chinese presence close to the Indian border, whether in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) or in the Sir Creek area. The implications of a Chinese military base in Gwadar(Pakistan) are self-evident. Within the past few years, the Chinese submarines have appeared in the Bay of Bengal and Sri Lanka. The Chinese naval base in African countries like Djibouti, in the Indian Ocean, is also a matter of security concern for India. Apart from that Chinese are also expanding their presence in small countries like Oman.
- Ecological impact: Despite India’s opposition and warnings about debt entrapment and environmental crises, most South Asian countries have joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Most South Asian states already feel the effects of climate change, due to this huge infrastructural construction the ecological system will be severely disturbed, giving rise to many unnatural phenomena.
- Political impact: Close engagement with China through projects such as the BRI, transforms political culture and public opinion in the small states. A consequence of the democratic decline in the West is that, increasingly, people in transitional countries may see China’s political model as more attractive.
What are the issues between India and China?
- Contention between China and India is critical to the South Asian countries and groups like SAARC ( South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation ), which was set up to promote trade and cooperation among the South Asian countries. While India is reluctant to admit China to a full member, the other members, especially Pakistan Bangladesh, and Nepal want China to join – as a counter to India.
- The mutual border of two countries stretches across the entire snowy range of the Himalayas from the North to the Northeast regions of India. The brewing tension between India and China led to the Sino-India frontier war of 1962. In the aftermath of the war, China retained most of its claims in various parts along the border like the Aksai chin. India maintained its claim over 70% of the Aksai Chin land in Northeast India and pushed toward building an artery of roads and military bases along with the critical areas where it felt vulnerable to China.
- The water conflict between the two countries has worsened the situation. It is developing at a much faster rate and will have a greater impact in the coming years. Recently, the Arunachal Pradesh government reported that the rivers which are flowing from china are drying due to a shortage of water. This happens due to the heavy construction of dams on water bodies by the Chinese government.
String of pearls
- Diplomats from India believe “String of Pearls” is a strategy by China to surround India, posing a great threat to India’s security. They fear that Chinese investment in South Asian ports not only serves Chinese economic interests but also facilitates Chinese military goals.
- In this way, China has created many establishments and surrounded India from all sides and can use these establishments at the time of war against India.
India’s response to the String of Pearls – the QUAD
- The grouping of four democracies –India, Australia, the US, and Japan– known as the quadrilateral security dialogue or quad, was formed to counter China’s aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific region. The four democracies formed the “quadrilateral” coalition on November 12, 2017.
- Their basic focus is on cooperation and promotion of peace and stability that they share and with other partners.
- Moreover, it underlines the rising significance of maritime geopolitics in an advancing world. Economically, the strategy is regarded as an answer to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is establishing a China-centric trade route.
- S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described one of the purposes of the quadrilateral as restraining China.
US-China trade war – Is it an opportunity for India?
Recently, a US security committee has blacklisted Huawei’s telecom for providing 5G technology on security threats. India and the US have also banned various apps, giving China a big economic setback.
China-US on-going trade war can potentially be beneficial for India. Many US companies are looking for alternative markets and destinations for investments. For this, India has to act fast and make itself an attractive destination. The slowing down of the Indian economy is a setback in that direction.
- Maintaining a working relationship with each other and solving issues at the earliest is desirable to maintain healthy relations.
- This cooperation within the QUAD should continue.
- India should strengthen its Act East Policy.
- India has huge potential in soft power which can be harnessed to deal with Chinese influence in multiple ways.
- India can be a hub of education and tourism for the people in Asia. These areas should be
- India should pay adequate attention to research and development, and innovation. Investment in these particular areas will strengthen India’s capability to deal with China.
- Stronger ties with Southeast Asia will increase India’s footprint in the area. Joining various regional and International groups and investing in other countries will increase the influence of India on international platforms. Signing mutual benefit agreements with other countries will ensure increased trust and cooperation.
- India must work upon policies to divert the FDIs within the country. For, this a stronger economy will be required.
It is high time that the countries of South Asia move beyond old paradigms and mistrust. They must engage with each other in meaningful and mutually-beneficial ways. This remains the region’s greatest challenge.
Also, it is up to the two giant neighbours to manage their ties and competition by enhancing their cooperative activities. If they can do that, they will foster development and prosperity for their smaller neighbours in the region and will be able to maintain peace in the Asian region.
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Author – Priyanka Mahala