Rising footprint of China in South Asia

(Practice Question: There has been a significant increase in Chinese footprint in South Asia. Do you agree? What should be the course of action to be adopted by India? – 200 words.)

 

How China’s influence in the South Asian Nations is rising vis-a-vis India:

Nepal: Nepal has signed an agreement with China to use four of its ports — Tianjin, Shenzhen, Zhanjang and Lianyungang. The Chinese government has also agreed for Nepal to use three dry ports in China at Lhasa, Lanzhou and Xigatse. China-Nepal trade has increased manifold over the years and there is only one border crossing. But distance is a problem because the Chinese ports that Nepal is going to use are 3,000 km away whereas Kolkata is 742 km away. Increased connectivity with China is aimed at reducing dependence on India. A new railway line covering harsh mountainous terrain has been proposed between Nepal and China, for which it is offering soft loans, but Nepal is wary about a debt trap. The China-Quinghal-Tibet railway is operational, carrying hordes of Chinese tourists to Nepal.

Bangladesh: Beijing has provided more than $3 billion for constructing a 6-km bridge over the Padma river that will link north and south Bangladesh by road and rail. On the whole, China has committed to $31 billion worth in projects in Bangladesh, including roads, railways, coal power plants and water treatment facilities.

Sri Lanka: Sri Lanks is beholden to Chinese companies because they have taken control of the Hambantota port for 99 years. This is because Sri Lanka was unable to repay the money borrowed from them. China is to develop an EPZ covering 15,000 acres.

Myanmar: In the case of Myanmar, China was already in collaboration with the military junta. It is into various investments in Myanmar which will improve its infrastructure, like the proposed Myanmar-China economic corridor which will connect China’s Yunnan province with three economic centres in Myanmar — Mandalay, Yangon New and the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone.

Thailand: Thailand, being part of ASEAN, has close dealings with China. It also has an open border with China. The reasons why the BIMSTEC FTA is stuck include a spat about duty reduction by Thailand as also because India is more afraid of a huge influx of Chinese goods flowing in through Thailand. The China-Thailand FTA was signed in 2003 and Thailand is supposed to be a pivot for the support of BRI. China is building a multi-billion dollar railway in Thailand, but there are problems as it will be passing through farmland, which Thailand does not want.

Bhutan: Only Bhutan, being embedded in Indian geography, has been a close ally. Yet, it has failed to sign the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement because of its fear of having more pollution through the passing of trucks in its fragile ecosystem. It is holding its cards close to its chest regarding talks about Doklam with China.

Thus, with India having regional supremacy for so long, China is itching in to take over that mantle. Even though no member has actually asked for China’s membership in BIMSTEC, its presence in the sub-region is palpably visible.

India, with its soft power, can win over the regional grouping, but why China is so important is its money power, even though it is under a mountain of debt. With its economy slowing down and having problems in the ongoing trade disputes with the US, China may step back a little. It is now that the Indian government should try to capitalise on important links with the sub-region.

Source: The Tribune