~ By Charmaine Mirza
With general elections taking place across India, a new government is already in the making. In a two part series, Inchin Closer takes a look on what the new Indian administration should focus on with China, her largest neighbour and trading partner. From natural resources to national security, curbing terrorism to regional policy, are there ways for Asia’s largest nations to work with one another?
In the first part of this series, we take a look at the geopolitics of South Asia and the role that these two giants play.
MARITIME SECURITY & POLICY:
China’s Maritime Strategy 2015 clearly states it’s intent to increase it’s presence in the Indian Ocean. Karachi and Gwadar in Pakistan have already been named as key naval bases and China’s growing ports in Sri Lanka like Hanbantota, do nothing to ease the tension between the two navies.
China has recently moved nuclear armed submarines into the Indian Ocean, creating a series of “pressure points” in the South Asian seas, which is directly at odds with India’s “Act East” policy that aims to strengthen India’s presence right up to the West Pacific. China aims to increase it’s naval power exponentially – to about 350 surface warships and 100 submarines by 2030-35. India has also made heavy investments in increasing it’s naval capacity. Will the pumped up maritime muscle of these two Asian giants serve to keep each other in check?
India achieved a major diplomatic breakthrough this week when China finally backed down at the UN Security Council, and agreed to vote in favour of Masood Azhar, the leader of Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), designating Azhar as a global terrorist. China’s covert support for Azhar at the UNSC has been a major sore point in relations between India and China.
After Azhar was released to Pakistani authorities by India during a hostage exchange, he founded the JeM, which subsequently took responsibility for several major terrorism attacks in the region – most recently Pulwama in Kashmir. The exact reasons why China protected Azhar are opaque, but some strategists feel that it could be a retaliation to India’s protection of the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese view as a dangerous separatist leader.
But is it time for China and India to collaborate more closely with one another on military intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks in the region? A potential point of collaboration could be technology – as the smart city wave sweeps over India, perhaps China and India could work together to implement better security systems including security camera tracking systems, artificial intelligence, face scanning, biometrics and citizen data. But on the other hand, if they are instrumental in building such systems, China could also manipulate them for their own use.
While leveraging each other’s intelligence for regional harmony would be ideal, there is still a long way to go before India, China and Pakistan reach a happy medium.
The elexir of life, India and China’s dependance on water continues to increase even as more water bodies get polluted and fewer fresh water resources are available to a growing population.
The Lake Mansarover’s watershed is a much sought after and fought after fresh water supply between the neighbors. While both China and India’s river systems are aplenty water is becoming a precious resource and needs to be managed effectively between the nations especially since many of India’s rivers origniate from China.
Cooperating on sharing water resources between the two nations would be a monumental breakthrough for the entire region’s peace and stability, however Inchin Closer feels this would take a lot more time and understanding between the nations.
THE CHINA BELT & ROAD INITIATIVE:
The second China Belt & Road summit took place recently, but India continues to decline to participate, despite China’s insistent overtures. The reasons are many – not least of which was a diplomatic stand off, thanks to China’s veto on Azhar being designated a global terrorist. But security is not the only concern for participants of the BRI. Economics is another. Many of them feel it’s like a debt-trap – wherein China’s infrastructure investment comes at a high political and financial cost, which many of them are unable to repay. In fact, China needs to be cognizant of the economic impact of unpaid debt from the BRI on it’s own economy.
The New Silk Road overland route connects China all the way to Europe (see map above). Italy is the latest European country to sign on. But participants have already voiced concerns over unwieldy logistics and red-tape, particularly in the Central Asian region.
India is a wary onlooker, even as it’s regional neighbours – Sri Lanka and Pakistan – have clambered onto the bandwagon. Despite the trade advantages, several political strategists feel that it is not yet to India’s benefit to participate. However, in the long run, if the BRI is optimised and used to the mutual benefit of both countries, both India and China could benefit from it enormously – making South Asia the super power it once was. Power struggles in South Asia are nothing new, but it’s time for a fresh approach. With a new administration sweeping in to drive India forward into 2020, it would be fortuitous to have China as an ally rather than an enemy.