May 29, 2024

China’s Increasing Power in South Asia: Signs of Greater Turbulence in the Times Ahead

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By: Kirti Sharma, Research Analyst, GSDN

China & South Asia: source Internet


“India and Asian Geopolitics: The Past, Present” is a book written by Shivshankar Menon has propounded the whole narrative of the book along the historical lines of geopolitical transitions in a timeline manner, therefore by narrating the story of how India’s journey took the steps of diplomatic interest. With the stalwart news headlines asserting that with the opening of economic doors, China’s share in the world’s GDP rose from about two percent in 1990 to about 18 percent in 2022. The stupendous economic rise has made the country permanently revolving on the global pyramid of South Asia. With the converging victories of the Sino-Pak alliance, the internal instability of both countries has wider implications for the decisive future of the growing turbulence of China in South Asia. China’s strategic involvement with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, and India has brought tables of debt devious trap in the security domains for the said countries.

In his 19th Party Congress speech in October 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that “China will deepen relations with its neighbours in accordance with the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefits, and inclusiveness, and the policy of forging friendship and partnership with its neighbours.” However, the geopolitical relations between the nations can only be fostered when pseudo-mutual benefits clear the vision.

In India’s Way, a book authored by S. Jaishankar has blamed “legacy issues” for the growing scuffle between India and China’s problems. The recent developments of China’s longstanding profile to barging into South Asia strategically and engulfing them to burgeon its autonomy in the South Asian region has compelled regional countries to revamp their foreign policies towards China. The proclamation of Xi Jinping’s “New Era” or “Third Era” in the historical narratives of the Communist Party of China (CPC) constitutes a dictum of ‘striving for achievement’. However, in the second era, the policy was ‘keeping a low profile and biding the time’ as proposed by Deng Xiaoping was a fiasco that turned into the futility of the Chinese policy of sticking to the dictum.

The persistence of deep suspicion of China’s geostrategic movement in the South Asian region is a result of fulfilling its geopolitical interest through tailoring massive infrastructure development and investment programs as a catalyst of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or 21st century maritime Silk Road route. The clarity of the posing narrative that China is stepping into this area for mutual benefit is a completely blurred vision primarily to gain support via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or 21st century maritime Silk Road route.

This article endeavours to navigate China’s prospects and the weight that South Asian countries can take to renunciate the pseudo phrase of ‘Chinese President Xi Jinping to weave the rest of the world as a better community to perform state action in interlinked global affairs.’

In long term potential intentions of China’s policy towards South Asia might result in “perpetual oscillation” in foreign policy of South Asian countries where it will be defined through the national interest of concerned states. The proclivities of decision-makers in international opportunities are always dynamic and not static, therefore, it is reflected in domestic capabilities in the international environment.

Evolution of Chinese discourse in South Asia

Broadly, it can be said that China’s discourse in South Asia can be classified into four different kinds of categorization. The multifaceted nature of Chinese discourse has imperatively four watersheds in summarization to understand the larger footprints. The first watershed was through travelogues which resulted in administrative details along with the study of geography, society, and cultural practices of South Asia. Further, in the second watershed, the expansion of Chinese mercantile networks in the Indian Ocean, moreover, by the sixteenth century the focus was shifted toward coastal regions of South Asia through maritime routes. In the third and fourth watersheds, the implication of the dearth of knowledge that was comprehended in South Asia was invisible, henceforth, became distorted. An accurate understanding of Chinese discourse in South Asia was visible only in the late nineteenth century when travellers from Quing China began visiting British India to mark the periodization and caveats on the past discourse to amend them and remove the notion of distorted histories.

In November 2012, President Xi Jinping first mentioned the notion of the ‘Chinese Dream’ to resurrect the Chinese nation by making the armed forces strong. In October 2013, President Xi Jinping asserted ‘The strategic goal of China’s diplomacy with neighbouring countries is to serve the realization of the two “centenary goals” and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’ Therefore, it discernible that China’s goal of economic development and geopolitical considerations in its neighbourhood policy expression is to become a hegemon in the region.

In a white paper titled, ‘China’s policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation’ where China made a brutal warning statement to small and medium-sized countries to not take sides among big countries. While Xi Jinping’s goal of community to common destiny is a fiasco to believe in since the instances of Sri Lanka in the recent timeline has made it a funeral to accept the fact that China’s interest since the beginning was never for the mutual benefit in the enhancing line of ‘strategic confidence based on socialism which President Xi addressed in 2018 conference.

In the recent past, the combination of Chinese discourse amalgamated with the Chinese Dream as a strategic confidence to spell out BRI as an alternative geopolitical, geostrategic, and geoeconomic framework for China to fuel up the long-standing aspiration of taking the domination of the area to its fullest.

Navigating the future aspiration of China’s dreadful mystery in investing South Asian region

Vulnerabilities residing in the South Asian region are inviting China to involve its money and power through the region in receiving experiences from each other’s footprints. The intensity of Chinese activism can manage the neighbourhood political risk to face the special challenges. While people presume only China’s factor for shaping South Asian dissonance, however, internal, external, and most importantly regional factors are the fundamentals to the same. Where the cases of building grand infrastructure to fuelling up the small countries to deceiving with its strategy, one has to keep in mind about Chinese economy taking a troubled position on the global stage. Recently, a report published by IMF stated, that GDP growth for Asia’s largest economy will slow down to 4.6% in 2024 from 5.4% in 2023, and fall further to 3.4% by 2028. On one side, China’s real estate slump and growth of 0.5% in exports which is as good as nothing.

Interpretation of Cold War 2.0 between China and the US

The global and regional disintegration between China and the US can be evident through the trade war between the concerned countries. The analogies are made on the notion of the high dynamics of the Cold War. The contemporary tensions between China and the US are often termed Cold War 2.0, where the conflict which is evident in the Middle East- Israel and Hamas and Russia-Ukraine war is not a sudden event but the result of Cold War 2.0.

In the recent developments Indo-Pacific has emerged as the fundamental flashback while proceeding with Cold War 2.0, notably, China has made a bold step to deploy uniformed police officers to Kiribati. Kiribati is a small island nation in the Pacific with a population of 115,00 people. However, I have given the instances of Kiribati to anticipate the future serious dreadful steps are already being made in India’s neighbourhood. While giving the depth of analysis in India’s neighbourhood region, a Chinese military delegation visited the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Nepal to further accentuate cooperation in defense issues. While it is needless to say, the growing strategic inclination of China towards South Asia is a clear indication to counter its strategic rival India for influence in the region by consolidating diplomatic relations with India’s neighbourhood region through “military assistance.”

While making the configuration of Cold War 2.0 visible, the geoeconomic landscape of the bifurcated global system. Simply put, the increased polarised tendency of trade, technologies, and financial systems makes global shifts which shall be discernible in major economic blocs like G20 and BRICS. These major global blocs of economic architecture contribute to a deciding factor for the South Asian region’s economic viability.

India’s way forward in contemporary lens

Under Xi Jinping, China has become a rogue nation, where its closest friends are, North Korea to the east and Pakistan to the South. For Maldives, the recent visit of President Mohamed Muizzu to Beijing is being played by Xi Jinping where Muizzu called China a “valued ally and integral collaborator.” This majorly defines the incredulity of Maldives with the case of Sri Lanka where China blocked the country with its debt trap diplomacy under the weaponization of finance by China. The frame of realpolitik aligns with what Alfred Thayer Mahan, an Admiral in the US Navy, quoted in 1897, “whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia.” Henceforth, this ocean can be one of the deciding factors in the rising emergence of China’s policy of transgression strategically.

Notwithstanding, the recent development in Xi Jinping’s administration China is facing the economic global downscaling. Notably, a long-term, multifaceted challenge to India with China exists in the disputed border with the Line of Actual Control (LAC), along with it, India needs to heed its neighbourhood policy more ostensibly by giving strategic importance to the line of India’s maritime security. Thereafter, China’s military modernization is further escalating in the vision, to complement its BRI project in the prospects, therefore, inviting serious confrontation to be faced by India.

The apprehensive disposition of India has to be amended to sustain a geopolitical factor to transverse Chinese transgression into the South Asian territories. A trend of tense dispositions at the border is unlikely to reverse to its cordial position anytime soon. The three factors through which India’s strategic relation with China can be duly performed. First and foremost, China’s hegemonic rise in South Asia is an alarming stress for India’s security where Morgenthau’s six principles come into play in the pictures. Therefore, in the decisive factors of the disputed border with China (the Line of Actual Control or LAC), the unprecedented proactive and military modernization/expansion of China’s military is the second possibility of India to make a cautious approach with China as K Sibal mentioned ‘diplomacy as an imperative factor while deciding foreign policy.’

According to C. Raja Mohan, it seems a matter of grave concern that if India and China are unable to locate the changing structural shift in the global order then the relationship between the two will no longer be credible or sustainable. Since both are putting a substantial amount of focus on the Global South. The recently conducted NAM and G-77 summit is evidence of the frequency of both India and China leveraging their geopolitical interest in the location. Moreover, China’s pitch escalated on revisiting global economic form whereas India longs for Integration and representation of Global South countries while bridging the gap between Global North and Global South. What lay ahead is, diminishing China’s presence, and this can be substantiated by India’s neighbourhood countries to unite with India to make the region- demographically, economically, socially, and politically self-reliant to the level that India’s neighbourhood need not step in the grab of China’s brutal policy. If the shoulders of strategic actions are slouched by India, then repercussions might have an iota of blameworthiness.

In conclusion, the dynamic nature of international relations is left to be evaluated on the future outcomes of the global summit which underpin the re-alignment of major powers which shall lead through strategic competition, and geoeconomic transition, with hovering bees of military expansion, however, the road for India might be the case as Robert Frost suggests “The Road not taken.”

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