By Maitreya Buddha Samantaray
After the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Pakistan’s Prime Minister visited China on May 18, sending a message to US that it has other supporters to lean on. Dependency on China will further increase once US administration reduces its presence in Afghanistan. Chinese proximity with Pakistan to pursue its own interest rather than contributing anything for the regional stability may not go down well with Americans as well as India government.
Chinese assistance to international forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been very minimal thus far and are more in the nature of developmental aid rather than military support. It might be due to the apprehension that military support would have provoked militant retaliation on its restive western borders. Chinese are happy with the fact that international forces have been containing militancy in Afghanistan and not allowing militants to resort to subversive activities elsewhere including in Western borders of China. However, as the International forces presence will slowly diminish in the region, militants may resort to violence taking advantage of the power vacuum. It may also so happen that after the exit from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US may refocus its strategic priorities on China in the Asia-Pacific region under the plea of dispelling Australia and India’s China-centric fear and essentially that will be a major likely trouble for China in the coming days.
Domestically, China is facing serious inflation, public resentment against corruption and autocratic official behaviour. Some foreign business houses started closing operations because of rising cost prompted by government-mandated wage increase and changes in commodity prices. US imports from China had dropped by $ 4 billion in March- the development may prompt revaluation of Chinese heavy reliance on US market for growth. Chinese recent loan assistance to Pakistan in Yuan is largely seen as China’s strategy to internationalize the Yuan in order to deal with its current domestic financial pressure. It needs to be understood that Chinese support for Pakistan is more to counter India and US clout in the region than genuine intention of assisting destabilised Pakistan.
Recently Indian Defence Minister A. K. Anthony has raised serious concerns about the heightened degree of defence cooperation between China and Pakistan and stated that India would have no choice but to build up its military capabilities in response. Presence of the People’s Liberation Army engineers recently in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan and reported arms deal including that of JF-17s are likely to create tensions in India’s security establishment.
However Chinese are also cautious in establishing open pro-active relationship with Pakistan considering declining global image of Pakistan and China’s own strategic considerations with India and the United States. China won’t like to see a situation where in South Asian terrorism interfering with its pursuit of vital interests elsewhere. When Pakistan authorities reportedly leaked the information related to the reported offer of transforming a strategic deep-water port at Gwadar located in southwest Balochistan province on the Gulf of Oman to a naval base, Chinese were promptly dismissive of the report. Yet-to- be fully operational nature of the port, resistance from the local Baloch tribes, feasibility in maintaining continuous naval operations at such a distance will be detrimental in Chinese deeper engagement with port project.
Even, China has declined to confirm Pakistani claims regarding the fighter jets support. Previously, China didn’t back Pakistan after Kargil war and after the Mumbai attacks, it again told Pakistan to clear doubts of use of its own soil for terror activities. China has not objected to the inclusion of India in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). China has time and often advised Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue amicably. So the notion that China back Pakistan all the time is unfounded. Chinese dependency on Pakistan can also be a geo-strategic-financial compulsion as Pakistan provides a good logistical route to access the natural resources of Afghanistan and Central Asia as well as provide new markets for its merchandise. It is in the interest of Pakistan that they should strongly convey US that its relations with China are not at the cost of US interests as it is not a zero-sum game.
Given the current geopolitical dynamics, India needs to devise a pragmatic and proactive China policy. Boundary dispute and the Tibet factor have been still affecting all aspects of the bilateral relationship. India’s strategic interests will continue to be affected by China’s policy to befriend India’s neighbours. Considering the situation, it will be prudent on India’s part to come closer with its neighbours in the form of financial aid. It’s a fact that countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have developed proximity- induced mistrust of India and intends to hedge their ties with India with some kind of balancing act with China. It is imperative on India’s part to eliminate such mistrust by sharing its new prosperity with smaller neighbours.
At the same time, it would be necessary for India to continue its ‘engagement’ policy towards China on the basis of its assessment that ‘there is enough space for both to pursue their ambitions of economic development’. No doubt, while doing so, New Delhi should evolve an effective regional strategy to neutralise, as the Indian Prime Minister calls it, China’s policy of “seeking to expand its influence in South Asia at India’s expense”. China is today India’s largest trading partner, and both have worked together to advance similar positions in global trade and climate change negotiations. Additionally, it would be in India’s interest to keep China strategically confined to East Asia and Central Asia through diplomatic and strategic manoeuvres, and thereby deflecting China from its South Asian focus. Regular discussions and credible exchanges on military capabilities and doctrines can to a considerable extent ease tensions and dispel misinformation about intentions of both the countries. An eight-member multi-command Indian delegation’s recent week-long visit is a welcoming step. Both the countries can also devise strategies to initiate nuclear-confidence building pacts to enhance mutual trust.
It is observed that stalemate will continue until after 2017, when the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party will possibly reaffirm the sixth generation of China’s leaders in power and by that time India too will possibly have a young generation of leaders in power with a faded memory of the Sino-Indian war.
Maitreya Buddha Samantaray is a Regional Intelligence Analyst-Asia, with US-based iJET Intelligent Risk Systems (www.ijet.com). Prior to that, he worked with Israeli company Max-Security Solutions, US-based At Risk Protection, International SOS and was a correspondent of The Indian Express, Jammu and Kashmir, India. He was the recipient of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) Doctoral fellowship for his PhD work in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. He has published a good number of articles in different magazines, journals and web portals of national and international repute and presented several papers in national and international seminars. Views expressed in the article are his own and purely personal. He can be reached at [email protected]