China-India and the String of Pearls

With the Defence Minister’s address to parliament about Chinese territorial transgressions, it has become all the more important to understand the status of India’s foreign and diplomatic positions.

Syed Suhail Yaqoob

THE WORLD is in a bad shape. The spread of Covid-19 has halted the progress of every economic and social system. India is still grappling the migrant crisis, high levels of unemployment in addition to inefficient health care system. The country, however, has to brace for one more issue which is likely going to cause more trouble to the policy makers. The issue is, ‘String of Pearls’.

The string of pearls is a Chinese geopolitical strategy which implies encircling a country through enemy neighbourhood. This policy is used to choke a country’s economic growth, make it insecure and pressurise its armed forces. India is facing the brunt of it.

Yesterday, in his address to the Lok Sabha, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh echoed this concern in his condemnation of Chinese transgressions in India’s territories since April.

There had been a renewed fight across Indian-Chinese borders especially along Ladakh region since April of this year. Many reports have confirmed Chinese intrusion in Indian areas. The Chinese intrusion should not be seen as an isolated event but a consistent policy to contain India. China’s containment policy of India relies on foreign investment, economic dominance, nurturing friends and exploiting India’s faulty foreign policy.

Perhaps, China-Pakistan Corridor is one of the major investment project funded by China. The total investment is around 60 billion dollars. The corridor has a strategic location and virtually encircles India in the north. Also, it makes it easier for China to have access to hot waters of Arabian Sea.

Initially, the sea trade route passed close to India in the south; thus increasing the vulnerability of China. Not only has India’s position been reduced visa viz China but the project has also provided leverage to Pakistan visa viz India. Any adventure into Pakistan Administered Kashmir will place India into direct conflict with China given the magnitude of investment in Gilgit-Baltistan and its strategic location for the country.

Amit Shah’s speech in the parliament, where he referred to “taking back” both Aksai-Chin and PAK-administered Kashmir (including Gilgit-Baltistan) has been taken seriously by China. Both these regions are the life-lines of China. Aksai-chin leads to internal connectivity while Pakistan-China Economic Corridor provides it external connectivity in the west.

China will react to whatever increases its vulnerability in these two areas. And it has reacted to Surgical Strikes in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir as well as its intrusion in Ladakh. Although, a China and India war is impossible but China has tried to secure a strategic psychological position —and has managed to do so.

It is not that India has not tried to break this noose in its north. The country tried trough investment and good-will in Afghanistan. However, there seems little arena available for India to meddle into its affairs. Reports suggest that USA relies heavily on Pakistan in its Afganisation policy. The Doha Talks about the future of Afganisation have clearly revealed that India is on the wrong side of curve. USA wants a face-saving in Afghanistan and without Pakistan, it is impossible. Although India may want to have some say in its future but Pakistan-Taliban nexus will surely not make this happen.

Moreover India also tried to create Buddhist encirclement around China. It created first Buddhist majority in Ladakh and tactically supported Myanmar. It might have messaged Buddhist anger for China, but given the countries sheer economic size the policy is likely to reach a dead end.

It is pertinent to mention that the policy of Indian government has provided opportunities for China to tighten its noose around the country. The government has passed certain laws that are likely to create diplomatic huddles with Bangladesh as well.  The Citizen Amendment Act and National Register for Citizens law has to been seen in this context. The government has made clear that ‘foreigners’ will be pushed into their respective countries. Since most of the people belong to Bangladesh it is likely to strain its relationship with India. No wonder then that there have been violent clashes in Bangladesh regarding this issue.

As if this was not enough, Nepal was a surprise in this spectrum. The government in Nepal has accused India of violating its sovereignty. Both governments have published conflicting maps of its borders. Many have accused Nepal of working at the behest of China and this possibility cannot be ruled out.

Yet another issue that should concern the policy makers is BJP’s relationship with USA particularly with president Donald Trump. BJP has used Donald Trump either for boosting image of Mr. Modi or as a trump card in elections.  We have had ‘Howdy-Modi’ event in USA and also ‘Namaste Trump’ event in India. Russia is likely to frown upon this relationship and will fall like an apple into the laps of both China and Pakistan. History knows that USA and Russia are always in the opposite camps. The closer a country is to USA the farther it’s to Russia.

So, why did China choose this timing to intrude into India?  The answer lies in its culture and history. China believes in the ‘Wait and watch Policy’, and acts only when its enemy is at its weakest point. Indian economy, which was its ultimate weapon to counter any foreign diplomatic offensive, is in shambles. Many reports have suggested that the economic growth is likely to be negative in the current fiscal. The unemployment rate is highest in the last 45 years and migrant crisis is deepening day by day. The spread of Covid-19 has laid bare the fault-lines in the Indian economic, social and political condition as well.  Further, China wants to kill three birds with a single arrow. It wants to put India into imbalance, reduce its criticism of being silent on spread of Covid-19 and deflect its attention from happenings in Hong-Kong.

  • Syed Suhail Yaqoob is teaching  economics at Cluster University Srinagar and can be contacted at [email protected]

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