China longing for entry into SAARC, concern for India

The 18th SAARC Summit (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) is set to begin in Kathmandu on November 26. The two-day Summit is abuzz with the report of China’s bid to get its membership.

An Indian Express report said that China, at present an observer at SAARC, has engaged top Nepalese politicians and diplomats to help it get membership of the group of South Asian countries, which at present comprises of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If China becomes a member country, it will pose a serious threat to India due to which could result into decline of its geopolitical influence in the region. India is seen as an uncrowned king of South Asia and its influence on the member countries have had a significant bearing in setting their political course. Whenever Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives faced internal problems they looked at India for help.

However, with China as a member of the SAARC, India- position will be seriously challenged and it is quite possible that the most powerful democratic country in the region would be overpowered by Communist China, thanks to its hawkish diplomacy and growing economic influence across the world.

In an article of Hindi daily Deshbandhu columnist Pushpa Ranjan, Editor-in-Chief at Asia News said that China is silently playing its card to influence the geopolitical environment of South Asia. On one hand, it is providing hi-tech security cover to dignitaries visiting Kathmandu to attend the Summit by providing bullet proof cars, hi-tech scanners, CCTV system, etc to Nepalese authorities, on the other hand, it has engaged Nepali politicians and diplomats to push for getting SAARC membership.

Interestingly, Ranjan further says that other Governments of the region like Pakistan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and now, Nepal have been lobbying for membership of China.  He has cited February 2014 Summit of SAARC Foreign Ministers where Abdulla Yameen called for an expansion of SAARC and it is likely that Maldives will propose for granting SAARC membership to China.

Clearly, China’s entry in SAARC could threaten India’s position. In the backdrop of China’s growing influence on Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal, it is most likely that China will try to create an anti-India group within SAARC.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, soon after assuming Office in May this year began to improve ties with neighbours like Nepal and Bhutan. He has on numerous occasion expressed his Government’s commitment to improve political and economic  relations among SAARC members.

On the other hand, China is heavily investing to enhance strategic ties with Nepal. It has opened Kyirong landport between Tibet and Nepal which is bound to change the regional strategic balance. According to reports, Kyirong port would be promoted as a tourist destination for mainland visitors. Knowing that more than one lakh Chinese tourists visited Nepal last year, the new port may be synonymous of a Chinese invasion of the former Himalayan kingdom.

Highlighting the strategic importance of the airport, the report said that it should not be forgotten that during the 1792 Tibet-Nepal War, the Manchus troops called by the TibetanGovernment to defeat the Gorkhas used Kyirong route to invade Nepal.

Amrit Hallan on Niti Central says that despite historic connections, India has seemed to deliver Nepal to China on a platter. While the previous UPA Government was busy scamming the country and had little time for the nitty-gritty of international politics, China was making strategic overtures to Nepal and Nepal too was getting close to its gargantuan northern neighbour who, so far, historically, and primarily due to geographic inaccessibility, hadn’t bothered much with the Himalayan Kingdom. With its own population increasing and its energy needs rising as a result, China has already invested $1.6 billion for building a 750 MW joint-venture on the Seti River that is due to be completed by December 2019. China is also funding another project of 60 MW on the Trishul River. It is also helping Nepal lay highways and construct bridges over valleys and rivers. So from Nepal’s point of view, whereas India has been making promises and declarations (and being aloof), China has already started investing in the country and hence, seems more a preferable ally compared to India.

Recently, a report says that in a deal between two countries bonded by a common desire to counterbalance American influence and Indian ascendancy in South Asia, China has agreed to build $45.6 billion worth of infrastructure and energy projects in Pakistan, including a hydroelectricity project that would be the biggest in the world.

In February 2013, Pakistan had handed over its Gwadar port to China to take operational control of a strategic deep water port on the country’s southwestern coast. Clearly, China is enhancing its influence in the South Asian countries.

If we look at relevance of SAARC, it is a fact that the organisation has failed to emerge as  a regional power. Highlighting failure of SAARC in playing an effective role in improving economic and political ties, Pushpa Ranjan further adds that the member countries fail to develop as strong connectivity among them as the members of European Union have done. Citizens of SAARC countries are not allowed to enter into each other’s territories the way citizens of the member countries of EU do with Schengen visa. SAARC nations have failed to develop an unified currency and a SAARC Parliament. Obviously, SAARC has failed to accomplish the goal which was set at the time of its inception.

China is recognised as both an economic and a military superpower and it is using this stature to increase its dominance in all parts of Asia. India as a responsible democracy and a major regional power owes a responsibility to ensure better political and economic relations among the member countries. An initiative could be made in this direction with removing trade barriers and confidence building measures which could ultimately result into setting up of institutions like SAARC Parliament and starting unified currency. 

Courtesy Niti Central


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