Samuel Marshall writes from New Delhi: A senior Indian army officer has recently called on the government and nation to wake up to the fact that China is posing a military and economic threat to India. New Delhi has waken up to the fact that Beijing regards India as its main Asian competitor and is improving its economic ties with its neighbours to gain advantage over India. China has been involved in the constructions of ports of Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Sonadia Island in Bangladesh. Then there is the new railway line linking Nepal and China and the oil and gas pipeline from Kyaukryu in Myanmar to Yunnan. Enough already to give Indian policymakers some serious concerns.
India’s periphery contains several states in which Beijing has become alarmingly prominent. Take Pakistan, for example. There are now over 60 Chinese companies and 100,000 Chinese nationals there. After Singapore pulled out of the management of the Gwadar port project, China stepped in. The Middle Kingdom is now Pakistan’s main trading partner facilitated by a free trade agreement. Trade with Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region is now in yuan and no longer in US dollars.
So India is fighting back. In Afghanistan, it has constructed a highway to the Iranian port of Chahbahar. This is to compete with the Gwadar port project as an alternative route for goods to the Middle East, South and South East Asia. Both India and China have signed ‘strategic and cooperative partnerships’ with Afghanistan but Beijing has more influence there through its close link to Pakistan.
In Myanmar though, things are looking up for India. The halting of the massive Myitsone dam and hydroelectric project revealed that the yalitary junta were trying to weaken their dependence on China. The advent of political reforms has opened up increased prospects for Indian participation in the development of Myanmar’s huge natural resources. Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent visit to India points to further progress.
In Sri Lanka things do not look so bright for India. The regime is becoming more authoritarian and welcomes China’s diplomatic support when criticised for its human rights record. China is now the country’s main aid donor and is involved in several strategic projects.
In Bangladesh, China has been providing aid and helping to bolster the infrastructure of the country and its ports. However Bangladesh is careful to balance improving relations with China with goodwill visits to India.
In Nepal, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) is in power and this makes it the sixth communist state on the planet. Naturally, Beijing wishes to aid in the development of the country and to edge out India.
Relations with Vietnam are improving all the time. There have even been joint naval exercises and Indian ships have the right to berth at Na Thrang port. India is working with Vietnam to update its submarine fleet. An Indian company is prospecting for oil and gas off Vietnam’s coast. Needless to say, this has brought it into conflict with China.
As Sino-Japanese relations deteriorate, so Indo-Japanese ties improve. When it comes to trade, the two countries are far apart. Japanese trade turnover with China is over 25 times of that with India.
Washington is courting New Delhi to form a maritime ring around China in order to contain its ambitions. Chinese naval strategists have advocated moving away from ‘near coastal activity to near seas activity. This would include the South China Sea. The end goal is ‘far seas activity’, meaning moving across the Pacific.
China has thrown down the gauntlet. It is up to India to respond. Should Beijing choose, it can pick a fight with New Delhi over territory in northern India and the South China Sea. Tense times ahead for the two Asian giants.