by Syed Suhail Yaqoob
China believes in Wait and watch Policy, and acts only when its enemy is at its weakest point.
The world is in a bad shape. Probably, after the Second World War, the crisis of such a magnitude has occurred. The spread of Covid-19 has halted the progress of every economic and social system in every country. Major economies around the world have witnessed a steep decline in economic growth, rise in hunger and poverty.
The current century was expected to be Asian. Most of the Asian countries including India were expected to boost the economic growth of the world; however, things did not go as expected. The Reserve Bank of India has warned that economic growth is likely to contract, even turn negative, in the current fiscal year. It is bad news for the country. India is still grappling the migrant crisis, high levels of unemployment in addition to the inefficient health care system. The country, however, has to brace for one more issue which is likely to cause headache among the policymakers. The issue is ‘String of Pearls’.
The string of pearls implies encircling, through the enemy neighbourhood, a country. This policy is used to choke a country’s economic growth, make it insecure and pressurize its armed forces. India is going through this phase.
Early this summer, there has been a renewed fight across Indian-Chinese borders, especially along the Ladakh region. 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 the China-Pakistan Corridor is one of the major investment project funded by China. The total investment is around the US 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 the Arabian Sea. Initially, the sea trade route passed close to India in the south; thus increasing the vulnerability of China. The strategic dominance of India is reduced in the South. Not only India’s position has reduced visa viz China, the project has perhaps 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.
Home Minister Amit Shah’s speech in the parliament where he referred to ‘taking back’ both Aksai-Chin and Pakistan administered Kashmir, including Gilgit-Baltistan) has been taken seriously by China. Both these regions are the life-lines of China.
Aksia-chin leads to internal connectivity while Pakistan China Economic Corridor provides its 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 China and India war is impossible given the sheer size and weapons both countries possess, China has tried to secure a strategic psychological position. And it has.
It is not that India has not tried to break this noose in its north. The country tried through investment and good-will in Afghanistan. However, there seems little arena available for India to meddle into its affairs. The reports suggest that the USA relies heavily on Pakistan in its Afganisation policy. The Doha Talks about the future of Afganisation has clearly revealed that India is on the wrong side of the curve, at the least right now. The 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 the 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 the Indian government has provided opportunities for China to tighten its noose. The government has passed certain laws that are likely to create diplomatic huddles with Bangladesh. The Citizen Amendment Act and National Register for Citizens law have 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 there have been violent clashes in Bangladesh regarding this issue. As if it 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; it cannot be ruled out.
Another issue that should concern the policymakers is BJP’s relationship with the USA, particularly with President Donald Trump. BJP has used Donald Trump either for boosting the image of Prime Minister Modi or a trump card in elections. We have had ‘Howdy-Modi’ event in the USA and also ‘Namaste Trump’ event in India. Russia is likely to frown upon this relationship and will fall like an apple into laps of both China and Pakistan. History knows that the USA and Russia are always in the opposite camps. The closer a country is to the USA the farther it’s to Russia.
Why China choose this timing to intrude into India? The answer lies in its culture and history. China believes in 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 economic growth is likely to be negative in the current fiscal. The unemployment rate is highest in the last 45 years and the migrant crisis has deepened already. The spread of Covid-19 has laid bare the fault-lines in the Indian society. 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 the spread of Covid-19 and deflect its attention from happenings in Hong Kong.
Syed Suhail Yaqoob is teaching economics at Cluster University Srinagar. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)