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A lot of China all around

| SRIDHAR KUMARASWAMI
Published : May 1, 2016, 4:29 am IST
Updated : May 1, 2016, 4:29 am IST

China is widely seen to have adopted a “string of pearls strategy” to encircle India.

Raheel Sharif
 Raheel Sharif

China is widely seen to have adopted a “string of pearls strategy” to encircle India. Perhaps the two most important aspects of this policy at present are the country’s maritime capability in the Indian Ocean and its building of an economic corridor with Pakistan through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Apart from its deep links with Myanmar, which has now distanced itself from Beijing to some extent, it attempted to woo Nepalese communist leaders, was close to the anti-India erstwhile Khaleda Zia regime in Bangladesh, wooed the former M. Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka and was suspected of having a hand in the earlier strain in ties between India and the Maldives. In short, the Chinese have constantly attempted to fish in troubled waters in the neighbourhood to India’s detriment. China is also understood to be interested in joining South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to push its way further into the south Asian neighbourhood with ample Pakistani assistance. There have also been reports of Chinese security personnel being involved in supply of arms to Northeast rebel groups based in Myanmar.

An internal defence thinktank report of the Indian government prepared earlier had revealed, “China’s recent strategic manoeuvres in and around the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) pose a threat to both India’s economic and security interests. China’s naval capabilities have significantly expanded over the past few years with induction of new submarines, like the Shang and Jin class boats. It is well entrenched even in public discourse through think tanks and other agencies that the Chinese naval capability is proving to be a major limiting factor to other regional navies, especially the Indian Navy (IN). Chinese interests in the IOR will demand attempts to begin deterrent patrolling as early as within the next three years. These extended patrols may fully overlap with IN’s current area of operation and subsurface activity.”

The report added, “Without adequate bilateral military linkages and transparency standards, the threat of a serious reduction in sea denial and anti access in the IOR is a reality.”

The presence of Chinese nuclear submarines in Sri Lankan waters had shaken New Delhi which had promptly taken up the matter with the then Rajapaksa regime in Colombo which was seen to be actively encouraging Beijing in its designs. The Chinese presence in development projects in the Maldives and its highly publicised rushing of civil supplies to Nepal during the Madhesi agitation also did not escape the attention of New Delhi.

What has worried New Delhi the most is the increasing presence of Chinese PLA troops in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to monitor completion of infrastructure projects which are part of the US$ 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Chinese troops have also been reportedly spotted close to the LoC on the Pakistani side. Pakistan Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif recently announced that his forces would ensure completion of the corridor.

Strategic affairs expert and director, Society for Policy Studies C. Uday Bhaskar says, “China is seeking to enhance its presence in the IOR by way of bilateral relations with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. India has to evolve a long-term strategy in response. While India can be involved in a close partnership with Sri Lanka and Maldives, Pakistan is an exception since it has a relationship with India that is predicated on an anti-India position.”

“The CPEC is going to be problematic. China wants to increase its access to the Gwadar port in (Pakistan’s) Balochistan province. But more worryingly, the Chinese military (through its presence in PoK) will be positioning itself between India and Pakistan,” points out JNU Professor in Chinese Studies Srikant Kondapalli. It’s a strategy that’s caught India in a bind.