China is not a South Asian power, but it has been seeking to build up for itself a strong South Asian presence which could cater to its strategic needs in the long term.
It has made inroads in the South Asian countries in recent years by taking advantage of their hunger for the development of their infrastructure and their requirement of financial assistance for major infrastructure projects and for the exploitation of their natural resources.
While India too has been helping these countries in these fields, China has definitely had an advantage over India due to its large cash reserve built up from its huge trade surpluses and the reservoir of excellent construction engineers with experience in infrastructure building which it has built up over the years.
China has definitely had an advantage over India due to its large cash reserve “¦
The fact that China has no contentious issues affecting its bilateral relations with these countries — as against many contentious issues in the relations of India with its neighbours— has also worked to its advantage.
The Chinese policy in the South Asian region has a mix of the strategic and the opportunistic dimensions- that is, working for carefully calculated long-term strategic objectives while not missing short and medium term opportunities that come its way. One sees the strategic dimension in the case of its relations with Pakistan. One sees a mix of the two in its relations with other South Asian countries.
Its relations with Pakistan, which continue to enjoy the highest priority, are driven by a strong strategic calculus. That calculus arises from its perceived need for a second front to keep India preoccupied.
The Chinese policy in the South Asian region has a mix of the strategic and the opportunistic dimensions- that is, working for carefully calculated long-term strategic objectives while not missing short and medium term opportunities that come its way.
In its strategic calculation, its ability to prevent a military conflict with India would depend on a strong military-related capability in Tibet and a strong Pakistani military capability in the nuclear and conventional fields.
That is what it has been trying to do. It has been trying to see that Pakistan has an edge over India in its military nuclear capability, including the delivery vehicles. It has been strengthening Pakistan’s offensive and defensive air and naval capabilities. After the recent raid by the US naval commandos in Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden on May 2,2011, it has promised to expedite the delivery of aircraft needed by the PAF to strengthen its air defence capability.
Simultaneously, it has also been helping Pakistan in repairing and upgrading the Karakoram Highway and has promised to help in the construction of other roads. A feasibility study for the construction of a railway line from Xinjiang through Gilgit-Baltistan has been undertaken.
Of the various proposals received from Pakistan for the development of its infrastructure, China has given high priority to those relating to Gilgit-Baltistan and low priority to those relating to Balochistan. It has not shown an interest in taking up for the time being Pakistan’s proposals for the upgradation of the Gwadar commercial port built earlier with Chinese assistance into a naval base. Similarly, it has been going slow in follow-up action on other pending Pakistani proposals for the construction of a petro-chemical complex in Gwadar and oil-gas pipelines from Gwadar to Xinjiang.
It has been trying to see that Pakistan has an edge over India in its military nuclear capability, including the delivery vehicles”¦
The priority given by China to infrastructure projects in the Gilgit-Baltistan area is meant to enable Pakistan protect this area from any future Indian threats and give the Pakistani armed forces the capability to pose a credible threat to India, which would serve China’s strategic objective too.
There have been unconfirmed reports from a US journalist about the presence of a little over 10,000 Chinese troops in the Gilgit-Baltistan area. If true, these reports would further underline China’s strategic objectives in Pakistan.
A significant development post-Abbottabad was the strong defence of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism record by Beijing and its attempts to see that no harm came to Pakistan as a result of US suspicions regarding possible Pakistani complicity— governmental or non-governmental— in sheltering OBL for a little over five years in Abbottabad.