China's Strategic Eggs in South Asia
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By B Raman
Issue Net Edition | Date : 12 Jul , 2011

Thus, China’s strategic interest in protecting Pakistan, strengthening its capabilities and maintaining the effectiveness of the threat that it could pose to India in times of need remains as strong as ever. It will remain so even if there is an improvement in India’s relations with China and Pakistan.

A significant development post-Abbottabad was the strong defence of Pakistans counter-terrorism record by Beijing”¦

The Sino-Pakistan axis means not only the need for our being able to fight on two fronts simultaneously in times of war, but also a two-front capability for the collection of intelligence in times of peace. Collection of intelligence —human and technical– from China requires capabilities totally different from those required for the collection of intelligence from Pakistan. Our strategic planning has to cater to requirements in times of war as well as peace.

Next to Pakistan, Nepal enjoys the second priority in China’s strategic calculation. The importance of Nepal to China’s strategic thinkers and planners arises not only because of its potential for being used against India in times of peace as well as war, but also because of its potential to India for being used to create instability in Tibet if there are disturbances there after the death of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In China’s calculation, Nepal can be a double-edged sword.

How to strengthen the potential of Nepal for being used against India? It is for this purpose that the Chinese have been trying to extend their road and rail network from Tibet to Nepal and to develop close relations with the Maoists headed by Prachanda and their cadres who are likely to be integrated into the Nepal army. Strengthening China’s political, economic and military influence in Nepal by taking advantage of the presence of the Maoists in power is an important objective of Beijing.

The Sino-Pakistan axis means not only the need for our being able to fight on two fronts simultaneously in times of war, but also a two-front capability for the collection of intelligence in times of peace”¦.

Military-military relationship has been given increasing attention since 1998, when the Nepal Army started sending officers and soldiers to study in Chinese military universities. In the academic year 2006/2007 , 21 officers and soldiers of the Nepal Army went to China for training. China has sent military officers to participate in the adventure trainings organized by the Nepal Army since 2002.

Addressing the Nepal Council of World Affairs at Kathmandu on August 5,2008, the then Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Zheng Xianglin said:”Nepal is situated in a favorable geographical position in South Asia, and is a passage linking China and South Asia.”

That is the principal reason for the Chinese interest in Nepal—-as a passage to South Asia and as an instrument for strengthening the Chinese presence in South Asia. China has a Look South policy to counter our Look East policy. As we try to move Eastwards to cultivate the countries of South-East Asia, it is trying to move southwards to outflank us.

China has already given indications of its interest in strengthening the value of Nepal as a passage to South Asia by connecting the road network in Tibet with that in Nepal and by extending the railway line to Lhasa to Kathmandu. If China succeeds in concretising these ideas, the threats to our security will be enhanced.

China has other reasons to welcome the rise of the Maoists to power in Nepal. It is hoping with reason that Nepal would stop the anti-China activities of the 1000-strong community of Tibetan refugees in Nepal. They have been in the forefront of the agitation against the Han colonisation of Tibet. Some of them are being used by the US Govt.funded Radio Free Asia for producing programmes directed to the Tibetans. China apprehends that if there is unrest in Tibet after the death of the Dalai Lama, these refugees might be utilised by the US—-with the complicity of India— to destabilise the Chinese presence in Tibet. It is hoping to pre-empt this with the co-operation of a Maoist-dominated Government in Kathmandu.

China has other reasons to welcome the rise of the Maoists to power in Nepal”¦

India finds itself in Nepal in a situation not dissimilar to the situation in Myanmar—-all the time having to compete with China for political influence and economic benefits. Till now, India almost monopolised the strategic playing field in Nepal. Now, there is a second player in China. In Myanmar, whenever the former military Government had to choose between Indian and Chinese interests, it always chose the Chinese interests because of its fear of China and its gratitude to China for the support extended by it to the former military junta in international fora such as the UN Security Council. In Nepal whenever there is a conflict between Indian and Chinese interests, a Maoist-dominated Govt. may choose Chinese interests not out of fear or gratitude but out of considerations of ideological affinity.

It is in India’s interest to see that China does not succeed in its objectives in Nepal. In Pakistan, India has no cards which it can use to counter the Chinese objectives. In Nepal, India has more cards than China and it should not hesitate to use them intelligently to counter the Chinese designs. India continues to have a much stronger economic presence in Nepal than China. India still has many objective allies in the non-Maoist segment of the population and administration. It should not hesitate to use these cards to maintain its influence in Nepal and to counter the Chinese designs.

In Pakistan, India has no cards which it can use to counter the Chinese objectives”¦

Bangladesh has the third priority for China. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, despite her strong friendship for India, has continued with the look East policy of her predecessor Begum Khalida Zia and strengthened the links with China. During her visit to China , an agreement was signed with a Chinese company for oil/gas exploration in Bangladesh. She also sought Chinese help for the upgradation of Chittagong into a modern deep sea port. Her Government has sought to calm Indian concerns by reassuring India that India will also be allowed to use the Chittagong port modernized with Chinese help.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

B Raman

Former, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai & Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. He is the author of The Kaoboys of R&AW, A Terrorist State as a Frontline Ally,  INTELLIGENCE, PAST, PRESENT & FUTUREMumbai 26/11: A Day of Infamy and Terrorism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

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