SOURCE: INDIA TODAY
Diplomatic efforts are underway from both sides to defuse tension over Doklam where Indian Army and Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers are in a standoff for over two months.
The Chinese assertion on a site where Indian forces have been patrolling in coordination with Bhutan for several years is part of Beijing’s strategy to make deeper inroads in India’s neighbourhood. Incidentally, Bhutan has been the only neighbour of India or China which does not have diplomatic relation with Beijing.
China has been consciously strengthening its ties with the countries having common terrestrial or maritime border with India. Pakistan has been the biggest success for China in this regard. An India Today report showed how Pakistan is practically turning into a colony of China. It has adopted similar policy towards other neighbours of India.
China and Pakistan have long described each other as ‘all-weather’ friends. However, China did not come to Pakistan’s rescue either in 1965, 1971 or 1999 when Indian Army gave crushing defeat to Pakistani Army.
In recent years, China has suddenly increased its stake in Pakistan. 2013 onwards China has defied global pressure to commit building a nuclear reactor in Karachi, which is the most import port for Pakistan but is conflict-ridden.
Since then China has promised USD 60 billion to Pakistan including USD 46 billion in China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which India considers a direct challenge to its sovereignty.
At the end of the CPEC is situated Gwadar port, which China has developed and secured right to operate till 2050. This gives China strategic depth till Arabian Sea and reach upto the western coast of India. China is already in illegal possession of Aksai Chin in Ladakh region since 1962.
The past decade has not been particularly good for India-Nepal diplomacy. The two countries, despite shared cultural heritage, have sparred over several issues. China has taken advantage of the growing discomfort between India and Nepal.
The latest two instances were seen when India and Nepal could not come on the same page over internet access and the rights of Madhesi people. China has provided broadband internet in Nepal now.
Over the question of Madhesis when there was huge blockade along India-Nepal border leading to serious fuel crisis in the Himalayan country, China assured assistance and supplies.
Much against the wishes of India, Nepal is a partner in China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. Nepal sees it as an opportunity to reduce its dependence on Indian routes for trade. Earlier this year, when Nepal Investment Summit 2017 was held in Kathmandu, India committed USD 317 million to its northern neighbour, while China proposed to invest USD 8.3 billion.
Bhutan still remains out of reach for China. But, of late, China has attempted to engage with Bhutan particularly after India-Bhutan friendship treaty was reviewed and redrafted in 2007.
With a reworked treaty, Bhutan got the right to follow independent foreign policy. China told Bhutan to resolve all the difference including border disputes and promised huge economic investment that India may never offer.
Bhutan and China have major border disputes in the three pockets including the present site of standoff at Doklam. China has offered to relinquish its claim over two pockets in northern Bhutan in exchange for the Doklam pocket in the western Bhutan, where Indian and Chinese armies are engaged in eyeball encounter.
MYANMAR AND BANGLADESH
China has made large scale investment in Myanmar in the fields of infrastructure and mining sectors in the country since late 1990s. Several projects have been controversial including the USD 3.6 billion Myitson dam which was suspended under huge public protest.
Another controversial project in Myanmar is the development of Kyauk Pyu port in Bay of Bengal with an estimated Chinese investment of USD 7.3 billion. China is said to have over 75 per cent stake in the project. Further, China is big supplier of arms to Myanmar.
Same is true in the case of Bangladesh for which China is the largest arms supplier to Bangladesh. In 2016, China sold two submarines to Bangladesh. China also extended a soft loan of USD 25 billion to Bangladesh for as many as 34 projects.
Now, Bangladesh is facing pressure from China to convert the soft loans into commercial loan. But, Dhaka is resisting the attempt after having seen the fate of Sri Lanka which had to lease its Hambantota port to China as it failed to repay Chinese debt.
SRI LANKA AND MALDIVES
Of its total debt of around USD 65 billion, Sri Lanka owes maximum USD 8 billion to China. The commercial loans offered by China were on higher interest rates than the others. This pushed Sri Lanka to compromise on the Hambantota port, which it developed with the Chinese money.
Recently, Sri Lanka had to give the Hambantota port on lease to China. However, under India’s pressure, the deal was redrafted and Sri Lanka refused China permission to use the port for military purpose. China also has stake in the Colombo port.
As for Maldives, China has increased its activities in the island country. Last year, China acquired an uninhabited island near Maldives capital Male on a 50-year-lease at the cost of USD 4 million. Some reports claimed that Chinese air force has built air strips for its operation in Maldives.