Oct 15, 2019 / 18:28

Meaningful timing

The Hanoitimes - China is seeking to boost its influence in South Asia, competing directly with India.

How important is the South Asian region for China's long-term strategic interests reveals itself in the timing of China's latest diplomatic advances towards three countries in South Asia: Pakistan, India and Nepal.
China is increasing its influence in South Asia. Photo: orfonline.org
China is increasing its influence in South Asia. Photo: orfonline.org
In China, President Xi Jinping welcomed Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan and then traveled to India to attend this year's annual bilateral China-India summit. After talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr. Xi made a very short visit to Nepal and became China's first president to visit this tiny Himalayan country since 1996.

All these countries are very important for China's geostrategic influence and objectives in this region. China needs them to push other major world powers out of the subcontinent and successfully implement its ambitious One Belt One Road program. China has to get Pakistan and Nepal, as well as other countries in this region like Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Maldives to compete with India and defend its One Belt One Road Initiative against the Indo-Pacific idea initiated by the US, Japan, Australia and, last but not least, India.

While having easy games to play with Pakistan, the road for China to approach India is much thornier than all other countries in this region. China not only directly disputes with India on sovereignty over parts of Kashmir but also stands on Pakistan's side in the territorial conflict between Pakistan and India in the Kashmir region.

China intensifies its cooperation with India but almost always supports Pakistan in the relationship full of hostilities between Pakistan and India. Until now, China has been investing huge amount of capital in many countries in this region but concerns of becoming dependent on China – described with other words as "debt trap" - have been growing in these countries, forcing them to be increasingly cautious about China and to seek better cooperation with India as counterweight to balance between these two giants of Asia. Another risk for China is that this country’s main rivals outside the region are trying hard to divide China with countries in the subcontinent.

That is why China pursues different strategies toward different countries in the region: establishing strategic alliance with Pakistan, building strategic partnerships with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal, and cooperating and competing with India. That is exact why Mr. Xi traveled to India right after having hosted Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and paid a visit to Nepal, 23 years after the one made by his predecessor Jang Zemin.