SYNOPSIS OF A PAPER FOR PRESENTATION AT A SEMINAR ON “STRATEGIC CONTOURS OF INDIA-CHINA RELATIONS” AT THE EASTERN NAVAL COMMAND,VIZAG, ON JULY 14-15,2011
China is not a South Asian power, but it has acquired an important South Asian presence by taking advantage of certain factors which work in its favour and to India’s detriment:
(a). Firstly, no contentious issues bedevil its relations with any of the South Asian nations. It has not allowed the absence of an agreement with Bhutan on the border issue and its concerns over the activities of Tibetan refugees from Nepalese territory to come in the way of its strengthening its bilateral relations with the countries of the South Asian region. As against this, persisting problems in India’s bilateral relations with these countries work to India’s detriment. These countries have a higher comfort level in their relations with China than in their relations with India.
(b).Secondly, there is a huge hunger for the development of infrastructure in the South Asian counties in the form of ports, railways, roads etc. China, which has built up a huge cash reserve from its surplus external trade balances, has been able to meet their requirements of funds for infrastructure projects. Indian ability in this regard is severely limited. China has built up a large reserve of construction engineers of world class with experience in developing the infrastructure under difficult conditions in China. It has been able to utilise them for its construction projects in these countries. India’s over-focus on the IT sector and under-focus on the engineering sector have come in the way of building a similar pool of construction engineers. As a result, China has been better able to meet the infrastructure requirements of the South Asian countries than India.
( c ) Thirdly,China has been aggressive in meeting the requirements of these countries for arms and ammunition. It has also been actively helping Pakistan in developing a civil and military nuclear capability. There have been reports that it might help Bangladesh in developing a civil nuclear capability.
2.It is important for India to challenge China’s monopoly in the infrastructure development sector. Presence in the infrastructure sector has a strategic importance. We must be able to find the funds and the required number of construction engineers for this. India has three advantages over China which it must exploit vigorously to increase its strategic presence in the region and to counter the Chinese presence.
(a).Firstly, India provides a huge market next door for the products of these countries. Their traders value the Indian market more than the Chinese market. We should be generous in our trade concessions in order to keep them attracted to India and prevent them from drifting towards China.
(b).Secondly, India could play an important role in helping these countries develop their educational facilities such as institutions for technology studies.
(c).Thirdly, culturally, the people of these countries still look up to India and not to China. India’s soft power has to be effectively utilised for strengthening our presence and influence in these countries. China is not in a position to compete with us in soft power.
3.Whether India should compete with China in selling arms and ammunition and nuclear technology to these countries has to be carefully considered keeping in view the implications of the likely use of Indian arms and ammunition by these countries against their dissident elements, which often look up to India for moral support. As regards the supply of nuclear technology, India may not be in a position to providee the kind of financial back-up that China provides.
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )