Dr Muhammad Khan
THE Hudson Institute, a US think-tank has
recently published a study, emphasizing In
dia and United Sates to develop a plan to counter the growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region. The broad contours of the study include, the Covid-19 has threatened “not only lives and livelihoods in South Asia; it could also be the precursor of significant political and strategic shifts in the region”. Indeed, the study is based on decade’s old Sino-US and Sino-India rivalries while adding a fresh dimension of Coronavirus pandemic. In the prevailing geopolitical and geo-economic global environment, this study is considered as a cautioning for the US and India. It aims at warning the strategic partners that, the innovative and superior Chinese strategies may refract the existing Indo-US plans in the broader Asia-Pacific region in general and Indian Ocean region in particular.
The basis of this study is the unparalleled control of Covid-19 by China. With the onset of this pandemic in Wuhan city of China, it was globally anticipated that overcoming Covid-19 may not be an easy task for Beijing with its 1.3 billion population. Besides, it was also perceived in the major capitals that Chinese economy will suffer enormously with extraordinary losses in the days to come. Even some analysts attached conspiracy theories with Covid-19 for reducing the rising Chinese global influence, especially in the wake of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The superior Chinese strategies reversed the global perceptions which might have the element of conspiracies. The pandemic (Covid-19) has badly hit the world’s safest societies, especially in Europe and America. The wealthy continents of Europe and America are the worst sufferers at the hand of Covid-19 whereas China has exceptionally done well in controlling the pandemic.
A recent Hudson Institute study has some basic inadequacies in its conclusion. It’s not that China may develop its coalitions and economic partnerships with the countries of South Asia in the garb of Covid-19, but Beijing has already developed very closer ties with almost all regional states except India. Even India has huge trade links with China. There already have been political and strategic shifts in the South Asian region. Most of the countries of South Asia victimized by India in their bilateral relations have found China as an alternate for their economic development and even security. Very recent example is of Nepal; a traditionally Hindu State which has been successively exploited by India in its economy, foreign policy, security and even the geopolitical issues. Bhutan has started looking towards China for its future relationship and economic development. Most of the smaller neighbours of India have shown their resentment against Indian exploitation with a clear leaning towards Beijing. The think-tank has imperfectly assumed that with negative economic indicators, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will get economic packages from China, thus accommodating Chinese strategic interests in South Asia and IOR. According to the findings of this report, “China is most likely to press its advantage by bailing out South Asia’s indebted governments, in exchange for its pound of flesh“. Covid-19 has badly impacted the economies of all countries and Chinese economic and medical aid has been for all, including some European states. Moreover, China-Pakistan strategic and economic cooperation is decades old, not related to current Coronavirus pandemic. Development of Gwader Port and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC, are pre-pandemic and distinctive examples of this partnership.
Similarly, Sri Lanka and some other South Asian States have gone closer to Beijing in the last two decades, mainly owing to Indian exploitation of their geopolitics and economic status. Had India been so guarded of its security, it could not have victimized the regional states of South Asia. For centuries, the Indian Ocean region has been the focus of geopolitical influences of major powers and some of the regional states. In the post-cold war era, Indo-US nexus and later strategic partnership restricted the open and free usage of Indian Ocean for other countries. The rising economic clout of China felt constraint for the free movement of its goods and imports of energy resources. There might have been biases in the study, since it has been authored by an Indian-origin Hudson research scholar Aparna Pande and Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani Ambassador to the US. Both scholars have clear leaning towards Washington and New Delhi. Therefore, it is wrong to assume that what all is happening in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region would threaten the Indian security and US influence in the region. None of the South Asian nations would like to be dictated by polices of New Delhi and Washington. Therefore, instead of asking India and US to develop a plan to counter the Chinese regional ingress in South Asia, let’s develop a cooperative model for addressing the geopolitical and geo-economic interests of all South Asian states. Owing to its global usage for trade and commerce, the Indian Ocean should also be free from the influences of few countries.
— The writer is Professor of Politics and IR at International Islamic University, Islamabad.
Dr Muhammad Khan