China’s frivolous objection

India has established a direct freight corridor with Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. Neither Pakistan nor any other country can object to it. But China has. The Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, The Global Times, has dubbed it as a manifestation of India’s ‘stubborn geopolitical thinking’ because, the newspaper says, it is an attempt on India’s part ‘to counterbalance’ China’s economic corridor with Pakistan. This is ridiculous and is another instance of China’s hostile attitude to India. If China can create new connectivity with other countries through projects like CPEC or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) so can other countries, including India. There is nothing in it to take exception to.
The reasons of China’s recalcitrance may be deeper. It cannot be a mere coincidence that China’s objection to India-Afghanistan freight corridor and its provoking clashes with the Indian Army personnel in Sikkim have come at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is holding talks with President Donald Trump on mutual cooperation in a wide variety of fields including defence. Beijing knows India has started taking countervailing measures to protect its geostrategic interests vis-à-vis China. To neutralize China’s geostrategic advantage over India by taking control of the Gwadar port, India has entered into an agreement with Iran to develop the strategically located Chabahar port.
To countervail China’s rapidly rising naval power India has taken up an ambitious project to increase the Indian navy’s fleet strength from the present 137 ships to 200 ships by 2027. That apart, India is setting up its first overseas naval base in the Assumption island of Seychelles. It will be one of the major staging posts for a large maritime security network that India is setting up. India’s growing strength in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is something which China cannot stomach. Hence its angry response to the India-Afghanistan freight corridor. As things stand, there may be more needling by China in India’s north-eastern border, complimented by frequent border violations and terrorist attacks by Pakistan in India’s north-west. They will be part of a common strategy to harass India.
In the developing situation India will have to use all its diplomatic skill to safeguard its interests with the help of friendly countries, while increasing its defence capability to meet any exigency that may arise. A strong India will be a factor in stabilizing the situation and go a long way to give a sense of security to her smaller neighbours who now feel threatened by China. Building a regional security architecture may be a good idea to counter Chinese expansionism.

Friday, 30 June, 2017