Resisting China's grand encircling strategy, and its virtual overrunning of South Asia, a region it has been coveting for some time, will require considerable strategic guile by India in the months to come, writes Tarun Basu for South Asian Monitor.
By Tarun Basu
A 1996 award-winning Hollywood film "The Russians are coming, The Russians are coming" played on the fears and prejudices of the Cold War era about America's main ideological and strategic adversary. Over 50 years later, Bollywood may well prepare to make a local adaptation of the film with the title "The Chinese are coming, The Chinese are coming". For indeed, the Chinese are set to 'invade' this region in a big way, going by Pakistani media reports about the jaw-dropping ramifications of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor that Beijing is set to roll out overriding strong Indian protests.
If a report in Dawn - regarded as an authoritative newspaper in Pakistan - is to be believed the $46 bn dollar CPEC is not only providing a corridor to the sea for the lesser developed western region of China but also "envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture."
"Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan’s history...," says Dawn.
The leak of the document comes even as Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in Pakistan to attend the Belt Road Forum (BRF), attended by around 130 countries, 29 heads of heads of government, and representatives of all major countries. Pakistan and China already signed six agreements related to CPEC and the development of Gwadar port that is vital strategic importance to China.
The Long Term Plan (LTP) of CPEC. as revealed by Dawn, lays out in detail "what Chinese intentions and priorities are in Pakistan for the next decade and a half, details that have not been discussed in public thus far." It envisages thousands of acres of agricultural land to be leased out to Chinese enterprises, a monitoring and surveillance system of Pakistan's cities and 24-hour video recordings on roads and busy marketplaces to maintain law and order. A nationwide fibreoptic network will be built for the country not only for internet traffic but also for Chinese TV broadcast that will cooperate with Chinese media in the “dissemination of Chinese culture”.
What this grand "LTP" entails for Pakistan is too staggering to comprehend. Dawn said "CPEC is only the opening of the door. What comes through once that door has been opened is difficult to forecast". But for India, particularly, it could mean the unravelling of a grand Chinese stratagem to encircle India, not just with a "string of pearls" but by a cordon of infrastructure and strategic tie-ups from Pakistan to Sri Lanka to Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh, through blandishments of soft loans and liberal grants that are often too seductive to resist by South Asian countries - even at the cost of running into a debt trap - hungry for investment and development, but lacking the money and means to execute them.
Pakistan is not alone in its association with China. According to Wang Dehua, Director, Institute for South and Central Asia Studies in Shanghai, said India’s neighbours were heavily invested in the Belt and Road Initiative. Sri Lanka has benefited to the tune of $1.5 billion, while Bangladesh has signed more than 20 agreements totalling approximately $24 billion. “Myanmar too will have quite a lot of projects as will Maldives and Nepal,” he said.
As the Nepalese envoy in India sheepishly said, Kathmandu is aware of New Delhi's reservations on BRI but it could not say no to an "economic powerhouse" like China that can be a source of much of its foreign investment and development.
Resisting China's grand encircling strategy, and its overrunning of South Asia, a region it has been coveting for some time, will require considerable strategic guile by India in the months to come.
(Tarun Basu is President, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. He can be contacted at email@example.com)