Event ReportsPublished on Apr 30, 2010
A two-day seminar 'Understanding China' was aimed at making an in-depth study of China's overall South Asian policy
Balancing China in South Asia

A two-day seminar ‘Understanding China’, held at the ORF campus from Friday, April 30, 2010, focused on China’s relations with South Asia.

The seminar, part of the larger project on ‘Understanding China’, was aimed at making an in-depth study of China’s policy towards, and relations with each country in South Asia, as well as its overall South Asian policy (also covering SAARC, the Indian Ocean and other regional aspects). And above all, it was also meant to examine the implications of China’s South Asia policy on India.

In his opening remarks, Indian strategic affairs expert, Dr Brahma Chellaney focused   on Chinese aspiration in South Asia. Dr. Chellaney cautioned policy-makers about taking China’s claim of peaceful rise on its face value.

 “I don’t want to comment on whether the rising China will be benign or the security threats it can pose. There is lots of debate going on this. But one should, especially the policy-makers, should look at its track record”, Dr Chellaney observed expressing disapproval of Government’s celebrations of 60 years of India-China relations. "Reality is always two sided. To me, this means 60 years of China becoming our neighbour by annexing Tibet. But for the Government of India it is time to celebrate," he pointed out.

In his welcome words, President ORF Centre for International Relations, Mr. M. Rasgotra emphasized the need to understand the China’s policy towards our immediate neighbours. Negating the immediate threat perception, Mr. Rasgotra said  New Delhi need not worry too much about Chinese aspirations in South Asia, but it needs to study the Chinese policy as well as scrutinize own policy towards neighbours.

Speaking on ‘China-India relations’, Ambassador T C A Rangachari favoured joint India-China cooperation in South Asia.  “India must look to China to develop cooperatives in neighbouring states and should be confident to look at developmental problems in the region”.  Admiring the Chinese concept of national interests, he said “Chinese have been primarily guided by their perception of their national interests while India looks at national interest on much broader context”.

South Asia expert, Professor P Suryanarayan presented an analysis of the rationale behind the growing influence of China in Sri Lanka. India and Sri Lanka have traditionally enjoyed cordial relations but India’s lethargic neighbourhood policy has created a vacuum, which China endeavors to fill, he felt saying that Beijing steps up its “friendship” diplomacy in countries of India’s immediate neighbourhood. It will have an adverse impact on India’s foreign policy objectives, he pointed out and said that not only Sino-India relations, but also India’s relations with individual countries in South Asia, will be subjected to severe stress and strains. China will relentlessly pursue not only its goal but also develop new relationships with smaller countries of South Asia and South East Asia so that the likelihood of US, India, Australia and ASEAN coming together in a common front could not be materialized.

Bangladesh scholar at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Analyses, Dr Sreeradha Dutta examined the dynamics of the emerging relationship between China and Bangladesh. She said that Bangladesh-China relations have acquired a broad consensus in Bangladesh and enjoy widespread political and public support. For China Bangladesh’s friendship  allowed them the space they wanted  in South Asia region, and Bangladesh as an emerging power not only wanted the support of the largest Asian power but it also gave it a maneuverability vis-à-vis its largest neighbour, India.

Former Deputy National Security Advisor, Ambassador Leela K Ponappa said “India needs to guard both against demonization and romanticism”.  “If there is certain degree of military activities which did not exist before, necessarily needs to take into account without exaggerating or down playing the issue” she said. Indian Security expert, Mr. Bhaskar Roy viewed China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region and its naval modernization as a threat to India’s security.

Pakistan expert at Jamia Millia Islamia, Dr. Ajay Darshan Behera highlighted the changing nature of China-Pakistan relations. Contrary to earlier, now ‘geo-strategy’ is not sole binding force in China-Pakistan relations but ‘geo-economics’ play a major role, he said and added that  “relationships between China and Pakistan are destined to be strong in the near future but on the issue of Indo-Pak conflict China will never come to the rescue of Pakistan”. He further added China has a global inspiration and perceive India as a challenge.

Speaking on China-Pakistan military relations, Dr. Shalini Chawla, of Centre for Air Power Studies, narrated the history of China-Pakistan military cooperation. She stated that military cooperation was the strongest pillar of China-Pakistan friendship. She said “there is growing consensus with in Pakistan that the relationship with China is indispensable because of sustained Chinese military and economic assistance.”

China developed its relationship with Nepal and Bhutan in the context of relations with India, Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Dr Sangeeta Thapliyal, observed. Political transitions amongst the South Asian countries were also the factor in growing Chinese presence in the region. Contrary to general perception, Dr. Thapliyal observed that Chinese policies in Himalayan states are very much pragmatic and it has nothing to do with ideology, it was guided by national interests only.

In the context of changing internal dynamics in Myanmar, Associate Fellow at ORF Centre for International Relations, Dr. K Yhome examined the recent change in China’s policy towards Myanmar and issues of discord in Sino-Myanmar relations. During his presentation, he addressed two specific questions. First, whether recent developments in Myanmar have affected China’s core policy principles and what are the implications for Sino-Myanmar relations. Second, will China reframe its Myanmar policy agenda? He also discussed the India factor in Chinese policy. Talking about the India factor he said “as New Delhi strengthens its position in Myanmar, the India factor will assume more importance in China’s policy and relations with Myanmar”.

In his valedictory address, Ambassador C V Rangnathan, recommended serious and intensive dialogue with China to articulate India’s interests. He said “we need to avoid the temptation of thinking that every single action of China in our neghbourhood is aimed against India.” Ambassador Rangnathan felt that some common (India-China) joint projects in our neighbour will help in removing the misperception.

The participants included former Foreign Secretaries M.K. Rasgotra, K. Raghunath, Salman Haider, former Deputy National Security Advisor Leela Ponappa, former Ambassadors Ranjit Gupta, C.V. Ranganathan, TCA Rangachari, Academics Prof. Madhu Bhalla, Prof. Sangeeta Thapliyal, Dr. Ravni Thakur, Prof. V. Suryanarayanan, Dr. Ajay Darshan Behera, Dr. Sreeradha Dutta, Dr. Shalini Chawla, Dr. K. Yhome and Bhaskar Roy.

The report was prepared by Dr Amit Kumar, ORF Associate Fellow

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