New Delhi must back China’s entry in Saarc

India doesn’t have the reserves and assets to match China

Why is New Delhi opposed to Islamabad’s idea of upgrading Beijing as a full member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).

But for its objection, the 18th Saarc summit, held in Kathmandu on November 26-27, might have resulted in a framework agreement not only on energy cooperation but also road and rail connectivity across the entire Saarc region so crucial to the realisation of its economic integration, the supreme goal of the forum.

A dominant feeling across the foreign policy community in the region today is that Beijing is being very helpful in its economic development.

China has contributed a lot to most of the nations bilaterally in the region by way of trade and investment. India doesn’t have the reserves and assets to match China. A closer Saarc-China engagement would only facilitate the region’s greater development.

In various member-states of Saarc Sri Lanka and the Maldives, in particular this feeling has led to a growing demand to bring China into the forum as a full member.

This even resulted in the 18th Saarc summit declaration calling to engage China and other Saarc observers such as the United States, the European Union Australia, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Burma in enhanced productive cooperation for establishing dialogue partnerships with them.

Given this, it would be pragmatic on the part of New Delhi to welcome China into the forum and jointly foster regional connectivity and infrastructure upgrade.

Those who argue that the proposed entry of China might lead to the ganging up of the “two all-weather” friends China and Pakistan, with both of whom India has a history of hostility to hurt India’s territorial integrity seem to be confusing such diplomatic expressions for reality.

History bears out that China has been a rational actor not inclined to intervene on behalf of any other nation. It may be recalled that despite the Chinese assurance to Islamabad at the highest political level to back it during the Bangla crisis (liberation struggle in then East Pakistan) in the Seventies, Beijing did little when India-backed Bangla liberation struggle was marching ahead against the then oppressive Pakistani military regime.

Since the historic Nixon-Mao summit, China’s foreign policy has essentially been economy-focused. In the last couple of decades, Sino-India relations have improved a lot.

Despite border skirmishes, the two nations have successfully attempted to boost their ties. In 2008, China emerged as India’s largest trading partner. In July this year, then chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of Army Staff Gen.

Bikram Singh was in China to discuss strengthening the recent Border Security Management Cooperation Pact.

Military cooperation between the PLA and the Indian armed forces today encompasses high and medium level visits, availing of training courses in each other’s institutions, joint training exercises, CBMs on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Given this, China is highly unlikely to function in a manner that may lead to some collision with India.

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi

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