The mounting tensions between the United States and China will pose a challenge to China’s Arctic strategy. At the same time, China’s involvement and behavior related to the South China Sea dispute might pose its own hindrance to the bigger goal. It will be beneficial for China not to engage in confrontational behavior due to the strategic value of the Arctic. At the same time, through various economic and commercial commitments, China has taken constructive diplomatic steps to cultivate relations with the Arctic Council that will facilitate Chinese interests. China has entered into joint ventures with Russian gas companies, in addition to building an embassy in Iceland and financing the Kouvola–Xi’an train in Finland. China has also warmed relations with Norway and Greenland through various investments. This inflow of investments will, in turn, help Greenland to lessen its reliance on Denmark. Moreover, all this has helped China to increase its foothold in Arctic nations. Though China has maintained positions that it is concerned about the climate and environment of the Arctic region and has economic interests there, it cannot be ruled out that all this may be only a small portion of the larger geopolitical narrative that China is pursuing as it strives to be recognized as a responsible major power with growing global reach at a time when the United States is stepping back from international commitments.
India’s dominance in South Asia is due to its large geographical area, economic might, military strength, and strategic positioning over the Indian ocean. But the coming of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has shaken up this hegemonic balance and given other, smaller regional nations a chance to rise up against the dominant influence in the region. China has been penetrating regional diplomacy in South Asia, all the while keeping in mind its larger aim of further securing its sources in the West. For countries in the region such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the BRI is seen as a more neutral, if not benign force and has pushed India to become more considerate of changes and more responsible for its own actions. With the rise of China, many scholars and think tanks have aggressively researched this issue and proposed theories such as the “String of Pearls,” which has become a topic of discussion and worry not only for India but also for the nations that have become a part of China’s projects. This article will delve into the issue and discuss how China’s rise in South Asia has changed the course of India’s regional and bilateral policies and relations. Although China may seem to have a drastic impact on India’s position, it has not panned out that way. India has been a dominant power in the region and unilateral in its diplomacy, but the rise of China gives smaller nations power at the negotiating table with India and thus pushes India to place more focus on neighbors.
The String of Pearls concept informs a general viewpoint about the strategic end of Chinese investments, but it seems to lack the explanatory power to flesh out the dynamics involved to alter the balance of power in the region. To add some heft to the analysis, I utilize Dr. Jeremy Garlick’s concept of geopositional balancing to supplement our understanding of the String of Pearls beyond merely that of another buzzword. This article deepens the knowledge of China’s activities in the Indian Ocean by also utilizing an understudied variant of balancing. I examine China’s engagement with Sri Lanka as a case study.
It is quite evident from the history of Pakistan’s relationship with China that Pakistan views Sino-Indian border disputes through a Chinese lens. This is not just because of Pakistani-Chinese friendship, of course, but also because of the rivalry and territorial disputes that have marred India-Pakistan relations since their independence.
The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor has been billed as the “flagship” project of China’s vast Belt and Road Initiative. Beginning in 2014, Pakistan and China have formulated a plan to invest 62 billion USD on improvements to the Gwadar Port complex near the Iranian border, upgrades to Pakistan’s energy and transportation infrastructure, and a series of special economic zones throughout the country. There have been some early modest successes; however, Pakistan has been unable to provide further security for these improvements and the workers building them. This, in addition to the pervasive corruption in the country, means that the project is unlikely result in the dramatic economic growth necessary to prevent Pakistan from incurring the debt complications that other nations have faced after accepting Chinese credit in hopes of bettering their economies. Consequently, the project is unlikely to either result in Pakistan achieving many of its ambitious goals or in forging the kind of strategic relationship between China and Pakistan the United States and the West fear most.
The countries that were originally considered to be part of the String of Pearls quite easily fit into the BRI with their strategic naval outposts. When one takes a closer look at Chinese engagement in the Indian Ocean, it is evident that China’s involvement in the region is not limited to strategic locations or high-risk investments, but it also extends to securing long-term strategic ties with governments and people of these countries. Therefore, one could argue that, particularly under the BRI, Beijing has gone beyond what was initially perceived as a few strategic outposts in the Indian Ocean to secure China’s trade and energy supply routes to a grander vision of being a global power that can project power in countries on the other side of the globe. Therefore, one could argue that China’s interest in the Indo-Pacific goes beyond merely securing trade routes or even ensuring a strategic presence. If the West continues with the narrative of a debt trap and fails to take the growing expansionism in China seriously, the developing nations of the Global South will find “an all-weather friend” and “a preferred development partner” in China.
This article contends that China, through its Belt and Road Initiative, is continuing a long-standing pursuit of its energy security strategy begun in 1993 and a separate maritime strategy. The economic corridors that have resulted will diversify the sources and routes of energy imports, and the initiative’s energy cooperation projects are a continuation of China’s long-term goals. China’s maritime strategy, pursued through the Maritime Silk Road, is designed to achieve the goals of developing naval bases and the blue-water navy and increasing military capabilities and naval activities to protect China’s vital interests.
The United States should pursue a strategy of selective engagement to prevent a Chinese hegemony in the Indo-Pacific by balancing the BRI. This will require targeted US investment in the region’s economies through economic aid packages.
For years, Southeast Asia has become more reliant on China, striking a Faustian bargain, wherein they accept Chinese investments in return for acquiescence to Chinese hegemony and a commitment not to criticize its central government. In 2021, the Biden administration must take bold diplomatic, messaging, military, and economic actions to curtail Chinese influence and coercion in the region. Many of these actions can begin immediately and will benefit both Southeast Asia and the United States for years to come. Failure to solidify the US role in Southeast Asia will result in China becoming inextricably entrenched in the region and embolden Beijing to take even more aggressive actions against American allies and interests.
To gain a comprehensive understanding of the developments in Xinjiang, it is vital to track and identify the effects of the Belt and Road Initiative and COVID-19 on Beijing's repression of China's Uyghur minority.
Dr. Peter Harris, et al
December 2020 Full Edition
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