Sunday, June 23, 2024

Debt-Trapped Globe and Dragon-Foot in North-East India

Jaipur, India – India firms up its position in the discourse on open democracy in the recent two-day ‘Summit for Democracy’ initiated by US president Joe Biden with 100 countries, leaving China out and bringing Taiwan in. With the world standing at an inflection point and seeing violations of civil rights under repressive regimes, economic aggression by China is an apparent threat to global peace and progress. Civil society groups and awakened citizens across the countries where China is heavily investing are taking up the cudgels against its economic ambition amid prospects of modest growth jeopardized. Protests in Pakistan’s poorest but resource-rich Balochistan province are just among many. Students, women, fishermen, and political outfits like Jamaat-e-Islami are vehemently rising against Chinese fishermen and port plans that are part of the China-Pak economic corridor.

India, the closest neighbor in South Asia, sharing a bitter past and renewed tiff, is facing incursions in the North East, of which the Indian intelligence is wary. Subramanian Swamy, the firebrand leader of the ruling party BJP, hammering on Xi Jinping’s ambition of regional hegemony, writes stingily on social platforms about China building pucca villages in Arunachal Pradesh since 2005 and infiltration continuing after 1992, also insinuating the Indian government of denial mode on territorial reality. A broader canvas of colonial footprints of Dragon in the countries ranging from Australia to Latin American and African to European other than its vicinal South Asian can be seen through the lens of a collection of articles in an edited book by Bangladeshi journalist Mohsin Habib with the title ‘China’s Global Ambition: A Reality Check’. Twelve authors from Asia, Europe, America, and Latin America expound incisively on China’s regional and global strategy, which is contradictory and compelling. They have delved into the developments as recent as the Doklam conflict between PLA and Indian forces in 2020, China stepping back from Pangong Tso on the Indian side in February 2021 and enacting National Security Law in Hong Kong in August 2021. The researchers, writers and scholars hint at China inching toward economic and geopolitical overreach, using regional primacy and debt diplomacy as a springboard to global power.

Dr Satoru Nagao, a scholar on Indo-Pacific from Hudson Institute of US, scouting the entire landscape of China’s strategic attempts, raises a finger on escalated infrastructure development in the islands of Tibet and Xinjiang Uygur region since 2000 and implications on oil import from the Middle East through Indian ocean and supplies in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The author suggests that China’s provocation through coastal cities for natural resources and turning the South China sea into a fortress should be countered through the QUAD framework. Grant Wyeth, a columnist from The Diplomat, brings forth Australian response and contracts of a new port on Chinese loan becoming an election issue and growing distrust on deals. He underlines China’s presence in the Indo Pacific to rewrite rules of global order undermining sovereignty and trust.

Bangladesh is the second biggest beneficiary of Chinese investment. Mohsin Habib’s skepticism over the visit of the Chinese defense minister to Bangladesh amid Corona dread in April 2021 talking about the military alliance in South Asia is founded in facts. China is modernizing its forces, investing across the Bay of Bengal through its ambitious Belt and Road initiative (BRI) and luring Bangladesh into a debt trap through 27 agreements worth 24 billion dollars since 2016. This Bangladeshi journalist firmly points to the fault lines in Bangladesh and Indian ties that China could exploit. After examining 100 loan contracts with 24 countries, most participating in the BRI project, an international study infers that the provisions are designed to offer China considerable leverage and increase the dependency of the borrowing country. Habib’s notion of China hawking Bangladesh to make India-Bangladesh relations weaker is quite understandable in the context of rising tension between the two countries over trivial religious provocations.

Alicia Bachulska from Asian Research Centre in Warsaw is categorical about China influencing democratic debates and knowledge process within the EU. She refers to sanctions on EU officials, academicians and researchers in March 2021 after suspension of the Chinese Agreement of Investment and curb on Chinese officials engaged in Human Rights abuses against Uyghurs. Cautioning against rising authoritarianism, Alicia flags blatant breaches of promises, patronizing narratives, harsh language and ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy, which must be watched carefully to protect the sovereignty of small and medium-sized countries. Calling Chinese diplomacy in Europe as Schizophrenic, Kelly Alkhouli, Director of International Relations, indicates a shift in the current world order. New financial institutions like Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank, New Development Bank and Shanghai Cooperation Organization are all about bypassing the USA and intimidating tactics. Mass surveillance by CCP is also a strategic attempt to curtail free voices and pander propaganda.

China’s forceful occupation and invasion in the South China sea, as Dr Vo Xuan Vihn of the Institute of South Asian Studies at Hanoi, assesses, is impeding trade, navigation and over-flight of other countries in the region and in response to deterrence by the US, Japan, Australia, India, Canada, UK, France and Germany is to protect universally recognized principle of international law. In its review of defense, security, and foreign policy issued in March 2021 titled ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age’, Britain states that China’s rise is the biggest state-based threat to UK’s economic security and systemic challenge to the UK. Duncan Bartlett, podcaster and research associate at China institute, digs into more such documents and tactics where the USA under Biden is pressing the world to take sides to stamp rivalry with China that resonates with the Cold war with the USSR in the 70s and 80s. Resetting the relationship with China hinges on Britain’s vision of global power. Swedish journalist Estella comments on the historical context of the Hong Kong-China conflict and policy methods of political repression, marking the date 24th June 2021 when pro-democracy paper Apple Daily was closed, and its assets worth $10 million were seized for breaching National Security Law. Gabriel, an Australian who writes on Tibetan issues, comments on the Tibetan plateau being used as a pawn in a great power rivalry converting landscapes into mass tourism destinations to impress delegations of emerging economies. Construction of hydro dams in extreme landscapes upriver of Tibet is environment destruction to fuel economy for which Bangladesh and NE India are possible routes to mobilize heavy machinery. We can quickly draw from Gabriel’s piece that incursion into Indian passages through the North East is part of this bigger game. China’s strategic leg in Africa through BRI already pushing the continent into heavy debt-trap and inroads into Latin America to emerge as a favored nation have been discussed in detail by Dr Abhishek Darbey and Dr Shaheli Das, researchers from New Delhi. Michael Kugelman from Woodrow Wilson International Centre, Washington DC, points outflux in the world order inferring that it could trigger the rise of multilateralism to bring some balance in stability to a world dominated by hostile confrontation between the US and China.

This book, published by Chardik and Har-Anand publications together, if read in the context of regional primacy and growing resistance and discomfort against China even in authoritarian countries, offers insight into China’s global greed. Documenting incidents and evidence of a growing backlash against Beijing’s geostrategic goals, it is also a timely reminder of the design and approaches similar to British East India Company, which must galvanize the Indian masses and political leaders to take timely action and desired precautions to protect the national interest. India may also use this as an opportunity to project itself as a trusted partner and contributor in the global economy without harming the regional interests. With the history of India’s long struggle to break the shackles of the colonial past, it must defend its own territorial and economic welfare by exposing the intent of Beijing categorically and candidly.

Author profile
Dr. Shipra Mathur

Dr. Mathur is a veteran journalist based in Jaipur, India. The views expressed here are solely those of the author.

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