WASHINGTON: China’s expanding role in South Asia is having a significant impact on the region’s politics, economics and security of the region and the area is likely to become more contested in the coming decades, a top US thinktank has stated in its report.
The think-tank, US Institute of Peace, in the report publish on Wednesday, observed that grasping how China’s involvement will shape the region will be essential to constructing a successful policy and advancing US interests and values.
Prepared by a bipartisan group comprising senior experts, former policymakers and retired diplomats, the report – ‘China’s Influence on Conflict Dynamics in South Asia’ states, “China’s expanding presence in the region is already reshaping South Asia, which is simultaneously emerging as an area where US-China and regional competition plays out from the Himalayan heights to the depths of the Indian Ocean.”
It observed that the US and China both see South Asia as important, “although neither considers the region its top geopolitical priority”.
“US-China bilateral competition and confrontation make cooperation in South Asia, including during major crises, substantially more difficult,” the report stated.
“The China-Pakistan axis is strengthening, which has a detrimental effect on governance and economic reform efforts in Pakistan given the concomitant lack of transparency and accountability.”
China’s approach toward India-Pakistan disputes increasingly favours Pakistan rather than adopts a more neutral stance, in part because backing Pakistan helps China constrain Indian power in Asia, the think-tank said in the report.
“Especially in the last year, China has doubled down on its support for Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. Historically, Beijing’s position has ranged from constructive neutrality to active support for Pakistan,” it said.
“Overall, Beijing has only weak incentives to support comprehensive India-Pakistan conflict resolution. Keeping the situation at a low boil serves Beijing’s aims better by forcing India to divide its resources and attention and to fear the spectre of a two-front war,” it said.
According to the report, the Sino-Indian border area will continue to be a major flash point. China-India relations will become more competitive, and the pair, Asia’s two biggest powers, will struggle to cooperate throughout the Indo-Pacific region, it said.
“China’s growing focus on a blue-water navy and power projection to the ‘far seas’ has followed its economic interests. The Indian Ocean is currently a ‘far sea’ for China, but the country aims to make it more of an intermediate one,” the report stated.
“Smaller South Asian states – which have their own interests and the agency to pursue them – both face competitive pressures to align with powerful states and have more opportunities to play major powers off one another.”
The fluid contest for influence among and between South Asian states makes it difficult for Washington to maintain good relations with countries across the entire region simultaneously, the think tank observed.