China-led South Asian Initiative

Source: The Hindu

Relevance: Understanding China’s strategy in undermining India’s role in South Asia

Synopsis: China-led South Asian initiative feels like yet another attempt by China to create a parallel bloc in South Asia to counter India.

Background

Bangladesh has said that India too can join the China-led South Asian initiative for COVID-19 vaccines and poverty alleviation if it desires. It denied that a six-nation grouping launched recently was meant to exclude India.

  • The Chinese initiative comes also at a time when India has been reluctant to revive SAARC, turning its focus more on yet another regional bloc–BIMSTEC.
About China-led South Asian initiative

The initiative includes China-South Asian Countries Emergency Supplies Reserve, and a Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Centre. They were set up in China on July 8.

  • Member countries: China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
  • India, Bhutan, and the Maldives are the only SAARC countries not a part of the China-led initiative.
  • The Emergency Supplies Reserve is a joint stockpile of emergency supplies as part of efforts to tackle the covid-19 pandemic and other crises.
  • The Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Center aims to pool strength, integrate resources, and exchange wisdom to support and help the South Asian countries’ economic development and livelihood improvement, jointly promoting the cause of poverty reduction.
Issues/Concerns
  • A new regional bloc in Asia: This might be an attempt by the Chinese to counter India and carve a totally new regional bloc in Asia minus India. If poverty alleviation in South Asia is its major objective, then why is India left out? After all, it has the highest number of poor people, equal to those in the Sub-Saharan region. Also, only those South Asian nations which are part of the China-led Belt and Road Initiative are its members. Sooner, Maldives will also join the initiative as it has also signed up under BRI.
  • Counter to SAARC: China is targeting South Asia and wants to counter SAARC, so it is now connecting with South Asian nations in the name of different initiatives. SAARC is coping with several problems within the region and is mostly distracted by the long-standing rivalry between India and Pakistan. After Nepal hosted its 18th summit in 2014, the 19th summit, which was scheduled to be held in 2016 in Pakistan, is still in limbo.
  • Counter to QUAD: The China-led bloc could be Beijing’s plan to create what some call a northern Himalayan QUAD aimed at countering the Washington-led Quad, of which India is an active member.
India’s stand

Given continuing tensions over Chinese army aggression in Ladakh and New Delhi’s firm stand that other bilateral relations cannot move ahead without a resolution of the boundary stand-off, it is unlikely that India would consider a new grouping involving China, especially one that could be seen to dilute its role in the SAARC region.

Also Read: What India can learn from China’s foreign policy?
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