By Rutvi Saxena
Pakistan is being helped by China in building bunkers along the borders of Gujarat and Rajasthan. It has been revealed that the two countries are collaborating on the construction of concrete bunkers along the Indian border. These are easy to miss due to the use of inconspicuous stones, and around 350 of these have already been set up. According to reports, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is aware of this and has visited the sites thrice to gauge military preparedness on the border.
This is in addition to the swamps, canals, and road infrastructure that Pakistan has reportedly undertaken. The Border Security Force (BSF) has further pointed out the increasing presence of Chinese military personnel along the Indian border with Pakistan, particularly in Peer Kamal and Cholistan. All of this has added to the unease caused by the two nations’ efforts to undermine India’s territorial integrity; both the countries have close economic and diplomatic ties. The Doklam standoff and the China-Pakistan economic corridor have not helped neighbourly relations in the region, and it seems that the tension is set to increase even more.
The game is on
China and Pakistan have close economic and diplomatic relations, and China itself is rapidly constructing airports adjacent to the Indian border. Two have come up in the last four months, and two more are underway. Additionally, two airports are in the works within 20-25 kilometres from the Indian border. These are close to Rajasthan’s Barmer and the Mithi region of Gujarat. An airbase too has been set up about 25 kilometres from the Ghotaru border, which is in Jaisalmer. Pakistani officials claimed during a flag meeting with India, that the airports would be used by Chinese oil and gas companies to reach there from Karachi airport without any issues. Plans for railway tracks under the aegis of the CPEC are also said to have begun.
India’s concern over China’s growing presence in the South Asian subcontinent is well founded it seems, with its construction of airports, seaports, and power stations in bordering countries of Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka; this could lead to a strategic encirclement through a “string of pearls” for India.
The last slot in the string of pearls?
The doctrine of “string of pearls” has often been used to refer to a network of Chinese commercial and military facilities that extend from the Chinese mainland to the port of Sudan. It passes through important sea lanes of communication and maritime centres such as Strait of Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Lombok Strait, as well as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Somalia.
The strait of Malacca is of crucial importance to China since about 80% of its fuel from the Middle East passes through this. It is surrounded by Malaysia and Singapore on one side, and Indonesia on the other. India’s stronghold over it helped it issue a threat to China during the 1971 war, of blocking the strait. Since then, China has been working to maintain cordial relations with other countries in the region. It is also said to have developed a naval base in Cocos Keeling Island, an external territory of Australia near the strait.
Even in the countries of Myanmar and Bangladesh, China has a strong foothold. Chinese investment in Myanmar has allowed it to construct pipelines that ferry oil and natural resources from Kyaukpyu to Kunming, bypassing the Strait of Malacca completely. Further up north, the port of Chittagong in Bangladesh has given China a stake in the Bay of Bengal.
The Sri Lankan port at Hambantota is managed by a Chinese firm, while the Gwadar port and CPEC in Pakistan have strengthened its presence there. The network allows China to have a strategic influence in the entire South Asian region which can be used to its benefit in times of conflict, although the Chinese Government maintains that the connections are merely for commercial purposes.
India is ‘Acting East’ too
India’s ‘Look East’ policy, which has culminated in the Act East Policy under Narendra Modi, aims to foster strong relations with its East Asian neighbours and serves counterweight to China’s hegemonic presence. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visits to Vietnam, Myanmar and Singapore and the Prime Minister’s visit to Myanmar encapsulated this policy, which seeks to solidify ties with ASEAN and Japan. India is even set to invite 10 ASEAN leaders to the Republic Day celebrations in 2018 as a show of solidarity. India and Japan recently held their maiden ‘Act East’ forum to pursue the Memorandum of Cooperation signed on September 14. Between Myanmar and India, bilateral trade has been growing steadily to reach $1.5 billion in 2015-16.
Thus, while it is clear that India is pushing for better relations with its neighbours in the region, China continues to remain a strong power in the region. India will have to take a more pro-active role in pursuing its agenda of Look East in order to serve as a valuable opposition to Chinese presence.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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