China and the South Asian Region

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Second Session

China and the South Asian Region

The Second session of the conference was titled 'China and the South Asian Region.' The session was chaired by Ambassador Nyunt Tin, Secretary, Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS), Yangon. The speakers of the session included: Dr. Swaran Singh, Associate Professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) ,New Delhi; Mr. Fazal-ur-Rehman, Director of East Asia at the ISSI; Major General Gong Xianfu, Vice President of China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS), Beijing and Major General Muhammad Abdul Matin, Director General of the Bangladesh Institute for International Strategic Studies (BIISS), Dhaka.

Dr. Swaran Singh, JNU, India

Dr. Swaran Singh presented a paper titled 'China-India Relations: Moving Beyond the Bilateral'. He stated that the economic success of China, Japan, India and other states in East Asia has witnessed resurgence of self-confidence amongst Asians. Three of the four largest economies of the world are in Asia, with China as second and India as fourth largest. Similarly, five of world's eight nuclear weapon powers and four of the five largest militaries of the world also happen to be Asians. China and India are also the world's largest buyers of conventional weapons. China and India have also emerged as important foreign investors, with China now investing over $3 billion and India about a billion dollars per year. While China has been the most favoured destination for foreign direct investment (FDI), India is also expected to rise making India an equally favoured FDI destination in coming years. Presently, these countries are the fastest growing economies of the world.

The context of rising China and emerging India have become the critical driving force for Asia's resurgence that have made China-India relations become the focal point of studies and discussions around the world. Dr. Singh said that the question therefore is no longer about the "rise" but "peaceful rise" of China and India. India as yet remains far behind China, though it is fast catching up. The newfound Chinese activism in the growing China-India-Russia Strategic Triangle and the recent China-Russia naval exercises - first of its kind and involving 10,000 troops - have attracted unusual attention worldwide. The economic, military and strategic profile of China remains a matter of concern around the world.

Dr. Singh stated that so far, both China and India have avoided any confrontation. In fact, having developed mutual confidence on bilateral issues, the two have moved to regional and global initiatives. This success has been particularly noticeable in case of their competitive engagement with Southeast Asia. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hu Jintao have reiterated their resolve to seek "reasonable solution" to their boundary question and have particularly underlined their sense of 'greater urgency' to achieve this goal.

Elaborating upon the trade relations, Dr. Singh said that beginning from early 1990s, China-India bilateral trade has moved up from $0.26 billion for 1991 to $13.6 billion for 2004, and the growth has been particularly impressive during the last seven years. For the year 2004, China-India trade had hit a growth rate of over 80% and it is estimated that it will reach $30 billion by 2008. India-China trade is one rare example where balance often remains in India's favour.

China-India parleys have since moved to establishing a Free Trade Area between them, which according to Dr. Singh, exudes unusual mutual understanding and confidence.

Turning to Sino-Pak relations, Dr. Singh said that China's "special relationship" with Pakistan has been another constant stumbling block in China-India relations. This axis has increased India's threat perception tremendously. Dr. Singh said that at a closer look it can be seen that China has not gone any further than providing Pakistan moral and material support and stayed short of getting entangled in Pakistan's misadventures. Recent events in Pakistan - regarding nuclear tests, suspected links with Taliban, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation - have witnessed Beijing diminish its display of its close relations with Pakistan, though it remains steadfast on its defence and strategic cooperation. Recent years have also witnessed expansion and deepening of China-India rapprochement which has increased India's self-confidence, gradually eroding the potency of the Pakistan factor in China-India interactions. He said that Beijing's trade statistics with India and Pakistan belie changing equations of the region. In China's trade with South Asia between 1993 and 2003, while India's share has gone up from being only 35% to 65%, Pakistan's share has reduced from 44 % to 21 %.

He concluded by saying that the recent pace of China-India rapprochement indicates a cooperative rather than a confrontationist attitude shared by both countries. The challenge for China-India relations perhaps lies in becoming acceptable players for their immediate neighbours as also other regional and international players while strengthening their bilateral confidence and stakes. Flourishing China-India ties will have its reverberations across Asia and the rise of China and India, whether in economic growth or in military buildup, will inevitably have certain regional implications.

Ambassador Tin, thanked Dr. Singh for his eloquent and in-depth presentation. He also lauded Dr. Singh's emphasis on trade and energy sector. He added that India-China relations are very important for Mynamar as it is located in the middle , and acts like a bridge for these two nations. He welcomed the boom of the two economies and hoped that Mynamar can serve as a fruitful transit route for the two countries.

Mr. Fazal-ur-Rehman, ISSI, Pakistan

Mr. Fazal-ur-Rehman presented a paper titled 'China-Pakistan Relations'. It gave a historical overview of the progress and scope of the bilateral relationship. Pakistan was the third non-communist state and the first Muslim state to accord recognition to the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in 1950. In the 1950s, Pakistan did not have a firm China policy due to the friendly relations between India and China, and Pakistan's tilt towards the West. Pakistan did benefit from trade with China in 1952, which touched $83.8 million, though this situation lasted for a short while. Pakistan assured China that its tilt towards the West was due to its security needs against India and it has nothing against China.

Mr. Rehman highlighted that Pakistan played an important role in facilitating secret communications between US and China. When in July 1971, it was revealed that as a result of Henry Kissinger's secret visit to China via Pakistan, President Nixon would visit China; many Indian analysts viewed it as formation of a US-China-Pakistan axis. India, without losing any time signed a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the former Soviet Union. During 1971-78, China assisted Pakistan to establish two major defence projects. Pakistan also served as a source for China to gain access to sophisticated Western technology.

1988 was a watershed year - it witnessed the signing of the Geneva Accords on Afghanistan under which Soviet forces began their withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Pakistan's front-line-state status ended. The same year, the then Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, made an icebreaking visit to China that led to the beginning of a new era in Sino-Indian relations A subtle shift in China's declaratory support to Pakistan on Kashmir was evident. China emphasised more on a negotiated settlement of Kashmir issue, between India and Pakistan on the basis of Simla Agreement and UN resolutions. Mr. Rehman stressed that at no point did Pakistan feel that China's improving relations with India were at the cost of China's relations with Pakistan.

Pakistan has stood by China on all issues important for its national interests such as China's sovereignty over Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and issues relating to human rights. In the 90's China remained the primary source of Pakistan for procurement of military hardware. In this period, Pakistan-China defence related cooperation substantially increased. China's support for Pakistan's nuclear and missile programmes remained a constant irritant in Sino-US relations. During the 1990's, an major concern for China and an irritant in Pak-China relations was the influence of the popular uprising in Indian Occupied Kashmir impacting the Muslim population of Xinjiang.

In the wake of 9/11, Pakistan and China both opposed the assertive unilateralist US politico-military agenda. Pakistan and China support multilateral approaches under the UN charter. Pakistan decided to support the US-led international coalition against terrorism. The exchange of high level visits clarified the Pakistani position that under no circumstances Pakistan would allow its cooperation with the US to undermine Chinese strategic interests. Although, China is a member of the international coalition against terrorism, the US military presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia has been a matter of concern for China.

Mr. Rehman elaborated that three important visits set the new direction for Pak-China relations and achieved tremendous success in determining the trajectory of Pak- China relations, they are President Musharraf's visit to China in November 2003, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's visit in December 2004, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Pakistan in April 2005. Each of these visits have gradually elevated the qualitative level of Pak-China bilateral relations on issues of defence, security and economics.

Mr. Rehman concluded by saying that Pakistan and China both are working to create conditions of peace and stability in the region. The recent trends in Pakistan-India and Sino-India relations are positive and would help in creating a peaceful and conducive environment. However, the US-India strategic cooperation in defence, especially in the areas of missile defence and nuclear technology, are matters of mutual concern for China and Pakistan.

Maj.Gen (Retd) Gong Xianfu, CIISS, China

Maj.Gen (Retd) Gong Xianfu in his paper titled 'China's Approach to Regional Integration: SAARC and ECO', said that South Asia is located at the Southern rim of Europe and Asia and on the conjunctions of the heartland of Central Asia, West Asia and East Asia. It also straddles the vital sea-lane of the Indian- Ocean because of which, it enjoys a strategic position of great importance in the world. More over, South Asia has a vast area with dense population of 1.4 billion. The South Asian region has always been very important to China for various reasons. There are five South Asian countries sharing a common land border with China. Therefore, China attaches great importance to the development of neighbourly relations of friendship and co-operation with all South Asian countries

In the first part of his presentation, he said that South Asia's status in China's diplomatic strategy is becoming more and more important under the new world situation. He said that China is the biggest developing country in the world. China is pursuing a national development strategy with construction as the core task, and it needs a long-time stable and peaceful environment, especially good surrounding environment that is not only in comfort with China's national interests and long term strategic objectives, but also in the interest of the regional countries and the world as a whole. China and South Asian countries are not only conducive to the improvement of diplomatic environment of China and South Asian countries, but also beneficial to the increase of their right to voice their views on the major international issues as a whole. In the long run, all these are very helpful to the advancement of world's multi-polarisation and the democratisation in the international politics.

From the security point of view, he said South Asia is the immediate factor having direct impact on China's surrounding environment, security and stability of its Southwestern border region. From economic point of view, he talked about South Asia as a very important region for China to expand overseas space for its development to implement the great development plan of its western part and to guarantee the energy security. China and South Asian countries have different models and levels, which are highly complementary to each other.

In the second part of his presentation, Mr. Xianfu was of the beliefe that the acceleration of the process of South Asia regional integration will provide new opportunities for China. He elaborated that the regional integration has not been progressing to the satisfaction of the regional countries. In the recent years, the leaders of the South Asian countries have gradually realised the importance and urgency of the cooperation. At the same time, the Economic Co-operation Organisation (ECO) has been gradually developing into a thriving regional organisation. The international status of this organisation is growing. ECO has embarked on several projects in priority sectors of its co-operation, including energy, trade, transportation and drug control. He added that the progress of South Asia's regional integration can provide China with a lot of new opportunities in various fields, especially China's Southern border region will get enough benefits from peace and stability in South Asia. In the future, these establishments of South Asia's free trade zone can increase the chances for China to enter into the regional economic co-operation, including signing free trade agreements with the countries in the region.

In his last part, Mr. Xianfu held that China will actively support and commit itself to pushing forward the process of South Asia's regional integration. Under the new circumstances, China sincerely wishes to maintain friendly and good-neighbourly relations with the South Asian countries, and also sincerely wishes long-time stability and thriving developments of the region. Therefore, China will actively support South Asia's regional integration and will do whatever it could do to promote this process. He concluded his presentation saying that South Asia is near to China for various reasons, and holds tremendous importance in China's development strategy. China has always attached and will continue to attach great importance to this region. China sincerely wishes rapid progress of South Asia's regional integration that is to see a strong and prosperous SAARC and ECO.

Maj. Gen. Muhammad Abdul Matin, BIISS, Bangladesh

Maj. Gen. Muhammad Abdul Matin made a presentation titled 'China: A View from the Smaller South Asian States', in his presentation he said that China recently emerged as a great economic and regional power, and has been carrying out qualitative changes in the relationship between the smaller states in South Asia vis-a-vis bigger ones, i-e., India and Pakistan. The age of speedy globalisation, where market is one of the key determinants of power, is rapidly going in favour of China and gradually against smaller South Asian states. With huge population and land area, its geopolitical location means that no part of Asia - northeast, southeast, south, central and northern - is without a Chinese presence or interest.

The robust Chinese economy seems to be the engine of Asia's economic growth. Its defence establishments, although far from modern in the region, are large and undergoing a systematic modernisation of its air, naval, and ground forces. China however, desires to see South Asia as a region of peace, stable and free from influence of external hegemonies conducive to smooth conduct of its economic interaction in the areas of wage, investment and technology. The country seeks to promote regional peace and stability by not only maintaining friendly relationship with "like-minded" countries, but also by developing friendly and cooperative relations through dialogue and consultation with countries having problematic relations with China.

Nevertheless, amidst few inter and intra-state problems within the region, China has been keeping balanced relations with the countries of South Asia. Following the exchange of diplomatic missions in February 1976, Sino-Bangladesh relations have grown stronger, centering on trade, cultural activities, and exchange of high-level visits development partnership, military and civilian aid, China also has bilateral economic ties with Sri Lanka in the areas of common concern. China and Bhutan arc recently in the process of resolving their boundary issues through mutual understanding and reconciliation, and bilateral relations developed smoothly in recent years, and the border areas have remained peaceful. In the thirty one years since the establishment of' diplomatic relations, the Sino-Maldives bilateral relations have been continuously consolidated and their economic cooperation has also expanded. After the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Nepal, traditional friendly and cooperative endeavours between the two neighbours have never ceased.

The paper provided suggestive options for the smaller South Asian states in reaping maximum benefit from cooperation with China in the middle of their human insecurity, low strategic profile and bargaining power in the international and regional forums, and threats of globalisation.

Question/ nswer/Comments

Q: In the context of China-Pakistan nuclear co-operation what has happened in the past and what are the futuristic prospects?

A: EN-GB"> As far as the nuclear weapon technology and China's support towards Pakistan is concerned, both countries have denied. When it was asked to the US about any solid evidence to this connection, it failed to produce any evidence. There must have been some co-operation of some degree, but not exactly for some nuclear weapon programme.

Q: Mr. Singh described Pakistan as a second important factor in Indo-China relations. The significance of Pakistan is declining in the Indo-China relations. Is the significance of China's relations with other South Asian states to impact the India's perception of China? Secondly, how India and China can move beyond the bilateral, regional and global cooperation? China is very interested in multilateral approaches and regional partnerships. Would you say something about this as well?

A: EN-GB"> I fully agree with the ideas you mentioned. Once India develops a strong relationship with China, then both nations will not focus on the irritants. Since past 4-5 years, Pakistan has not been even discussed during Sino-India talks. At the time when the SAARC states will realise that they have solved their problems and build enough CMBs, then we will invite more member states outside of SAARC, as SCO did. We are hopeful that China has to play a very constructive role in SAARC. We can look forward to see China as a partner of SAARC.

Q: Mr. Singh! How you see this triangle of relationship between India-China-US. As India is a cornerstone in the US policy of containment of China, how do you view this situation? Russia-India-China triangle is another important idea, would you throw some light on it?

A: It is true that US-India relations are taking new shapes, and yes, they will affect our relations with some other states. The Russia-India-China triangle is a hundred years old idea. Keep it in mind that it will not be a military alliance as the era on military alliances has been over after the end of the Cold War. It is in the interest of US to let this triangle work for peaceful means.

Q: I wanted to know your views on political economy in the present dynamism in Sino-Indian trade and economic relations. Do you think it was inevitable in current relationship due to economic growth and forces of globalisation?

A: Yes! I fully agree with you. To certain extent the international scene can affect the level of relationship between these two huge economies. Yes, there is always a political dimension of relationship in every sphere of life. So, political dimension of Sino-India relationship will remain critical.

Q: You referred to a huge area, which is disputed between China and India. Would you elaborate more on this point?

A: EN-GB"> In my own assessment, things are moving fast to positive direction. Hopefully, the next six months or any year, we will reach to a conclusion on Indo-China boundary disputes, not on ground but on papers. We have vowed that old disputes will not harm our contemporary relations.

Q: EN-GB"> How do you view the developments of Pak-US relations vis--vis Pak-China relations?

A: EN-GB"> I think that perspective in Pakistan is little bit different. We are cooperating with US in its "War against Terrorism". As far as the strategic relationship is concerned, it is very limited. If we keep in mind the history of Pak-China relations, I believe that Pak-US relations will have a very limited affect on them.

World media uses the words "Rising China" and "Emerging India", so both are rising powers. Definitely, their rise and their way of rising is very different. China is emerging as world factory and India as world back office. At times, it is very difficult to understand each other's policies. World should not wait to get the bubble busted, as it has already busted. To close this discussion, ,China's rise as a major power so far has been the first rise which is peaceful as well. We also hope that India's rise as major power will be peaceful. When great powers emerge there will be no dislocation of international system.

India is going to follow its national interests. In contemporary politics, no one can close its doors on anyone. The inter-dependency is so much strong that now it is not possible to survive with a "close door" policy. The cooperation between India-US is not for the containment of China.

Q: What timeframe or solution do you recommend for the solution of Kashmir issue? India is the only country which shares its borders with all the SAARC countries, and it can play the most vital role in activating SAARC. How do you comment on it?

A: Both courtiers are working hard, but India believes that President Musharraf has clear desire to solve issues and does not have limitations like the Indian government has. I cannot suggest any solution or time frame. Regarding the second part of your question, India is ready to play an active role, and it is contributing in this regard.

Q: China is firstly concerned with solving its domestic problems. We do not care if the outside the world is accepting it or not. What is the biggest obstacle in cooperation-based relationship between China and other South Asian nations?

A: The South Asian states vary in terms of population and territory. These states want economic, technological assistance and absence of conflicts. Basically, China does not have any problem in developing mutually beneficial relations with China.

Q: The military strategic thinking of India is also very significant as we have to evaluate how it is contrary to China, and where the interests of both states converge and diverge. Can you elaborate on India's policy towards Taiwan issue?

A: The official policy of India is of "One China", and no official recognition of Taiwan. India has trade relationships with Taiwan. However our journalist and scholars do write in the favour of Taiwan's stance.

C: EN-GB"> Whether China's rise is acceptable or not is a problem. I think the rising power should be more responsible and more accountable. I think China should care more regarding how to be more acceptable for all. China should be more careful in formulating its relationship with Taiwan.

Q: The rise of China has very good implications on South East Asia. We are united because of China in ASEAN. How do you see China can be functional as a unifying factor in South Asian regionalism given the complexity of the regional politics?

A: EN-GB"> This kind of development cannot be reversed. I believe that India has better understanding of the nature of Sino-Pakistan relations. China's philosophy is to make new friends, not to forget the older ones. China would have more persuasiveness in its relations with India.

China will try its best to promote peace and integration in South East Asian region. With the improvement of its relations with India, China will try its best to improve the relations between India and Pakistan. China is not going to strengthen Taiwan, though we have no plans to use force against it. We will carry on with our policy of peaceful integration. The rise of China is inevitable, and it is a historical fact, no matter the West is accepting it or not.

C: There are several challenges for China in the process of rising. So it's the responsibility of China that its neighbours should not be suspicious about its military, strategic and political development.

Concluding Remarks by Ambassador Nyunt Tin

Session Chairperson, Ambassador Nyunt Tin said in his conclusion that we have covered many important aspects between China and the South Asian countries of bilateral relations. Myanmar sees a very peaceful rise of China. We are situated between China and India, and hope for their peaceful bilateral relations. So far, we have seen peaceful rise of China. All Asians should be united together to deal with strong groups, such as EU.