Chairman, China Study Center, Nepal
China, 'another China' and South Asia:
South Asia and China constitute nearly half of the world population. Most of the South Asian nations border China. China rises from the Far East and extends to all the regions of Asia including South Asia. In the last sixty years of amazing development and innovative reforms, China’s geo-political image was bound to change, even for South Asian countries, from a remote Far Eastern country to one which is in the middle of them. While China has made tremendous progress in alleviating poverty, in South Asia this remains a formidable challenge for regional peace and security as the region inhabits the greatest concentration of the poor in the world. The Economist, London calculates that, in South Asia," all told, almost 290m are neither working nor studying: almost a quarter of the planet’s youth.” The largest number (31.1%) of unemployed and inactive youths is in South Asia, followed by East Asia & Pacific (18.4%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (21%).
China has been carrying out several developmental activities for the all round development of its western region and this development strategy, which has entered its revised second phase, is important as it covers a two-third of Chinese territory and a significant part of China's dynamic population. This development in China's West, in the words of Niaz Naik, equals to "creating another China." In this context of "creating another China", the railroad of China has already reached Lhasa and the possibilities of linking Nepal, which was the entrepot of trade between South Asia and South West China, with present day South Asia is very plausible. Possibilities of opening up railway link and nine land routes through Nepal presents immense opportunity to contribute towards the development and stability of this region vis-à-vis Nepal's own development. To quote Abul Ahsan, SAARC first Secretary General, it has been suggested by some scholars that some South Asian ports such as Chittagong and Kolkata may be nearer and more convenient for South West China (for example, Yunnan and Sichuan provinces) and part of Myanmar.”
The deep Sea warm water port of Gwadar in Arabian Sea in a district of Baluchistan province of Pakistan is also very important for the connectivity of this region. This port is 533 kilometers away from Karachi and 120 kilometers from Iranian capital and it is at the mouth of the Persian Gulf placing itself closer from key shipping routes in and out of Persian Gulf. This port is considered very useful for China especially for "another China" due to social, economic, trade, and political accessibility.
The advances in information and communication technology in the 21st century very subtly supported by the geo-political closeness of "another China" and South Asia further enable the neighboring nations and peoples to transcend territories and boundaries in the blink of an eye. It is therefore equally essential to build a trust-worthy and effective system for enduring security as well as sharing security information and action, as necessary, to sustainably secure all neighborly transactions including trade and commerce activities.
Major Area of Cooperation:
There already exist multiple linkages between China and South Asia at several levels. Starting from the bilateral cooperation in areas of interest between China and each individual nation of South Asia, SAARC and SCO provide sufficient platforms at the inter-regional level for discussions in the socio-economic fields. Regional and international organizations such as Asian Development Bank, The United Nations, World Trade Organization, and World Tourism Organization are supposed to up scaling support to bilateral and regional efforts for facilitating trade. For the overall cooperation between China and South Asia, tourism is a major component. However, because of various factors such as insecurity, violence and poverty prevalent in the overwhelming areas of South Asia, only a small fragment of Chinese tourists visit South Asian countries. This has caused substantial economic loss to each and every South Asian country and largely hindered the prospect of enhancing cooperation and understanding from people-to-people level between South Asia and China. However, the Chinese tourists are increasingly becoming star attractions even for the most advanced western countries. United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has said “Chinese tourists have overtaken Germans as world’s biggest spending travelers after a decade of robust growth in the number of Chinese holiday abroad”. Chinese tourists spent $102 billion on foreign trips last year outstripping deep pocketed travelers from Germany and the United States. Chinese tourists spent 41 percent more on foreign travel in 2012 than the year before, beating the close to $84 billion both German and U.S. travelers parted with last year. Chinese tourists made 83 million foreign trips in 2012 compared to 10 million in 2010.
With the advances in transport and communication infrastructure along with strides in science and technology, the scope of cooperation between China and South Asia is immense. In this regard, eradicating poverty by generating income at the local levels through exploitation of the water and forest resources, besides tourism development, may be noted. Water energy and forest resources based industries and tourism packages to cater the needs can be created to suit the taste of investors and the travelers. Together promoting cultural resources wherein the birth place of Shakyamuni Gautam Buddha, Lumbini in Nepal, one of the holiest lands on the planet, can rejuvenate the peaceful glory of the Himalayan civilization for the largest segment of the peace-loving people both in China and South Asia.
A Pan-Asian development concept with the richness of culture and the civilizations of China and South Asia that includes the ancient civilization of Yangtze of China and Harappa (Mohenjo-Daro) of Pakistan and investment also on bilateral basis would help support smaller and weaker economies to brace themselves and stand firm as well as create an atmosphere for the building of Pan-Asia cooperation.
China and South Asia combined hold enormous reservoir of water resources that can feed the entire Asian continent. And this is no small matter when the whole world is getting anxious over the shortage of water that is said to be the reason for imminent conflicts. The vast majority of South Asian population is deprived of both water and energy. They are living either under darkness or using the primitive means to read, write and quench their thirst.
Nepal is the most potential country of South Asia in terms of water energy. Nepal’s capacity to generate clean energy in cascade is beyond the comprehension of many that can greatly contribute to the development of the entire South Asia including densely populated countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and China also may wish to share the water energy and the benefits in the forms of profit, industrial products, efficient services and high quality infrastructures. Sustainable conservation, optimal utilization and effective management of trans-Himalayan Rivers in the face of climate change vicissitudes would provide the most enduring and legitimate basis for the 21st century ties between China and South Asia. This "basis" to be nurtured most caringly and carefully will provide China and South Asia a sense of much sought after environmental security. To work towards this direction, the need of the hour is to establish and promote an inter-regional institutional mechanism. To start with, International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), an inter-regional organization based in Nepal, may step-by-step help the governments in China and South Asia to realize the proposed objective.
First and foremost, principles of state-to-state relations need to be defined and agreed between the countries. Fortunately for today’s world there are established universal standards and values. In the specific context of China-South Asia relations the five principles of peaceful coexistence (Panchsheel) should be the basis of cooperation. While China very much abides the principles of Panchsheel, all the nations of the South Asia have yet to be fully respect these principles. However, for a cooperative and harmonious relation, it is most imperative that every nation must acknowledge that irrespective of size and colonial past, every nation is equal and has a to exist in equal footing.
Second, in view of the dismal record of SAARC, any new cooperation model between China and South Asia needs to adopt a multi-pronged approach. However, existing issues and problems between the major actors of such cooperative mechanism can neither be ignored nor wished away. Thus the importance and value of bilateral cooperation between China and every country of South Asia can neither be belittled nor slackened while going for regional cooperation.
Third, one of the important bases for regional cooperative alliance has to do with the resource market. How to effectively use country’s resources on a commercial basis for reaping optimum benefit for the region should set the tone for this alliance. China is the second largest economy of the world. According to a report published in early November 2012 by Paris based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, China will overtake United States by 2016 to become the world’s largest economy. The IMF also predicted that China’s economy would be bigger than that of US by 2016 in terms of Purchasing Power Parity. China with the reserve of $3.8 trillion is capable of jumpstarting newer avenues for economic cooperation in South Asia. This would provide a strong base for regional alliance and cooperation. Obviously, the basis of such cooperation should be based on transparency, and mutual understanding of all countries involved. In case of SAARC, after two decades of its birth it is still waiting to be a functional regional organization and we don’t know how many years we have to wait to make it a fructuous for the region and to commence economic cooperation with China as a dynamic regional organization. Nevertheless, China and Africa, though geographically far apart, has succeeded in forging a viable economic cooperation on win-win basis and African continent has become the fastest growing economy. Africa is now really upgraded in the multi-polar world. Africa was once a strategic “abandoned Pawn" of the West making popular of “African Pessimism" for a long time.
Last but not the least, the bonding factor that will make it happen cannot be left aside. Good understanding of the diplomatic as well as cultural language of the countries concerned, particularly the international Chinese language needs to be internalized by the South Asian countries’ governments for preventing any likely misunderstanding now or in future. Exchange visits by academic scholars, policy makers and business leaders in each other country would help take this process forward, which augurs very well with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for “sharing China’s prosperity with its neighbors’’. Let us all move to realize this honest objective with determination and courage. Presented to China-South Asian Countries Think-Tank Forum June 6th- 7th 2013 Kunming, China
PS: Madan Regmi couldn't attend the "China-South Asian Countries Think-Tank Forum" because of some unavoidable problems. But his paper was submitted to Forum: Ed.