China – South Asia: Issues, Equations, Policies

China’s much celebrated revolutionary zeal, communist ideology, and Marx-Lenin-Mao thought have never been the dominant force behind its South Asia policy. This was determined instead by Beijing’s hard-headed cost/benefit analysis so aptly cloaked in the famous Five Principles of peaceful-co-existence (Panchsheel) aimed at ensuring non-interference in China’s fragile regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. Quite in line, neither the local communist parties nor ethnic Chinese were ever the main instruments of China’s South Asia policy. Instead, China was to rely on its generous indulgence with South Asia’s ruling regimes cultivating them as pawns of its understandably India-centric and security-centric South Asia policy.

The same remains true of the China policies of South Asian countries. At the very outset, these were never any coherent exercise but only a set of ever evolving knee-jerk reactions fluctuating with the change in ruling regimes. Also, given their size, stature and mutual animosity, India and Pakistan have been the major players in South Asia and equations between these two have been both cause as well as consequence of Beijing’s activism with these countries. With smaller states, China has continued even with virtually one-sided relationships and these have continued to engage China primarily as a counterweight to New Delhi.

However, having fortified its security, prosperity and identity has since transformed China’s equations with South Asian countries. It has weakened China’s older motivation of prompting smaller South Asian states to keep India tied down to immediate periphery. Also, India’s rise as a major player and the China-India rapprochement since 1990s, have greatly facilitated such a tilt in Beijing’s policy. China has gradually distanced itself from these smaller South Asian states allowing them to sort out their ties with New Delhi on bilateral basis. Nevertheless, China’s shift towards a more balanced posture of neutrality in intra-South Asian affairs remains too piecemeal and discreet.