The upcoming BRICS summit will have its focus on India and China and how bilateral relations will pan out in an atmosphere that can at best be described as tense. Ever since China opposed to India gaining entry into the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the relations between both the nations have been on a downward spiral. What made the situation worse was China’s show of support to Pakistan by blocking India’s move to ban Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar at the UN. Moreover, China’s ambiguous stand while responding to the Uri attack and the subsequent blocking of a tributary of the Bhramaputra river made it clear that the peace and stability of the region is at threat.
The latest in China’s offensive measures against India is the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Bangladesh just before the start of the BRICS summit. Following the decision, the state-run daily Global Times wrote, “India will not need to be jealous of an increasingly close relationship between Beijing and Dhaka, because the improvement of local infrastructure and the overall economic ecology in Bangladesh will create favorable external conditions for connecting with markets in India, China and Southeast Asia.”
It further added, “However, it would not necessarily be a bad thing if an increasingly close relationship between China and Bangladesh puts some pressure on New Delhi to rethink its strategy in this region and encourages it to put more effort into improving relations with China during the upcoming meeting between President Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the BRICS summit.”
With such an approach, China has succeeded in laying the ground rules for the upcoming summit. It has once again reduced diplomacy to arm twisting and has disregarded the role for negotiations. In international relations, there is space for all nations to forge healthy ties with one another. But China has always seen its engagement with the South Asian countries as a way to contain India’s influence in the region.
Here, China has often overlooked the geographic and strategic advantage that India has with respect to the South Asian nations. Countries like Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal has already started maintaining a distance from China after increasing proximity did not garner the expected support at home turfs. In addition to this, the overpowering geographic influence of India where it exerts a considerable influence on the Indian Ocean and shares borders with the South Asian nations calls for greater co-operation. Inter-dependence is the key for economic development and political stability.
So China’s argument that its relations with Bangladesh will put pressure on India rests on imaginary grounds. It should also be noted that India and Bangladesh has signed a bilateral agreement which would grant Indian cargo vessels access to the China-backed Chittagong port and Mongla port. Both the countries have agreed to cooperate on counter terrorism-measures to deal with the increasing threat of radicalization and cross border terrorism. This is a clear indication that the relations between the two nations are firmer than China believes it to be.
The BRICS summit is an opportunity for China to rethink its foreign policy and start an era of genuine cooperation and coordination. Trying to create a wedge between South Asian countries and extending support to rouge nations will go against China’s interests in the long run. China has to overcome its excessive paranoia and myopic vision to establish a peaceful order in the region.