The Belt and Road initiative (B&R), which should advocate joint consultation and win-win cooperation to meet the interests of all, is a regional cooperation initiative that relates to global economic development.
It has received positive responses from all countries along the route and exerted significant impact. South Asian countries are no exception.
First, South Asia has an important geostrategic position in the development of B&R and is a gateway for China to promote the initiative westward.
Second, South Asia is the region with the biggest development potential for China in promoting B&R. It has high economic growth, with India’s GDP growth outpacing China’s and ranking first in the world. Simultaneously, South Asian countries, with a total population of more than 1.6 billion, share similar development goals, belong to many of the same bilateral and multilateral mechanisms and have formed effective communication with China.
Third, out of China’s 14 land neighbors, five countries are in South Asia, a key B&R area, with India being the only country that has a border dispute with China, and Bhutan being the only country with no established diplomatic relations with China. Thus, South Asia is important for China’s peripheral diplomacy.
Most South Asian countries have been actively responding to B&R since it was proposed. But India has shown reservation toward it. The doubts raised include whether India can benefit from the initiative and whether B&R is being used as a tool by China to change the international order and seek hegemony. Some Indians worry that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and China-Pakistan ties will pose a threat to their country.
Furthermore, Indian doubts over B&R also stem from India’s “big power dream” which, if threatened, could weaken India’s status in the region and the Indian Ocean.
It can also be said that the Indian government’s misunderstandings and doubts over B&R led to the Doklam standoff on the Chinese-Indian border, which is considered the most serious border conflict between China and India since 1962.
The incident is the result of the long-term accumulation of negative factors within Sino-Indian relations, revealing India’s strategic anxiety. It is also a prominent symbol of Sino-Indian relations entering a historic transition period, so we need to view this event from the perspective of the long-term development of bilateral relations and from the height of the global strategy. We must also vigorously support B&R through promoting regional and sub-regional cooperation across the Himalayan area.
China and India are important drivers of the new international political and economic order, as well as the main beneficiaries of the new order. As the development of international multilateral cooperation increases, China and India rely ever more on multilateral frameworks to build on their bilateral relations, with BRICS, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) all providing cooperation opportunities for the development of Sino-Indian relations.
However, those multilateral platforms are not the best ones for strengthening cooperation and communication between China and India. For example, in the case of the SAARC, due to the flawed system concerning observer states’ status, China cannot obtain outstanding achievements; as for the SCO, India is only a new member; and as for BRICS, there is a lack of other South Asian countries. Thus, establishing a new cooperation platform across the Himalayan region could boost Sino-Indian ties and mutual benefits.
At the bilateral level, China and India can equally cooperate across the Himalayan region, which sparks healthy competition and participation from both sides.
At the regional level, the previous closed boundaries that were dominated by military factors could be open to more frequent economic ties. This also helps solve traditional and non-traditional security problems within China and South Asian countries.
And at the global level, big power interference can be resisted. Otherwise stated, regional and sub-regional cooperation platforms in the Himalayan area, a key access area for water, energy and resources, can be classed as having strategic significance, not just in Asia, but also the world.