Yuba Nath Lamsal
There has always been a great sense of curiosity about China in the world. This is even more in the present context as China is emerging as a global power. While the rest of the world is much enthusiastic and optimistic about China’s growth and rise, the Western world in particular seems to be much wary and skeptical by China’s growing presence and assertiveness in the international arena. The wariness of the West especially the United States, which has dominated the global power, is understandable as China’s growth is sure to challenge and also likely to ultimately end the global hegemony of the United States and create a multi-polar world, which is necessary and good for a better international balance of power and safety and security of humanity. Some of its symptoms have already been visible in various international forums.
For any country to be a global power and sustain its prowess, it first needs to take its neighbors into confidence. No country can retain its power and prosperity when its neighbors are hostile to it and vulnerable in terms of security of various sorts. Only the country that builds rapport with its neighbors and common approach on security and development in the periphery can maintain its power and prosperity both at home and abroad. Thus, neighborhood and periphery policy is highly important for any country that aspires to be a global power. The neighborhood policy and its relationship with the neighbors determine any country’s role in the international arena. If a country fails to take its neighbors along and take them into confidence, it can never attain the position of an international power. As China is currently emerging as a global power to challenge the US hegemony and domination, Beijing is expected to take this point into serious note and act accordingly so that it first leads in the neighborhood, which alone can establish its leadership in the world.
Given the tone and tenor of authorities in Beijing, it becomes clearer that China has realized it and is trying to do whatever possible to take all its neighbors along for a collective security and development of Asia. Some serious initiatives are already afoot to create a cozy and common East Asian Community, for which China has taken a lead role in recent years. Although there are some historical legacy and baggage among the countries of East Asia that often create some irritants among the neighbors, the culture and social values that East Asian countries share are likely to bind them together. This social and cultural bond is brining the people of different countries in East Asia together that would contribute to building a common perspective and strategies for regional security as well as development. The Chinese Dream, the proposition set forth by President Xi Jinping soon after he assumed the leadership of China, is vision to create common Asian community in the region and peaceful world in the larger global perspective.
At a time when China has taken initiative for a common regional approach in the East Asia, South Asia with which China shares a long border and has historic bond is watching closely and curiously as to what China’s rise would mean to this region. South Asian countries namely Nepal, India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan have already created a regional group called South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for a common South Asian community. Despite its lofty goals of fostering regional cooperation for greater prosperity of the South Asian people and creating a common South Asian society, it has remained a pipedream, so, far, due mainly to the absence of adequate resources and fund as almost all countries in the region are resource strapped.
Given the poor performance of the SAARC, academics and scholars have for a long time suggested for the expansion of the SAARC to accommodate some other resourceful countries so that this regional body becomes more viable in realizing its goals for which it was created way back in 1985. This was the very purpose that the SAARC has included some countries with observer status. The observers include China, the United States, Australia, Japan, European Union, Iran, Mauritius, South Korea and Myanmar. But there are debates going on among the intelligentsia in South Asia whether it was a justice to grant China an observer status which has been given to other far away countries and powers like South Korea, Japan, Australia and the United States. Their argument is for inclusion of China in the South Asian regional grouping as a full-fledged member instead of the status of mere observer.
China, too, seems to be interested to join this regional bloc as an equal partner so that it could contribute to peace and prosperity of South Asia. While the rest of the members are positive for China’s entry into the SAARC as a full member, only India appears to be hesitant to accept this proposition. It is heartening to note here that Nepal is one of the first countries to put forth this idea for bringing China into the SAARC.
Although public opinion seems to be divided on whether or not China should be given full membership of the SAARC, the organization's performance over the last 28 years necessitates that it needs to be expanded to make it resourceful and function in a way other regional groups like ASEAN and European Union have fared. But some voices have definitely come against China's entry into the SAARC that are mainly from Indian side. But there is a strong and overwhelming opinion in other member countries in favor of bringing China into the SAARC as a full member. This has been backed by reasons and logics. In the first place, China is very much a South Asian country because it shares land border with five of the eight SAARC members whereas the largest member of the body—India—has common border with only four countries. A large portion of China’s landmass is in South Asia. As India has adopted the ‘ Look East’ policy in order to get integrated with the booming East Asian economies, China is effortful to have stronger economic relations in South Asia. China has perfectly good relationship with all South Asian countries, although China-India relations at certain points of history had witnessed some hitches and hiccups. China is the largest trading partner of most of the countries of South Asia. Even with India, China’s annual trade volume is equivalent to over 60 billion US dollars and it is likely to cross 100 billion dollars in near future. China’s trade with all SAARC countries is growing every year. Given the physical location, history and culture as well as its close proximity and increasing trade with South Asia, China is definitely not an outside power but a strong link between South Asia and East Asia.
China is currently working hard to revive its old silk road with wider highways to boost trade with South Asia. Once the Silk Road becomes fully operational, it would serve a great leap in the economic and trade relations and integration between China and South Asia and also between South Asia and East Asia. Similarly, China has already connected Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, with the rest of the country by a modern railway and it is expanding further south and South West to connect with Nepal and Bhutan. With these developments and greater connectivity with China, South Asian countries can benefit a lot economically. Nepal has already expressed its desire to develop itself as a vibrant bridge between China and South Asia in general and between China and South Asia in particular and it would become more practical and beneficial for the entire South Asia once China joins as a full member of the SAARC.
It, thus, bodes well if all countries of the SAARC take initiative to request and welcome the second largest economic power to this regional body. Once China joins the SAARC as a full member, the clout, profile and posture of the SAARC would be automatically upgraded and the outlook of the world towards South Asia would be totally different. So far, South Asia is being looked upon as the region of the largest number of poorest people in the world and SAARC as a club of the poor countries. China is already a global power and its entry would make SAARC a viable and strong regional body with greater strategic significance and more bargaining power in the international forums. So far SAARC has not been able to move ahead as per its goal in the absence of necessary fund and resources, China’s entry also would make this regional body more resourceful capable of launching its activities with its own resources. This is the reason why China’s entry into SAARC is necessary more for the interest of South Asia than for China itself.