IT may not be immediately apparent, but currently China is behaving almost exactly like how the imperialist powers, especially Britain and France, were behaving in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, except that it is not perceptibly out to capture political power and seems to be content with gathering an economic stranglehold on weaker nations. With almost over two trillion dollars of foreign exchange reserves in its capacious pockets, it has become a menace. Through September 2009, the ten ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) members representing 600 million people have run a collective $ 74 billion trade deficit with China, in sharp reversal of the surplus those nations enjoyed in most recent years.
Exploiting what is practically slave labour, China has been manufacturing goods at a price that no country can compete with. Thai manufacturers are now complaining openly about their inability to match Chinese prices and India itself has filed sheaf of complaints against unfair trade practices resorted to by China which Beijing expectedly has shrugged its shoulders off, no doubt on the grounds that all is fair in love and war, especially in trade war. According to knowledgeable sources, Chinese state-run banks have been supporting local industries with almost “free” construction loans, making a mockery of business practices. Indonesia’s steel industry has been greatly affected by this. It is almost close to shutting down, for instance, its nail industry represented by the well-known Surabaya Wire factory.
Writing in the New York Times, Vikas Bajaj has made the point that China is expanding its sphere of regional influence by surrounding India with “a string of pearls” that could eventually undermine India’s pre-eminence and potential rise as an economic power. China’s obvious intention is to strangle India before it becomes too late. Its intentions are plain and its technique is simplicity itself. It offers aid to countries surrounding India like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Mynmar which they cannot possibly refuse. Thus, China has undertaken to build a major port in Sri Lanka at a place called Hambantota. China’s Export-Import Bank is financing 85 per cent of the cost of the $ one billion project and the task, needless to say, has been allotted to a Chinese state-owned company, China Harbour Engineering.
Bajaj quotes a Sri Lankan newspaper as saying that in Sri Lanka, China is involved in projects totalling $ six billion, more than any other country, including India and Japan. China has plans to build railway lines in India’s closest neighbour, Nepal, unbelievable as it may sound. The whole idea is to isolate India from its immediate neighbours emotionally as well as economically. Kanwal Sibal, a former Foreign Secretary is quoted as saying that “this kind of effort is aimed at counter-balancing and undermining India’s natural influence in these areas”.
At one point, Bangladesh had all but sold itself to China, but things are expected to change now that India-friendly Sheikh Hasina has come to power. All that we can do is to keep our fingers crossed. There are still officials in Dhaka who hate India and would, like Pakistan, be happy to lick China’s boots, rather than accept India’s hand of friendship freely offered. Hopefully India’s the $ one billion assistance offered to Sheikh Hasina’s government during her recent visit to Delhi will help turn the tide and convince Dhaka that it cannot expect to have a better friend than Delhi.
For all that, India is still at a disadvantage. It cannot match China’s dollar resources, but it has started to respond positively by, for example, signing a Free Trade deal with ASEAN countries and South Korea. Thus, a team of civil nuclear experts from India has just gone to South Korea to explore avenues of “broad-based cooperation” in the sensitive nuclear domain. South Korea is known to be keen on show-casing its capabilities in the fabrication of commercial nuclear reactors. Besides, it may be remembered, that only recently, on January 25, an accord was signed between India and South Korea providing a new context in mutual relations.
Meanwhile, the recent visit of Nepal President Ram Baran Yadav to Delhi has confirmed a growing trend in India’s foreign policy vis-à-vis its close neighbours. The two countries signed four Agreements, dealing with, among other issues, up-dating air service between them and developing railway infra-structure at five points along the Indo-Nepal border. India has also agreed to extend a $ 250 million soft line of credit to Nepal. Furthermore, Delhi and Khathmandu have come to an understanding on holding talks over the contentious issue of river waters, which is another means of building goodwill with Nepal. This is just a beginning, but it has to be pursued with diligence and faith. Under the influence of perfidious China, the Maoists in Nepal have been critical of India in the past and attention must be given to it. Every effort must be made to chuck out China from India’s periphery in as sophisticated a manner as possible.
It is no secret that cheap Chinese goods have in the past been smuggled into India via Nepal which needs to be looked into. Meanwhile, India must also look beyond its immediate neighbourhood as Minister of State for External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor, was ordered to. Tharoor was in Latin America on January 12, to strengthen Indo-Latin American ties. Among the countries he visited was Peru where, apparently, he has succeeded in persuading the Peruvian Government to offer as many as 65 unexploited mines to India, which is no small achievement.
One remembers in this connection, the success achieved by another Indian, Sai Ramakrishna Karaturi, head of the Bangalore-based Karaturi Global Ltd who has been able to get 300,000 hectares ( about 741,000 acres) of land in Ethiopia on a no-rent basis for the first six years for farming purposes, expected to yield $ 100 million annual profit from export of food crops, including corn, rice and palm oil. The company hopes to provide jobs to 20,000 people and intends to build for them a hospital, a cinema, a school and a day-care centre. A good beginning that in due course could be replicated and an example of how to cultivate friends and influence African nations. India must think out-of-the box to compete with China and constantly be ahead of it with a vengeance. That it can do, given its unquestionable talent and spirit of enterprise. Only it must constantly have government support at every step.