While India Was Obsessed With Gujarat Elections, China Encircled Us
Four key developments have taken place, all of which have the imprint of China. Slowly but surely the dragon has been creeping up on India, in what is considered India’s backyard.
The last fortnight has been all about Gujarat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi, other leading members of both the government and opposition, as well as media have been squarely interested in the Gujarat campaign. While it’s been all about the “neech comments”, Pakistan, Khilji, Aurangzeb and what not, one thing seems to have missed most of our commentators as well much of our media coverage. Last week has been a particularly bad one for India in the neighbourhood. Four key developments have taken place, all of which have the imprint of China. Slowly but surely the dragon has been creeping up on India, in what is considered India’s backyard.
China and Maldives signed a Free Trade Agreement last week. The FTA deal was clinched during President Abdullah Yameen’s official visit to Beijing. Maldives also endorsed China’s Maritime Silk Route which is part of its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative which India has shunned because of sovereignty concerns.
The Maldivian President described China “as among our closest friends, most trusted and most dependable partners”. Incidentally, Maldives is the only country PM Modi has not visited since he assumed office in May 2014.
India has not been comfortable working with the Yameen regime preferring the previous dispensation under Mohammad Nasheed who was ousted undemocratically. China, of course, has moved in to occupy the space which India vacated.
SRI LANKA LEASES HAMBANTOTA PORT TO CHINA FOR 99 YEARS
After much consternation, the Government of Sri Lanka last week granted the strategic southern port of Hambantota on a 99-year lease to the Chinese state owned company China Merchants Port Holdings.
The 1.3 billion dollar deal was signed seven years ago under the previous dispensation of Mahinda Rajapaksa but was renegotiated by the current Sirisena government. Under the new plan, the Chinese company has entered into a joint venture with Sri Lanka’s Port Authority with a 70% stake.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, had this to say during the port inauguration ceremony. “With this agreement we have started to pay back the loans. Hambantota will be converted to a major port in the Indian Ocean.”
RETURN OF KP OLI AS NEPAL PRIME MINISTER
The unified Communist alliance of the UML and Maoists has come to power in Nepal with KP Oli, the head of the UML party, to be the next Prime Minister. Oli is seen as largely pro-China and is keen to reset his country’s ties with both Beijing and New Delhi.
In 2015, Oli was the Prime Minister when India tacitly encouraged a blockade led by the Madheshi parties because of their lack of proper representation in the new constitution. Normal life was halted for many weeks and the feeling in Kathmandu was that India was behaving like a big brother.
Already, Oli has promised to extend rail links with China. The new government is expected to present China with a wishlist of highways, airports and rail projects which the Chinese will happily oblige given their keen interest to get engaged in the Himalayan kingdom and blunt India’s influence there.
DOKLAM IS BACK
While much of our energies were sapped by Gujarat, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was here in Delhi along with the Russian Foreign Minister for the Russia India China trilateral. After the meeting the statement issued by Wang once again brought to the fore, the use of the phrase “illegal occupation of Doklam by Indian troops.”
There have also been media reports that Chinese troops for the first time have returned to the disputed site and made permanent structures there including tents and camps. By all indications, the Chinese troops intend to stay put there for the winters, something which they have never done in the past.
Both the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of External Affairs have been conspicuously silent on these media reports. And since no media is allowed anywhere close to Doklam, it is impossible to independently verify the same. In this light, it is important for the government of India to reveal the contours of the August 28 deal struck with the Chinese.
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