Reviews

See also: Dwivedi Ramakant, “China’s Central Asia Policy in Recent Times,” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 4/4 (2006).  This review of writings by two prominent China watchers in India clearly reflects mixed Indian sentiments about China’s Central Asian engagements.  Both G. Sachdeva and R. Dwivedi have analysed Chinese Central Asia policy in recent times, focusing on the changing contours of China’s involvement in her Central Asian neighbourhood.  While Dwivedi looks at the genesis of that Central Asia policy, tracing the roots back to 1949 when the struggle for independence began in “East Turkistan”, Sachdeva’s article is based on an analysis of a more contemporary China stake in the region’s commerce and energy deals and juxtaposing India’s interests to such stakes.  Both analysts begin with an ipso-facto analysis of the SCO initiative of China that was hailed as a regional security formula to restrict terrorist activities and terrorist infiltration across sensitive borders involving countries belonging to the Central Asia – South Asia spatial unit.  It seems that Indian think tanks and policy analysts were extremely cautious about the nuances of China’s regional security policy, enumerated and enshrined in the SCO framework.  Sachdeva’s article is a reflection about that concern.  

Despite expectations of the SCO emerging as a China initiative that would give a lot of boost to the overall Asian geopolitical fabric, there tends to be some degree of wariness about the extent to which India could tolerate such a policy.  The reason for such an attitude is China’s enhanced diplomatic status to the detriment of India’s own immediate concerns in her neighbourhood.  China’s rising influence in Asia is uncontested and in recent times there seems to be a growing Chinese interest in India-China bilateral trade (reflected in the reopening of the Nathula Pass) that tends to create a lot of optimism among Indian business communities.  One feels that there is a specific reason behind this growing restraint in Indian mindset.  SCO was China’s strategic as well as diplomatic gain vis-à-vis American competition in Central Asia.  Gradually, however, the efficacy of SCO as a regional lobby was questioned and the Indian policymakers were not wholeheartedly receptive to the Chinese formula simply because of the fact that they were not willing to submit themselves humbly to China as the rising Asian giant.  China clearly had a lot of clout among the Central Asian states because of the contiguous borders that became vulnerable to terrorist activities and needed a protective cover that the SCO could provide.  As far as India was concerned, there was a growing feeling among diplomatic circles that there was no need for India to get over-involved in Chinese multilateral engagement in the region, because that would tend to remove attention from other issues of immediate concern. For instance, India’s cautious policy towards Pakistan would take a backseat had India engaged herself mindlessly in multilateral projects that were of hardly any immediate significance as far as India was concerned.  Moreover, China’s Pakistan policy is shrouded in secrecy but there is no doubt about the fact that China will try to be proactive as far as her neighbour in South Asia is concerned and Pakistan too would try to neutralise the issue of bilateral discord with India because of Chinese patronage.

Despite such wariness, China’s growing profile as a trading partner for the Central Asian neighbourhood has been assessed very seriously in recent times.  People in India are generally convinced that the Chinese government wants to diversify energy imports and lower dependence on West Asia for oil consumption.  The way it tries to do this is by creating enough links through transport corridors—an aspect that has received attention due to the popularity of the GCA doctrine or Greater Central Asia project of the US.  India, by contrast, is not as involved in Central Asian trade as China.  Dwivedi is of the view that India’s bilateral trade with the Central Asian states has not reached its full potential.  Building economic land-bridges with Central Asia is not at all in India’s immediate interest, unless there is a sufficient reason to do so.  And that reason is obviously related to what Washington or China thinks and does with relation to Pakistan.  One is not sure about the extent to which India can be seriously thinking in creating a Washington-New Delhi-Jakarta-Hanoi-Tokyo axis—which can show ‘nightmarish’ for China.  Much of India’s interest in Central Asia is determined by Washington’s engagement in Greater Central Asia that involves Afghanistan.  Sachdeva’s article gives us the impression that there is no need to overstretch India’s ambitions in Central Asia.  However, much of that mindset has changed in recent times.  The Bishkek summit of the SCO (May 2007) has revealed India showing interest in energy security and energy cooperation in the region.  It also showed that SCO has reframed itself as an ‘energy club’ and that could have resulted in India’s peripheral interest in the organisation.  India also cannot remain oblivious to what Russia proposes as a longstanding partner in India’s as well as Eurasia’s military and defence deals.

Suchandana Chatterjee, A.K. Azad Institute, Kolkata
CER: I-8.4.A-726