Lenin Media | Articles | The China-Pakistan-Nepal Axis an Indian perspective by Dr Roopmati Khandekar

“The China-Pakistan-Nepal Axis; an Indian perspective”

The very basis of the axis of China, Pakistan and Nepal undoubtedly spells I.N.D.I.A.

If we perceive this, it is a one on one duel between India and China as the main contenders for supremacy in the Asian realm. India and China are the Asian giants with civilizational ties and Pakistan and Nepal have been the dependents on either of these through their existence. China is the director of the China Pakistan and Nepal axis that has been a feature of the recent months of post Covid pandemic times. India is part of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) with its immediate neighbours. The look east Asia policy of India has seen India be a useful ally to the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and additionally bilateral relations have improved with many of its south East Asian nations. India also has forged a formidable bilateral relationship with Japan.
Though we have seen since the partition of India and the emergence of Pakistan as India’s nemesis. China has pulled Pakistan closer to itself, taken control of the Aksai Chin area and encouraged and armed Pakistan to sustain a niggling factor to India. Though religious intolerance exists like in the example of Ughyur muslims. Pakistan has no closer ally in the international system other than China. It nourishes Pakistan to be a thorn in the affairs of the Indian state. Pakistan is an almost all failed state. The wars with India and the current economic situation being so disastrous that they could not retaliate with any vigour to the withdrawal of article 370 in the two Indian Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and Leh.
Nepal is a Hindu Kingdom offered protection by the Indian Government and assimilated to the extent that they can join the Indian army and settle and travel into India without passport restrictions. In Nepal, in July, a permanent post was built near Pala by China and around 1000 troops were initially deployed which increased with an addition of 2000 more troops. A diplomatic squabble was on the cards due to the construction of a road by India to Lipulekh Lake at 17000 feet. The road is intended to shorten the time of transit for the pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar. Nepal has claimed the territory as their own and released a new political map showing the disputed area to be their own.
India and China are locked in a more than three-month-long standoff at multiple points, hitherto unprecedented along the border. The most prominent of them being Galwan standoff where more than 40 troops each side were lost. Since the border has been undefined and not demarcated (Independent India’s first Prime minster Jawaharlal Nehru had answered a press query with “it is not necessary to define these things”). China has changed the status quo on the Line of Actual Control at various places, moving inside Indian territories. India has objected to it and is taking up the matter with China at all levels. China has systematically built up troops, artillery and armour in three sectors of Line of Actual Control -- western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal).The border tension between India and China has not been resolved despite several rounds of military and diplomatic talks. China's commitment for disengagement at the border in Eastern Ladakh remains unsatisfactory and India has directed its armed forces to prepare for a long haul. The recently purchased Rafale jets have been a game changing addition for the military prowess of India.
The recent covid pandemic that the international system faces has seen a global blame targeting of China. Recently in this month, in a virtual meeting with Nepal and Pakistan, the Chinese foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that the cooperation should be extended to Afghanistan too. China urged Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan to forge “four-party cooperation” to overcome the Covid-19 crisis and continue work on projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China stated that they would actively promote the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Trans-Himalayan Connectivity network (THCN), support the extension of the corridor to Afghanistan, and further unleash the dividends of regional connectivity. According to a statement released in Mandarin the four states should give “full play to geographic advantages, strengthen exchanges and connections between the four countries and Central Asian countries, and maintain regional peace and stability”.
The BRI is a multi-billion-dollar initiative launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he came to power in 2013. It aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes. While USD 60 billion CPEC is the flagship project of the BRI, over which India has protested to China as it is being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), the THCN aims to connect Nepal and China through Tibet.
The background of this conference being the months long strained border misunderstandings between Indian and China, strains with Nepal and a damaged Pakistan bilateral equation, the video conference initiated by China inevitably spells a geopolitical animosity indication towards India. The meeting signalled China’s readiness to play a bigger role in restructuring war-torn Afghanistan’s peace process. For Nepal, it was an opportunity to send out a message about its increasingly cooperative ties with China amid the strained relations with India. The narrative that China is setting is to summon a four-party cooperation in South Asia ignoring India. Additionally, the efforts from China indicated that they are looking for a permanent cooperation infrastructure with the three South Asian nations (aptly India’s immediate neighbours) which would extend to issues beyond pandemic countering measures.
The main pitch set by China was as regards the example of “Iron brother” ties with Pakistan and directed Nepal and Afghanistan to follow suite, underscoring the fact that having good neighbours is ”good fortune” and the China Pakistan cooperation should be emulated in tackling the pandemic. China added that when the Chinese vaccine is developed, it would improve the accessibility of vaccines to the three countries and help them strengthen their public health systems. The four nations would have mechanisms for joint prevention and control and make arrangements for the epidemic containment, virus spread prevention, resume economic exchanges and increase personnel and logistics cooperation through opening of “fast channels” and “green channels”. The underlining of strengthening joint prevention and control in border areas and to frame jointly recognized standard operating procedures for epidemic notification, prevention, management and control. The joint construction of the BRI as part of the post pandemic economic development and recovery was promoted along with the resumption of key cooperation projects which can provide stability to the industrial and supply chains and new economic growth nodes in the digital field too.
The bilateral relationship of India and China when viewed in its entirety is stifled with undertones of suspicion. The geopolitical angle that the China Pakistan and Nepal axis presents to the Indian state is concerning because it is a cooperation effort aimed to pressurize India geographically. The loci of these two nations has been a war, animosity and disagreements on border interactions. There is absolutely no space for strategic manoeuvring and that is the precise reason why there is a high level of suspicion. Such an axis formation even if sugar coated in a pandemic tackling cooperation or a BRI undoubtedly fuels a diminishing level of confidence and widens the scope for misunderstandings.
With such close geographic proximity and tremendous global geopolitical and geo-economic significance, India and China, even after centuries of interaction, still remain at the infancy of bilateral developments. The current initiative of China for a Pakistan and Nepal supported axis has only fuelled suspicion and dented the little confidence that India and China enjoy in their bilateral relationship.