String of Pearls or a Garrotte?
 While China skilfully plays Wei Qi, India seems to be playing noughts and crosses
 Kanwal Sibal

China’s relations with our neighbours have two dimensions. One, its policies towards them are derived from the state of its relations with India. Two, they are bilateral in scope, independent of China’s relations with us. Within these two broad parameters, there are several strands that together weave the tapestry of China’s ties with our neighbouring countries.

It should be kept in mind that some of India’s neighbours are China’s neighbours too, by virtue of its occupation of Tibet. If India has geographical, political, economic and strategic reasons to fashion viable neighbourhood policies, China cannot but seek to build bridges with countries that are its neighbours. Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar, which are our direct neighbours, are directly contiguous with Tibet. China will therefore have active policies of neighbourhood with these countries. We have to accept this as an unavoidable fact.

China wants a trouble free periphery on its western borders. It would not be abnormal for China to believe that India has to be kept in check, to achieve that. There are border 
differences between the two countries; the issues around Tibet and the Dalai Lama continue to distort ties. India alone in Asia has the potential to balance China. The geo-political strategy of China towards India, would therefore be to neutralize Indian power as much as possible. It would encourage our common neighbours to stand up to India. It would build their capacities to do so. And it would boost its own presence in the sub-continent, as a power with legitimate interests here. This is why China talks about India’s hegemonic ambitions in the sub-continent. It capitalizes on the fears that smaller countries in the subcontinent harbour against their giant neighbour, with whom they have their own bilateral differences.

China is pursuing a policy of shoring up our individual neighbours, to the extent that they have the capacity, as well as depth of antagonism to challenge India. Its political, military and economic relationship with them is calibrated to its own strategic needs. And an assessment of how much stress these countries can bear, in case India reacts.
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