China Expands Its Influence in South Asia

China is focused on isolating India
December 14, 2021 Updated: December 14, 2021

News Analysis

China’s main adversary in South Asia is India. Beijing is focused like a laser beam on reducing New Delhi’s influence in the region.

The two countries have fought several recent military skirmishes and also a border war in 1962 over disputed territory in the Himalayan Mountains and the Seven Sister States of northeast India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura).

An area unknown to most of the world is the Siliguri Corridor, nicknamed the “Chicken’s Neck,” that strategically connects the isolated Seven Sister States to the rest of India via the only rail service in the area. Sikkim joined the rest of India as a state in 1975, having been quasi-independent until then. The Seven Sister States are bordered on three-and-a-half sides by Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), China, Bhutan, and Nepal—the latter two being effectively controlled by China.

On China’s side of the border, China’s Chumbi Valley is the leading edge in a stand-off between Chinese roadbuilders and troops against the Indian army. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping has a desire to absorb those Seven Sister States into China in order to ultimately gain yet another major trade route access to the Indian Ocean from the Bay of Bengal. This, then, is a major source of the China-India border dispute.

Recent military talks between the two sides ended in a stalemate, and both sides are hunkering down for a winter of continuing tensions in the region, with Chinese state-run media Global Times crowing about the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) superior logistics in the area.

Epoch Times Photo
Indian army convoy carrying reinforcements and supplies drive on a highway bordering China in Gagangir, India, on Sept. 2, 2020. (Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)

As part of a strategy to encircle and isolate India, China has long sought to dominate the Indo-Pacific region, both economically and geopolitically. China seeks to develop an integrated economic market consisting of “all Eurasian nations,” with emphasis on South and Central Asia. Integral to the growing Chinese hub-and-spoke network is the development of a series of land corridors to facilitate overland trade, including the China–Central Asia–West Asia Corridor running from Western China to Turkey. China—the “Spider-Dragon”—is focused on developing a land route through Pakistan to the Gulf of Oman, too.

China has maintained a long relationship with Pakistan. Beijing is investing billions under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor—consisting of highways, rail lines, and pipelines—from Gwadar Port on the Indian Ocean to Xinjiang. This Corridor will be the transmission belt to China for Middle East oil, including oil from Iran. The Chinese are also “building infrastructure for Pakistan on the disputed India–Pakistan border inside Pakistan-controlled Kashmir,” according to an Epoch Times report.

A key Chinese geopolitical-military goal in the Indo-Pacific region is to expand PLA/PLA Navy bases throughout the region in order to counteract longtime U.S. geopolitical dominance there. The establishment of PLA bases is used to intimidate Indo-Pacific nations into taking more neutral (if not outright pro-China) stances in geopolitical affairs. This strategy has worked well with key ally Pakistan at Gwadar Port.

The strategy is also being used elsewhere in the region, as reported by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: “The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is already making serious headway securing new bases in CambodiaTanzania, and the United Arab Emirates, among other locales. … The current push for a Chinese base in Kiribati is eerily reminiscent of Beijing’s efforts to secure its first (and for now only) overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017.” Note: Kiribati is within striking range of Hawaii. It is not just the smaller nations that Beijing seeks to intimidate, but also their “main enemy”—the United States of America.

The Chinese communists (Chicoms) have been steadily focused on improving ties with Iran since the 1960s. Their methods have included well-timed diplomacy, bribery, and strategic investments over the years. CCP patience has paid off handsomely as the two nations are well on the way to developing a strategic relationship. Beijing and Tehran have recently signed an agreement that involves “Chinese investment of $400 billion in Iran over a 25-year period in return for lower Iranian petroleum export prices,” according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. There is a military element of that deal, too. As the countries will exchange military personnel, China will be permitted to deploy/station 5,000 PLA personnel in Iran, and maritime cooperation between the two countries will be enhanced. Lastly, the deal provides the PLA Navy with access to the Iranian port of Chabahar, which is an alternative access to the Gulf of Oman besides Gwadar Port.

Increased CCP influence in Iran could have a major impact on Iranian operations throughout the Middle East. Iran is already heavily engaged in funding Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, as well as providing Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps military resources to its allies and proxies as a means of undermining and dominating the smaller Arab nations in the Middle East over time. Chinese purchase of Iranian oil funds all of these activities, and the increasing CCP political influence being exerted in Tehran may tilt the balance of power in the Middle East away from the United States to China.

Epoch Times Photo
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi shakes hands with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a meeting at the Diaoyutai state guest house in Beijing, China, on Dec. 31, 2019. (Noel Celis-Pool/Getty Images)

It has been postulated that Beijing is in effect orchestrating a three-way alliance with Iran and Pakistan in order to control and influence matters in Southwest and South Asia. The above actions would appear to confirm that a de facto alliance is already in effect.

Add Afghanistan to the mix. The CCP achieved a great geopolitical victory when the United States abandoned the country to the Taliban last August. In doing so, the United States also abandoned Afghanistan’s rich deposits of copper, gold, bauxite, lead, zinc, coal, iron ore, and rare earth elements to the Chicoms. China has been steadily working for years behind the scenes to influence its long-term prospects in Afghanistan. Unbeknownst to many in the West, China had already become Afghanistan’s biggest investor before the Biden administration cut and ran. The Chicoms have a $3 billion, 30-year lease on the Aynak copper mine and have their sights now set on lithium mining. Lithium is used for the production of lithium-ion batteries, a major component of the China’s burgeoning green technology production base. Chinese investment in roads and railways will complete the addition of Afghanistan to the Spider-Dragon’s hub-and-spoke network as an extension to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The Chicoms also have their sights set on Sri Lanka with BRI-related investments at Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) and the southern port of Hambantota. The usual CCP debt-trap diplomacy may be more effective in Sri Lanka, as the country maintains high debt levels accompanied by a poor trade balance, making it more difficult for Sri Lanka to pay back the Chinese loans. Plus, the Chicoms insist on importing Chinese labor to “facilitate” completion of projects, which displaces local workers. It is speculated that Beijing will ultimately gain some control over Hambantota in order to allow access to the port by PLA Navy ships.

Conclusion

Communist China’s geopolitical and economic moves in South Asia are transparently aimed at reducing India’s influence in the region, partly in order to achieve Chinese territorial growth objectives along the disputed China-India border. The Spider-Dragon’s web continues to expand and ensnare several countries on India’s periphery. Additionally, the Chinese regime seeks to diminish U.S. influence in the region, especially in the Middle East. Thus, India and the United States are natural allies with a common adversary.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Stu Cvrk
Stu Cvrk retired as a captain after serving 30 years in the U.S. Navy in a variety of active and reserve capacities, with considerable operational experience in the Middle East and the Western Pacific. Through education and experience as an oceanographer and systems analyst, Cvrk is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he received a classical liberal education that serves as the key foundation for his political commentary.