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China’s interest in Southeast Asia: Implications for India

China’s interest in Southeast Asia:

China’s policy towards Southeast Asia can be termed as one of competition and colloboration. Traditional determinants like geography, cold war ideology, domestic and ethnic politics have been the binding factors in China-Southeast Asia relations. Placing the relations China had exerted its influence over the region and the principal manifestation was the tributary system, which reflected the subordinate status of others in the region.

Post 1949 China emulated  the role of a crusader and a champion of third world freedom and assisted revolutionary communist movements and insurgent groups. With the Sino-Soviet rivalry in late 1960s,  China  had to reassess its ideological leanings. The death of Mao Tse Tung  and the ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping to power, brought in  a paradigm shift in China-Southeast Asia relations.

China’s assurance to the Southeast Asian countries after the 1997 financial crisis, refurbished China’s image amongst the Southeast Asian Country. China’s emphasis on economic modernisation and regional stability, assured the Southeast Asian countries that China would no longer be a threat in the region. An ernest effort undertaken by China to re-assure and re-emphasise its position with the Southeast Asian countries.

Thus Southeast Asia house great powers competing  for economic and strategic benefits. This has constantly compelled the ASEAN countries to choose between the regional challenger and the dominant power.The Southeast Asian countries often are tossed between the heavy weights, nevertheless they are coping with their own strategies and interest in identifying and engaging with India, Japan, US and China.

Asymmetry in relationship between China and Southeast Asia exists. China’s exerts high influence in the Mainland Southeast Asia which comprises of Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. All these countries in some form or the other  is dependent  and remain a  soft underbelly of China. China maintain unique relations with each of the countries in the region.

Myanmar is critical from the perspective of “client state”, While in the case of Cambodia and Laos, China plays the role of a dominant external actor. Vietnam-China relations continues to remain complex and there are completing claims between the two countries. Vietnam has protested the recent deployment of advanced missile system on a disputed South China Sea island and  has condemned this  erroneous action of China.

China rarely resonates historical tributary system with maritime Southeast Asia.Interestingly the maritime countries in Southeast Asia Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia of these several of them enjoy the patronage of Untied States thus posing a constant challenges to China. Competing and overlapping claims continues to exist between China and maritime Southeast Asian countries on the issue of South China Sea.

Countries in dispute have wrangled over the territory for centuries and there is a steady increase of  tension. China by and large have claimed the largest portion of the territory. The recent  deployment of China’s advanced missile system which  is claimed  purely as a self-defence mechanism is not viewed as a benign advancement. United States has called for tangible steps to  reduce tension in the region.

How could India strategies its Southeast Asian Interest:

India’s engagement  in Southeast Asia was accelerated with the announcement of India’s Look East Policy in the 1990s. With increased bilateral operation in areas of trade and commerce, people to people contact and capital flow. India-ASEAN partnership has been upgraded to areas of strategic partnership. The enhanced India’s engagement in the region is welcomed by the Southeast Asian countries, as a counter check against growing China’s assertiveness in the region. India’s Act East strategy is an initiative to expand Indian diplomacy and an initiative to involve the large Indian diaspora present in the region.

The Look East Policy was an initiative started by the Late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao which focused on economic engagement with ASEAN countries and India.  Southeast Asia connects Indian and the Pacific Oceans that includes vital maritime chokepoint and hence extremely critical from India’s geo-strategic interest and hence India works to evolve a peaceful regional order. India has interestingly maritime borders with three Southeast Asian countries Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia. Interestingly India has no unilateral or hegemonic policy towards the region.

US President  Obama has urged India to an Act East  Asia policy .  Several   joint statements have been released both by India and Untied states  calling for  safeguarding maritime security, freedom of navigation and  countering piracy and maritime terrorism.  The ASEAN countries along with United States have welcomed India’s participation in there region. They have legitimised India’s status as a great power in Asia and looks forward for India’s support in maintatining the regional order and stability

The Southeast Asian countries see India as a great power and calls for more proactive engagement from the Indian side. This is indeed a great opportunity for India,  how much will the political leadership encapsulate the opportunity to shape Asia is something that has to be seen.

Priya Suresh is a research scholar @Takshashila Institute. She tweets@priyamanassa

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China deploys missiles to contested South China sea islands

China has recently deployed the  advance surface-to-air missile system to one of its contested islands in the South China Sea. The recent satellite images show tow batteries of eight surface-t0-air missile launchers as well as radar system on woody island, a part of the Parcel island chain in the south china sea. There are several claimants to the dispute and the Woody Island has been claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. On several occasion there has been agreement on the peaceful settlement of the dispute. The missiles arrived in the Woody Island over weeks and according to news reports the missle were visible from 14 February.

Heightened tension and anxiety is seen among the claimants countries as well as United States. Recently president Obama and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had several rounds of discussion to  ease the tension, but none of the dialogues ever had a mention of China’s assertive posture in the region

Though there have been several mechanism to thwart the tension and halt to the construction and militarisation of the disputed areas, the tension continues. US has pledged to conduct the freedom of navigation patrols for a free and smooth passage of ships were several countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines and Taiwan have their contested claim over the isalnd.

China sending its missile is not something unusual and it has deployed missiles on several occasions. The South China Sea issue intertwines several countries to dispute with China. Several countries like  Brunei, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and China are intertwined in the dispute over the South China Sea. Since 1950 China has laid its  claim over the Woody Island and the recent deployment probably is seen as a provocation.

US  has raised concern over the deployment, Japan and Vietnam have joined hands with US in condemning this deployment. South China Sea is a contested area with countries competing over the trade routes and mineral deposits. Does this deployment by China confirms China’s assertiveness  or as the Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi claims that an act to distort China’s image by the western media.

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar @Takshashila. She tweets at priyamanassa

 

 

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