By Prashant Dikshit
Chinese behaviour is acquiring sinister variations. Whilst, the regime of Xi Jinping has come forward to offer medical aid in the current health calamity engulfing India, media outlets, mouth pieces of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are spewing ridicule at Indian efforts at combating the calamity. Chinese nationals currently in India are being persuaded to record videos of ailing patients in anguish and send them to these media houses.
Well known China watchers from India have identified several such dying scenes on the streets being shown in still pictures. The linked commentaries are not sympathetic at all but instead are bordering on showering apathy and ridicule on leaders. Is this what the world should expect from China, a claimant to being an ancient civilization. Or, once again mind games are being played again as a precursor of things to come.
What is absolutely astonishing is the total silence on part of the WHO in leaving the investigation of the role of Chinese regime in managing and most importantly reporting the pandemic in a limbo. The actions of the Chinese Media houses stem from the failure of the WHO in arriving at conclusions.
Concurrently, one notices strategic manoeuvring by the Chinese Strategic apparatus for deriving tactical benefits from governments in South Asia as they are being ravaged by COVID-19. A delegation led by the Chinese Defense minister visited both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka a few days ago. Long-time Chinese investments in Bangladesh are loans which essentially focus on the strategic power and road sectors. At the heart of the matter would be the continuum to the Chinese Road and Belt projects linking ports in Myanmar with the ports in Bangladesh.
We would recall that it was only two years ago Xi Jinping inked 33 memoranda with the Aung Su Chi government in Rangoon and the piece-de-resistance of this strategic visit by Xi Jinping was to sign 90 years management contract for deepening the port facilities at Kyaukphew at the northern most coast of Myanmar. These loans were most willingly offered by China despite the explicitly counter Rohingiya attitudes of the Aung Su Chi regime. And now that this regime has been toppled by the military junta who remain on the same page with the Chinese.
It is apparent that a communication network has been conceived linking Mandalay and Akyab port with Kyaukphew and eventually joining up with harbours at Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar, the inlets into the Bay of Bengal. The factors of well-established inland waterway navigation systems over rivers , specially the Meghna River which leads in to Chittagong Harbour would have been recognized by Chinese Strategic planners.
Let us now examine the Island County of Sri Lanka smack into the Bay of Bengal whose ports of Colombo and Humbantota have been on the Chinese radar for a very long period now. Humbantota sitting on the Southern tip of Sri Lanka has already been possessed by the Chinese whose loans were seemingly used for the development of the Airport and the Sea Port. The former, a dream of the current Rajpaksha regime and built during its previous tenure has emerged as a white elephant.
For the port at Humbantota, the previous regime unable to payoff the loans had to lease it to a Chinese Company for ninety years. Although the Indian Government , sensing a strategic threat had prevailed over the Sri Lankan government to sign a treaty which forbid the use of this port for foreign militaries. But a respectful honour of this agreement would always remain in serious doubt as it is widely reported that the Rajpaksha family has received kickbacks for award of the Airport and Sea Port contracts to Chinese proxies. And what is even alarming are the plans of Rajapaksha government for handing over Colombo Sea Port to the Chinese lock stock and barrel and for which a bill is being brought into the Sri Lankan Parliament any time now. There are wide spread protests but the regime is likely to run roughshod over them.
The belief that the Chinese may be hastening steps to gear up for the likely energizing of the QUAD group consisting of the USA, Japan, Australia and India would just be partly likely. On that angle there may be anxieties with the PLA Navy that securing a foothold over ports in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka would be useful at an early stage. But both Myanmar and Bangladesh will not acquiesce very easily and engage in discussions, and not like to be pushed as their countries battle Covid 19. The Bangladesh External Affairs Minister has already rebuked the Chinese Minister for his warning tone on this subject.
The bigger tasks for the PLA Navy would be to protect their own Sea Lanes of communication in the in the seas of the yonder in the South China Sea where large swathes of sea have been claimed by them. That nevertheless does not deter them as far as they achieved a modicum of acquisitions in Sri Lanka.
The time is now ripe for the Indian State to invigorate its own campaign of looking east. With Bangladesh, the diplomatic relations are ripened in the 50th Anniversary Year of the Founding of Bangladesh and seal on which was placed by the visit of Indian Prime Minister. It has been followed up with large consignment of Indian made vaccines and for a similar acquisition from China, Bangladesh had to dole out huge sums. To Myanmar also vaccines have been made available at no cost to them. Above all, India’s studied silence on the unseating of Aung Su Chi government will have its own benefits
(The author is a strategic affairs commentator. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. He can be reached at: email@example.com)
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