When the UPA was in power, President Yameen had, immediately on assuming office in 2013, terminated the contract given to the Indian company GMR to run the airport in Male. The government of India did not take up the matter with the Maldivian authorities strongly enough with the result that the Indian company had to take the arbitration route for the settlement of the dispute. Yameen also entered into a free trade agreement with China, ignoring the reservations of India on this issue. There is no doubt that India's soft approach in the GMR case and on the issue of the FTA with China has encouraged Yameen to defy India again and again and emerge as a full-blown dictator. He has placed the Maldives firmly in the lap of the Chinese. India's role has been reduced to that of a helpless spectator.
The situation in Sri Lanka has also been less than satisfactory for India. There, the Chinese had financed the construction of the port of Hambantota through debt. The Sri Lankans could not service the debt with the result that they had to literally handover the port to the Chinese on a long-term lease. They also handed over a large tract of land near the port to another Chinese company for the development of a Special Economic Zone. In the meanwhile, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is considered close to the Chinese, is on the comeback trail as he has swept the local body elections held recently in Sri Lanka.
In Nepal, KP Oli has once again become the Prime Minister and his party and the one led by Prachanda have merged to form a single and more powerful party of the Left. When Oli was Prime Minister earlier, he had faced the agitation of the Madhesis, which resulted in a blockade of the Indo-Nepal border leading to much suffering in Nepal. Oli is also considered to be more inclined towards China than India.
The China-Pakistan axis is not good news for India either. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which passes through Pak-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), will enable Chinese access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea through the Gwadar port in Balochistan. The estimated cost of this project was $46 billion. It has already gone up to over $60 billion. There is doubt about Pakistan's ability to service a debt of this magnitude. It will not be a surprise at all if, as in the case of Sri Lanka, China converts debt into territory and takes charge of not only Gwadar port, which it has done already, but also the land which forms access to it.
There was recently a media report that Mandarin has been recognised as a 'national' language in Pakistan. This confusion arose because the Senate of Pakistan passed a resolution stating that in view of the growing collaboration between Pakistan and China under CPEC, courses of the official Chinese language should be made compulsory for current and prospective Pakistani CPEC human resources in order to overcome any costly communication barriers. This resolution adopted by the Senate of Pakistani is rather funny, to say the least. In any other country, it would have been the Chinese who would have been called upon to learn the language of the host country. Instead, it is the Pakistani personnel involved in the project who have to learn Chinese. China does not merely convert debt into territory, it also takes control of the mind of its victim.
When the first phase of Chabahar Port in Iran was inaugurated in December last year by President Hassan Rouhani, the presence of Pakistani Minister for Ports and Shipping Hasil Khan Bizenjo, standing next to him, surprised many. According to media reports, a senior Iranian diplomat is reported to have said that "the objective behind this move was clear - Iran wanted to send a message that it would not allow India or any other country to use Chabahar against Pakistan. Pakistan, as we are aware, is a member of the Saudi-led Counter Terrorism Coalition. Iran is not. Pakistan, however, has assured Iran that Islamabad would not become part of any initiative that targets Tehran. The Iranian pledge about Chabahar is a quid pro quo for this favour."
During his recent visit to India, Hassan Rouhani agreed to the leasing of operational control of a part of Chabahar port for 18 months to New Delhi. This is the first phase of Chabahar port. India will have to keep its fingers crossed to see how it plays out as the port develops further.
The point which emerges clearly from all this is that China is single-mindedly pursuing its goal of encircling India and keeping it boxed within its narrow confines. Our effort to counter this strategy and free us from these shackles does not seem to be working even in our closest neighbourhood. Foreign policy is considered by almost everyone as the most outstanding success story of the present government. Unfortunately, the situation on the ground does not confirm that view.
(Yashwant Sinha is a senior BJP leader and former Union Minister of External Affairs.)
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