China’s engagement in South Asia

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By Muhammad
Asif Noor

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently hosted a video conference of Foreign Ministers from South Asian countries to develop a joint response against the surge in COVID-19 pandemic. This meeting is part of the series of dialogues that were hosted by China since last year with South Asian countries to fight the “once in a century” pathogen. At the end of the Summit, there was a joint statement issued highlighting the resolve from the countries to fight the virus together. This is an attempt from China to develop a regional cooperation response mechanism towards the growing COVID-19 threat engulfing the countries especially the rising threat from India. For this Summit China invited all the South Asian countries to participate where Foreign Ministers from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were present.
The foreign ministers participating in the conference appreciated the helping role of China with regards to the provision of vaccines and the timely technological assistance to overcome the pandemic. Representatives from India, Maldives and Bhutan were absent from the meeting. Despite the absence, China has reiterated its resolve to send help to India in its fight against the virus as the country is coping with the shortage of oxygen, lifesaving drugs, vaccines, and other anti-epidemic supplies. Right after this summit, the State Council had a phone call with the Foreign Minister of India to show solidarity with the country and offer assistance. China is acting as a balancing and stability factor in the overall ongoing situation in the South Asian countries in terms of the fight against the virus and other regional issues of concern. Through multilateralism and aims of building a shared future for humankind through cooperation and dialogue, China’s South Asia engagement is based on promoting collective approach to address the regional challenges.
The summit has passed a joint statement where consensus was on fighting the virus together and building an economic recovery through cooperation and assistance. It is also acknowledged that the COVID-19 is a common enemy to mankind especially for those countries having the development index. As a responsible state and neighbor, China has extended its support to help the countries for medical supplies, technical assistance. Considering the significance of the multilateral cooperation through WHO and other important health forums, the foreign ministers acknowledge that the issue of virus should not be politicized to create divide rather it is the need of the time to show solidarity with each other. While highlighting China’s efforts in addressing the challenge, foreign minister of China said that on the advice of the President Xi Jinping, China will act to support vaccine cooperation through the co-production in the South Asian countries. This will help these countries to be capable of fighting the pandemic in a better manner. The statement also reflected on the improved BRI cooperation, economic and health cooperation to recover from the pandemic and improve lives. The Belt and Road initiative is the guarantor of small economies of South Asia as most of the South Asian nations are connected to this project among such nations, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Afghanistan and Nepal are included. This investment of China in the economy and trade sector under the gigantic umbrella of Belt and Road Initiative is assisting these nations in increasing their social, economic, and political standards.
South Asia is a home to more than two billion people, facing traditional and nontraditional security threats owing to economic disparities, lack of effective health systems, governance challenges and socio-political stability. This important meeting is a step towards building a common destiny and a shared future for the humanity in the region through dialogue and partnership. In order to build this objective China has announced at the form to establish China-South Asian Countries Emergency Supplies Reserve, which is meant to help COVID-19 related challenges to the South Asian countries.
Another important step was setting up China South Asian Countries Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Centre. As we all know about China’s triumph against poverty and how the country through its resilience and hardwork lifts millions of people out of poverty. This path and struggle is worth studying and learning as Chinese experience is an Asian experience and can be utilized by South Asian countries. This Centre is a contribution towards this aim to share the experience and learn to help communities to progress. In continuation to this China will also hold China-South Asian Countries E-Commerce Cooperation Forum on Poverty Alleviation in Rural Areas. There was also an urge to develop mutual recognition to digital health codes.
–The writer is Director, Institute of Peace & Diplomatic Studies