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China-South Asia cooperation: Sky’s the limit

China-South Asia cooperation: Sky’s the limit

China and South Asian countries are moving towards greater cooperation. Covid-19 has opened up an era of high-value cooperation in health between China and South Asian countries. This cooperation can be described as a common humanitarian bond to save lives.

Previously, China and South Asian countries cooperated in healthcare in limited areas. In the post-Covid-19 situation, human health seems to be the common entry point to facilitate overall socio-economic rebuilding of societies in South Asia

China last April offered South Asian countries help in accessing Covid-19 vaccines. China’s State Councilor and foreign minister Wang Yi hosted a conference attended by neighbors Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India did not attend. During the raging pandemic, China had expressed “deep sympathy for and sincere condolences to the Indian people.” In China’s understanding, ties with the Republic of India are the most important one in South Asia.

The meeting highlighted China’s willingness to set up an emergency supply reserves with South Asian countries in the fight against Covid-19.

China has been ready to promote vaccine cooperation with South Asia in the form of donations, commercial procurement and bottling, and production to ensure a stable supply.

Wang Yi and his counterparts also discussed post-pandemic economic recovery, and ways to maintain a sound international environment for the development of all countries. China promised to “uphold the concept of a community with a shared future for humanity, stand firmly with the people of South Asian countries, and join hands and unite until all countries in the region eventually prevail over the pandemic”.

Also read: Indian ignorance on Nepal

Boosting recovery

On boosting post-epidemic recovery, China, last July, facilitated the establishment of a China-South Asian Countries Poverty Reduction and Cooperative Development Cooperation Center in Chongqing.

China and South Asia (C-SA) are major centers of global populations. Of the world population of 7.52 billion in 2020, the C-SA region made up 42 percent. If governments here can cooperate on poverty-alleviation, this region will have made a big contribution to humanity.

China has indeed contributed greatly. General Secretary Xi Jinping declared at a ceremony marking the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) that China has brought about a historic resolution to the problem of absolute poverty in China. This is not only a great achievement of the CPC and the Chinese people, but also important for global anti-poverty efforts.

The World Bank’s per capita cut-off line for absolute poverty is $ 1.90 and the global proportion of those under absolute poverty is 9.30 percent. But the SAARC region has 15.2 percent people under absolute poverty. Meanwhile, China has drastically brought down the rate of absolute poverty. There can be a lot more scope for the C-SA cooperation on poverty alleviation in terms of both concepts and targeted development programs.

Inspired by successes of targeted poverty alleviation programs in China, Siddhartha Vanasthali Institute, a temple of learning in Kathmandu with 2,000 students, plans to pursue a program of cooperation with Chinese academic institutions on “using education opportunity for poverty alleviation of targeted disadvantaged students” whereby identified body of students will get help with their fees and accommodation.

The Chongqing Poverty Alleviation Center aims to pool strength, integrate resources, and exchange wisdom to support and help the South Asian countries' economic development and livelihood improvement, jointly promoting the cause of poverty reduction.

Also read: Post-Aukus challenges for Nepal 

Chongqing, an autonomous cosmopolitan city in Southwest China, is willing to share its poverty relief experience with South Asian countries, and cooperate on poverty eradication projects, in the process of building the center into a new platform for friendly cooperation between China and South Asia.

Tweeting about the meet, Nepal’s ex-foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali had stressed on the “need for strengthened regional and international cooperation for anti-Covid response and recovery”.

Non-state organizations in China have been seen active in negotiating with local governments and institutes to collect anti-pandemic resources such as masks, protective suits, ventilators and other items to help India, as well as other South Asian countries. China has the willingness, capacity and resources to help India and other South Asian countries grapple with Covid-19.

China wants to cooperate with India “through multiple channels in helping it fight the epidemic.” In Nepal’s case, China’s Vero Cell vaccines have alone covered over 50 percent jabs administered to the people thus far, and China has produced over 50 percent of the total anti-Covid vaccines globally as well.

Non-alignment for cooperation

Nepal’s new Minister for Foreign Affairs, while attending a High-level Commemorative Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Belgrade in October, underscored the need to galvanize South-South cooperation to liberate and uplift countries and peoples from the clutches of poverty, inequality and deprivation. Minister Dr. Narayan Khadka said, “For NAM to stand relevant to influence global agendas of common concern, it must forge unity, cohesion, cooperation, and solidarity among its membership. NAM must be internally strong to foster goodwill and cooperation so that division and discord do not surface to undermine the unity of the Movement.”

However, any country’s nonaligned position is increasingly challenged by global powers.

 Lin Minwang, a China scholar, in his October 13 analysis published in the Global Times, observed India’s renunciation of its non-alignment policy. He says: “New Delhi's justification for ‘defecting’ to the US camp is the ‘China threat’.”

Also read: The US failure on MCC compact

He says India's self-aggrandizement is more directly reflected in the Sino-Indian border issue. “The Indian media seem to have a special preference for fabricating and hyping the China-India border issue. In fact, India is also doing this to the US to show how hard India works to contain China so that the United States feel its ‘strategic value’,” he writes.

Unexpectedly, reliance on the United States and its camp has given New Delhi some illusory confidence. It is just that. In the end, India will suffer, the scholar has concluded.

I believe none of us will like to see our neighbor suffer. As Confucius said: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

To rise, recent developments in China-South Asia cooperation show that construction and reconstruction of new inter-regional indigenous and autonomous institutions are prerequisite in areas of non-traditional sources of security threat like health and poverty alleviation.

China’s leadership is aware that like China, South Asia is not a liberated region. Self-interest and confidence of this region is colored by divisive power plays and colonial mindset. This has created serious risk for the region’s independence, internal cohesiveness and nonaligned integrity and credibility.

I wish China would treat South Asia as a doctor, full of compassion, full of required supportive mechanisms to revitalize and rejuvenate a Trans-Himalayan pathway of connectivity, development, reform and exchanges. China’s strong positivism will contribute to building a South Asia that can sustain rejuvenation on its own reformed core foundations.

Based on the writer’s presentation on 20 October 2021 at a webinar organized by the Research Center for Economy and Cultures of “South Silk Road” in Sichuan University Jinjiang College’s  “Jinjiang Oriental Forum” 2021.
The author is Secretary General, China Study Center Nepal