By Atharva Deshmukh
China, Trade and South Asia
China’s experiments in South Asian political economy:
China-Maldives Free Trade Agreement, signed between Maldivian President Abdulla
Yameen Abdul Gayoom and Chinese president Xi Jinping during the former’s visit
to China in early December has created quite the stir. Not so much owing to its
technical content but more so owing to its political consequences. Critics
argue that the ‘debt trap’ and ‘trade dependence’ that could arise as a direct
consequence of the FTA meant a compromise in Maldivian sovereignty. Trade alas, is political.
There must be
a deeper meaning to the China-Maldives trade deal. Sure enough, there is. And
it is critical to acknowledge it.
Sole Surviving Civilization State:
In 2011, Martin Jaques would take to the TED stage in London to
drive home a crucial argument; the West has constantly misunderstood China.
China, unlike popular Western beliefs, is not a nation state. It
is a ‘civilization state’. For foreign policy, this implies that the role of
history and political values that have been nurtured over the years are now more
pervasive than ever before. It is these political values and historical
legacies that form the cornerstones of China’s foreign and trade policy.
Remember the arguments from the Chinese camp during the debates
over the South China Sea? The references to the concept of the ‘9 dash-line’?
That was no nation-state argument. It was an argument deeply rooted in
historical claims. Characteristic of a ‘civilization-state psyche’.
Chinese trade policy is an extension of this psyche. What could
prove this argument better than the grand Chinese project in political economy?
Something the world knows as the ‘One Belt One Road’ project.
One Belt One
Road - How the Poles of Power are Shifting:
and his era of ‘cautious pragmatism’ may be long gone but his legacy remains.
In China, economics and statecraft are more closely tied than in any other
country. For the Communist Party of China, it is a vital reservoir of
legitimacy. Chinese trade policies are by that extension, backed by an economic
muscle coupled with a civilizational mindset.
Australia for instance. It has been argued that Canberra is the weakest link in
the US-India-Australia-Japan quadrilateral. Why? Because Australia’s export
driven growth is heavily dependent on their importers in China. Over 28% of total exports One Belt One Road
seeks to establish and capitalize on such political leverage created by
carefully drafted trade deals. The Australian FTA is just one. Think about the
China-ASEAN FTA. It tells a similar tale.
following the trails of the recently concluded China-Maldives FTA, China will
look to sow the seeds of economic statecraft in South Asia. The ‘Iron Brother’
relationship between Islamabad and Beijing aside, trade deals with nations such
as Sri Lanka will closely be tied to projects such as Hanbantota. The ‘string
of pearls’ is built on the foundations of political leverage in turn created by
such trade deals.
Beijing will look upon South Asia akin to the way New Delhi will
look at Beijing; as a land of myriad opportunities coupled with complex
challenges. Beijing is likely to look upon South Asia not as a single
geo-political entity but one whose single units (nation states) each reflect a
starkly different set of interests and objectives. It is a set of the bilateral
yet interdependent relationships with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka,
Maldives and India that define Chinese foreign policy in the region. While
figures, facts and dates are often held as points of reference to understand Chinese
interests, there is a need to do much more. They key lies in deconstructing the
Western-driven concept of the Chinese state and construct it once more, this
time with Chinese values. Beijing is not like the West and is unlikely to ever
be that way.
About the author
Deshmukh is a member of Information Services team at MitKat and is studying Global Affairs at Jindal Global University.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions represented in this blog are of the author and do not represent those of MitKat. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.