Caution amid positives in China's South Asia push

Caution amid positives in China's South Asia push
China's President Xi Jinping

China's President Xi Jinping visits India today, the last leg of a three-nation tour of South Asia. While his hosts welcome opportunities to deepen economic ties with China, they remain wary of Beijing's true intentions.

China's footprint in South Asia has increased considerably over the past decade.

The astonishing speed and unprecedented scale of its rise have been truly transformative, coming even as the likes of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have made important strides of their own in terms of poverty alleviation and human development.

Yet, while China has opened up economically, it has remained closed politically, a quality that could still prove limiting. For example, although China is well integrated into global institutions, it has not always behaved like it is invested in the international system or satisfied with the territorial status quo.

Its recent actions regarding its disputes with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and India have only added to its neighbours' concerns. This being so, China is squarely at the centre of Asia's enhanced economic integration and the region's increased political volatility. Amid this backdrop, President Xi will have plenty of positives to offer on his tour.

For starters, China offers an unparalleled ability to finance and execute large-scale infrastructure projects, from ports and dams to highways. As domestic demand evaporates in China, South Asia will be a natural investment destination for mega-projects.

Indeed, China's involvement in projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka can be widely replicated, especially in India, where the demand for infrastructure will likely be in the trillions of US dollars over the coming decades.

Second, China provides valuable support for developing countries seeking a greater voice on the international stage. This extends to financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, as well as to other groupings such as Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Institutionally, the interests of China and various South Asian states often align in not insignificant ways.

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