CHINA ‘KEEN’ TO BE SOUTH ASIA’S STRATEGIC PARTNER
Their comments come at a time as the 18th Saarc Summit got under way on Saturday with a joint secretarial-level meeting to set the agenda for the regional meet.
The experts argued that China, an observer of Saarc, should not be compared to other observers as the country shares its border with five Saarc member countries and enjoys deep ties with them.
“China’s role in Saarc should be akin to one it has in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Especially, like the role it has played in the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation),” said Hu Shisheng, director at Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary Inter-national Relations.
He said Saarc could benefit from China’s rapid economic growth and a role it could play in linking Saarc with Asean and Central and East Asia.
“It’s up to the Saarc members to define a new role for China. Any new role should not make Saarc clumsy and dysfunctional nor should it make its neighbours feel unhappy or uneasy,” said Hu, adding that Saarc would occupy a significant position in China’s foreign policy.
He pointed out the lack of connectivity, strained India-Pakistan relations and economic disparities as some of the main reasons for Saarc not making significant progress even after three decades of its establishment.
Hu’s remarks on China’s possible role in Saarc, similar to the SCO, suggest Beijing wants to be a permanent member of the regional forum.
The 13th Saarc Summit held in Dhaka in 2005 approved China and Japan as Observers.
Lan Jianxue, an associate research fellow at China Institute of International Studies, said that China would like to be an all-weather strategic partner and substantive contributor to Saarc.
“China will accelerate the construction of Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and strengthen cooperation with the countries involved including all South Asian neighbours,” Lan added. “This will provide a huge opportunity and an ideal incentive for China-Saarc cooperation in the future,” he added.
Nepali Ambassador to China Mahesh Maskey said the Saarc countries should provide a conducive environment for China to play a special role in the forum. “China appears keen to play that role. And it is not unusual for China to get closer at the regional level,” he noted.
NOVEMBER 23, 2014