Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives on Wednesday called for an increased role for observers like China at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), an idea opposed by India.
Apart from China, there are eight observers at Saarc summits—the US, Myanmar, Iran, Japan, South Korea and the European Union.
China has a status of an observer state in South Asia, however, an observer state can get involve with SAARC members on specific initiatives, but they do not have voting rights. China entered SAARC as an observer in 2005, supported by most member states.
If China is given a greater role, India fears that its neighbours will come together to oppose the country’s interests, particularly under the influence of Pakistan and China. India’s neighbours are attracted to China, because of its greater economic resources, as also it has the potential to counter India. China’s influence can be witnessed even in Nepal. To enhance strategic ties with Nepal, China has been investing heavily in that country; it has opened land-port between Nepal and Tibet named as Kyirong which will affect the regional strategic balance.
The growing friendship with China and Pakistan is viewed by many as a joint tactic to offset India’s dominance in the South Asian region. One of the most famous projects is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which strategically aims at providing links between the overland Silk Road and maritime Silk Road. Due to this project, China becomes one of the major investors in Pakistan.
It has been agreed that China’s entry in SAARC as a full-member can give a push to SAARC to grow as a regional bloc as China’s global economic influence can help SAARC in an international forum. But, growing alliances between China and Pakistan may work against India and which will hamper the regional progress. It has also been feared that China may block the projects which are both strategically and economically important for India.
China is becoming a member of different regional blocs due to its growing economic and military might. China’s active and aggressive diplomacy, trade and investments, many cooperative agreements with SAARC nations is thus enabling it to have a greater influence in South Asia. India needs to re-think its regional strategies as the rise of China will impact India. Often it is viewed that the rise of China will decrease India’s influence in South Asia.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established with the signing of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka on 8 December 1985. The Secretariat of the Association was set up in Kathmandu on 17 January 1987.
SAARC comprises eight Member States: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Important objectives of the Association as outlined in the SAARC Charter are: to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life; to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potentials; to promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia.