Although talks to defuse a deadly Himalayan border clash between India and China to hold back their troops took place last month, Iran emerges as New Delhi’s next challenge.
After 20 Indian soldiers died in a scuffle with Chinese soldiers on June 15th at the Himalayan border region of Ladakh, relations turned unstable between the world’s two most populous nations.
The motion to pull back troops from the disputed border was agreed by Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier this month. A new source of friction could erupt from a clash of strategic interests in nearby Iran, even though the tensions between India and China may have eased for now.
According to a report released by The New York Times on July 11th, quoting an 18-page leaked document, China planned to invest US$400 billion into infrastructure investment in Iran as part of a 25-year economic and security partnership that will provide a regular, lower-priced supply of oil to China.
The report was not verified by China. The long-planned ambition of India to invest in Iran’s Chabahar port on the Indian Ocean may be thwarted with this move.
The project would have opened up lower-cost seaborne trading channels for India into Central Asia as the project includes building a rail link from the port to Iran’s border with resource-rich Afghanistan while bypassing landlocked routes blocked by rivals Pakistan and China at the same time.
According to a report by The Hindu newspaper that cited Iranian government sources on July 14th, Iran has dropped India from the railway project for Chabahar. Tehran stated that no deal was signed and denied excluding India, but added that the railway will be financed by the National Development Fund of Iran.
Claude Rakisits, honorary associate professor in diplomacy at the Australian National University in Canberra, said the ejection of India from the rail plan and the Iran-China trade deal are connected.
“This is a very big win for China at the expense of India, especially after India’s loss at Ladakh. I also suspect that Iran will dump India for the development of Chabahar in favour of China,” he said.
Chabahar is a crucial piece of India’s seaborne foreign policy and economic strategy as it lies on Iran’s southern coast. Delhi’s arch rival, Pakistan, has land mass wedged between India and Iran, thus preventing overland access for Indian trade to Central Asia.
Phunchok Stobdan, former Indian ambassador to the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, said “There has long been a physical blockage of not letting any Indian cargo go through Pakistan.”
Stobdan feels such a strategy by Beijing to support Pakistan in this block, is due to the fierce competition between the two largest developing Asian economies, China and India, to influence many of the same areas.
“The Chinese have always propped up Pakistan to stop India’s access to Central Asia. If China wanted, it could allow India access to Central Asia through Xinjiang, but China is trying to contain India’s outreach,” he said.
Back in 2015, by launching the US$46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor package, which included a cornucopia of infrastructure investments with over US$1 billion for the expansion of Gwadar, a port in south Pakistan, the “iron friendship” between Pakistan and China was further strengthened.
India was forced to follow through on its decade-long interest in Chabahar due to planned investment in Pakistan’s Gwadar port according to economic analysts.
Liu Zongyi, secretary general of the South Asia and China Centre at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said “India hoped that Chabahar could weaken the influence of Gwadar.”
27th July 17:50
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