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For Chinese neighbours, caution is the byword and trade the catchword - part one

By Tony Henderson - posted Monday, 20 June 2005

China, the fourth largest country in the world, has the highest population of all. Its land mass covers a vast territory in eastern Asia. The vastness of the country and the barrenness of the western hinterland have important implications for its defence strategy. While there are many deepwater harbours along the western coastline, the nation has traditionally oriented itself inland, developing as an imperial power whose centre lay in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River.

China, besides attracting great interest from the potentially lucrative trade viewpoint, is also under scrutiny by neighbouring Asian nations regarding its political and economic intentions.

President Hu Jintao visited South-East Asia in April 2005, shortly after Premier Wen Jiabao's completed his South Asia tour. Those journeys provided an opportunity to put China's relationships with Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, “onto a stable and long-term footing,” (China Daily, April 28, 2005).


But expressions of benign intent included in China's media releases, while acceptable, may be seen more like a silver lining in a Nimbus-like thunder cloud, because China’s history is not quite that depicted in its rosy statements to the world.

This and next week's articles look at the need to study the history of relations neighbouring countries have with China when attempting to understand just how these countries can accommodate China today.


China’s size and extensive border bring it into hard contact with many nations. There are a number of disputed territories on all sides, but an important one is the Himalayan border with India. Very recently India and China signed an agreement in Delhi aimed at resolving that long-running dispute. These countries, as the world's two most populous, fought a bitter war over their largely unmarked border in 1962. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao officially “ceded” Sikkim to India, after the latter had annexed the small kingdom in 1975, amid strong protests at the time from Beijing.


There is a dispute between India and Nepal that involves a 75 sq km area in Kalapani, where China, India, and Nepal meet. Indian forces occupied the area in 1962 after China and India fought their border war. Three villages are in the disputed zone: Kuti, Gunji, and Knabe. India and Nepal disagree on how to interpret the 1816 Sugauli treaty between the British East India Company and Nepal, which delimited the boundary along the Maha Kali River (Sarda River in India). The dispute flared up again in 1997 when the Nepali parliament considered a treaty on hydro-electric development of the river. India and Nepal differ as to which stream constitutes the source of the river. Nepal regards the Limpiyadhura as the source: India claims the Lipu Lekh.

Nepal has always favoured its links with India, but with the situation prevailing and King Gyanendra in charge, China is presenting Nepal with a possibly different solution to those offered by other democratically sincere nations.

China has a plan to develop its western region, linked by high speed railway and an express highway to connect Tibet with mainland China. Nepal will also benefit from these infrastructures, as Chinese visitors will then have easier access to Nepal. In addition there will be enhanced trade possibilities. Joint venture programs, such as hydro-power generation, are expected to flourish. China has also mentioned Nepal in its outbound tourist destination list for Chinese people. Because of this, in May  2005, the Sajha Bus Service, owned by the Nepalese Government launched weekly coach trips between Kathmandu and Lhasa for nine months of the year.


In April 2005 the Nepalese Government’s support for China's newly enacted anti-secession law was speedily aired by the media.


China and Pakistan have enjoyed a solid strategic relationship since the 1960s and over the years China has provided Pakistan with a wide range of major conventional weapons systems. The two countries have also developed a close partnership in various defence co-operation programs. This strategic relationship arose from the mutual needs of China and Pakistan to counter what was seen as Soviet and Indian security threats. Pakistan has relied on China as an ally in dealing with India, a situation where it is in a position of military weakness. Beijing values its close ties with Islamabad both to extend its influence to South Asia and to balance against India.

Bilateral trade between China and Pakistan today stands at around US$2.5 billion, with Chinese exports to Pakistan accounting for US$1.5 billion. April 2005 saw something that will be welcome in Pakistan, a Free Trade Agreement, under which both sides have agreed to cut down excise duties and bring the tariffs to zero on a range of commonly used commodities.

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About the Author

Tony Henderson is a freelance writer and chairman of the Humanist Association of Hong Kong.

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