China’s Rising Eco-Political Influences in South Asia Sparks Concerns Over Democratic Integrity

China’s increasing political involvement across South Asia has raised eyebrows in recent years, signifying a growing interference in the democratic processes of various countries in the region. From strategic interventions in Sri Lanka’s elections to actively mediating in Nepal’s political discord, Beijing’s endeavors have marked a pronounced effort to shape governments favoring Chinese interests. Leveraging its economic prowess, China has bankrolled crucial infrastructure projects in areas sympathetic to its political allies, tilting the scales in their favor and undermining democratic norms in the region.

Nepal: CPC’s Mediation and Political Influence

The Communist Party of China (CPC) has displayed proactive involvement in managing disputes within the Nepali Communist Party (NCP), raising global concerns about China’s sway in Nepal’s political landscape. Acting as a mediator, Beijing’s role has steered policy decisions, creating ripples in the democratic fabric of Nepali politics. Reports of CPC delegates engaging with Nepali lawmakers have fueled apprehensions about Chinese lobbies promoting a pro-China agenda.

Sri Lanka: Economic Coercion and Belt and Road Initiative

In Sri Lanka, the CPC has fostered ties with the Rajapaksa family by financing ambitious projects such as the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, despite its notorious underuse. The Belt and Road Initiative strengthened this relationship, with China funding electoral campaigns and gifts for Rajapaksa supporters in 2015. Subsequent heavy loan repayments led Sri Lanka to lease the Hambantota port to China for a staggering 99-year period, exposing the political repercussions of economic engagements with Beijing.

Bangladesh: Economic Dependency and Political Influence

Bangladesh has faced a similar trajectory of economic coercion leading to political sway. As a primary supplier of military hardware and the initiator of multi-billion-dollar projects, China holds significant economic leverage. However, this dependence has strained Bangladesh’s foreign reserves, compelling a $4.5 billion-dollar IMF bailout, echoing situations in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Bhutan: Coercive Tactics Amid Border Disputes

China’s coercive tactics in Bhutan, especially amid escalating border disputes, have attempted to influence political leadership by proposing a ‘package deal’ for settlement. While seemingly protective of Bhutanese territories, such deals could jeopardize New Delhi’s interests, showcasing the multifaceted nature of China’s political maneuvers.

Economic Leverage for Political Incursions

Beyond political engagements, China has deployed debt diplomacy as a tool in South Asia. Initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative have created economic dependencies, swaying political decision-making in lending countries’ favor. Investments in crucial infrastructure have granted Beijing economic leverage translating into political influence, often aligning support for China’s global positions.

Challenges and the Call for Vigilance

Amid disinformation campaigns, support for specific political factions, and direct engagement during elections, CPC’s tactics raise concerns about undue external influence in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. In response, vigilance against election campaigns influenced by Chinese sources and regional cooperation are pivotal to safeguarding the democratic values of South Asian nations.

As China’s political footprint expands, the need for concerted efforts to uphold democratic integrity in the region becomes increasingly imperative.

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