China’s South Asia Strategy

China’s major interests in South Asia include promoting stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to curb the influence of Islamist extremists, and to facilitate trade and energy corridors throughout the region that China can access. China also is focused on enhancing its influence with other South Asian states, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, to further help it secure energy and trade flows from the Middle East and Europe, and as part of a global effort to extend its diplomatic and economic influence. Furthermore, China seeks to contain Indian power by building close ties with Pakistan and bolstering Islamabad’s strategic and military strength. China likely assesses that, by tilting toward Pakistan, it can keep India tied down in South Asia and divert its military force and strategic capabilities away from China.

With regard to Afghanistan, the U.S. should continue to work closely with China to bring a peaceful solution to the conflict. But the U.S. must also convince China that unless Pakistan cracks down on the Taliban on its side of the border, the insurgents will continue to make military gains in Afghanistan. The U.S. should also seek to convince China that overcoming the Islamist extremist threat in South Asia will require Pakistan to give up its reliance on terrorist proxies that attack India. The U.S. should convince China to cooperate on banning Pakistani terrorist organizations and individuals within the UN Security Council as a way to delegitimize terrorism more broadly. Lastly, the U.S. should support the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The U.S. should help evaluate the progress of CPEC and encourage U.S. companies to support projects that are economically feasible and that will contribute to economic development in Pakistan and regional economic integration.

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