According to media reports Beijing is pressuring Nepal to make China a full fledged member of SAARC during its summit being held in Kathmandu. Several Nepali ministers are reportedly in favour of this proposal. So are several other SAARC member nations that have benefited by economic and arms aid from Beijing. That India’s immediate neighbours should seek China’s membership is symptomatic of New Delhi’s abysmal foreign policy failure in its own region over the past many decades. Prime Minister Modi should stoutly resist full SAARC membership for any nation outside the South Asian region. If SAARC nations persist with their demand India should walk out of SAARC and formulate a new strategy. This step may appear extreme. But the fundamental ideological conflict between SAARC and a South Asian should be appreciated. This conflict has global ramifications that will determine the shape of a future world order.
SAARC as presently envisaged is primarily focused on achieving economic partnership and free trade. That is why Beijing is seeking full membership and smaller nations are responding. This heralds a model of development dominated by market economy oblivious of political and cultural identity. It implies eventually total domination and control by international big business interests of an emerging global order. It suggests centralized world order. A South Asian Union on the other hand decentralizes power and responsibility to empower nation states and common regional identities. It suggests a future decentralized federal world order that is more democratic.
In this regard the history of the European Union (EU) is instructive. The EU started as a cohesive fifteen nation group sharing common history, culture and religion. The EU members were overwhelmingly Catholic. That is why Charles De Gaulle was insistent that Anglican Britain enjoying a special relationship with America be kept out of EU. De Gaulle forged ties with the Soviet Union and built Europe’s own nuclear deterrent with the goal of establishing West Europe as an equal of the US and USSR. But after him international big business took over. The EU membership in pursuit of a market thoughtlessly expanded into divergent East Europe to destroy the common identity of EU. Britain too was incorporated into EU. Today there is confusion and contention about the future course for EU among its members. Germany and France, the core group of original EU, are trying to recover direction.
That is why India should never allow China into SAARC. That will spell the end of a South Asian Union even before it is created. Let China consolidate Tibet and Xingjian and stay on its own turf. Let SAARC nations deal with their region. We do not want only a market. We want a decentralized world order that respects cultural nationalism.