South Asia is situated in a strategically important location and has always been bone of a contention for control by major powers. It has proximity with the Indian Ocean which has the most important choke points of the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Hormuz, through which 32.2 millions of barrels of crude oil and petroleum are transported per day. Furthermore, South Asia is well connected with the Arabian Sea and has ports like Gwadar, Chittagong and Hambantota, which makes it eye candy for global players. Though less overt yet, the role of extra-regional players; US, Russia and China are becoming more visible now. Thus South Asia, with its geographical space, economic and social entities, always had an important position in the world order.

The global order is now in flux for various reasons. To begin with, China, Russia and a number of other countries have always resented US’ dominating and leading role. Furthermore, American citizens have also been criticising the policies adopted by their government. Importantly, the November 2016 election of the United States of America has sent tremors across the globe, the reason being the unexpected win of Mr Donald Trump as President, who came with an anti-globalisation agenda. If seen logically, it can be determined that America has contributed more to the disability of South Asia rather than peaceful development and stability, so maybe the inward strategy being pursued by Mr Trump is a blessing in disguise for South Asia. It is also predicted that China might fill in the space created by Trump’s administration as it has not come up with any clear policy towards Asia.

In another important development after the elections in the USA, at the World Economic Forum in January 2017, President Xi Jinping of China depicted his country as a devoted defender of free trade. He went on to say that if there is a necessity for China to take the leading role in the world order, it would be ready to shoulder the responsibility. Russia has also refurbished its South Asia strategy with emphasis on reaching out to Pakistan and also stepping forward as a negotiator in the Afghanistan crisis. The reenergised strategic partnership between Russia and China looks to drive the US out of the region and provide new opportunities for South Asia.

One of the main policy initiatives in South Asia in this decade is focused towards developing sub-regional, regional and trans-regional corridors to enhance connectivity and integration in their economies, initiated mainly from China with the announcement of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI). China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project of the BRI, which has gained global attention and interest. It might prove to be a game changer for Pakistan and also the region of South Asia. It is a great opportunity for South Asia to develop much needed infrastructure and bring prosperity to a region which has been unstable for a long period of time especially due to the negative role of India. After the successful completion of CPEC and links developed via the Corridor connecting the Central Asian countries through the Province of Xinjiang, Gwadar Port will develop into the nearest and the largest seaport for a number of landlocked countries, namely the Central Asian states and Afghanistan, providing immense potential for South Asia to be one of the leading players of international trade.

The other proposed economic corridor, which has immense potential for the region is the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIMEC). The BCIMEC can be a win-win possibility for South Asia as the linkages of telecommunications, energy and transport would allow the region to materialise as a blossoming economic belt that will lead to the social development of South Asia. However, unlike CPEC, BCIMEC is still in the proposal stage and faces challenges; mainly the rift between China and India.

The Trump administration has still not come up with any clear policy towards South Asia – the emerging interests and plans of Russia and especially China, should be taken seriously by South Asian countries as these plans have vast potential for the countries to achieve a prosperous future which American intermingling has never achieved. South Asian states need to recognise their interests and effectively accommodate these changing global security and economic structures. From a South Asian perspective, it appears that there is much appeal in the current global dynamics. Thus, the stage is set and the political theatre ready, now it depends on the strategies of South Asian countries to tackle the challenges and grab the emerging opportunities.

The writer has an MPhil in Government and Public Policy from the National Defence University, Islamabad. He is currently working under the Young ISSI Professional Corner at the ISSI.