Nontraditional Security and China’s Relations with South Asia

Nontraditional Security and China's Relations with South Asia

by Li Li and Mallika Joseph
June 28, 2011

This essay examines the implications of emerging nontraditional security challenges for China’s relations with South Asia.


  • China and South Asia face many of the same nontraditional security challenges, such as limited arable land for large populations, protracted poverty, limited access to energy resources, and environmental threats.
  • Several of South Asia’s nontraditional security concerns negatively affect China and its relations with the subcontinent. Poor human security, in terms of poverty and terrorism, jeopardizes Chinese business and investment in the region.
  • Regional cooperation on nontraditional security issues is also limited by low levels of cross-cultural linkages. Poor sanitation and health care in South Asia discourage cultural exchanges, such as Chinese tourism and foreign study.
  • Water security is an extremely sensitive regional issue because both China and South Asian countries face increasing water shortages due to urbanization, industrialization, and climate change.
  • Traditional and nontraditional disputes between China and South Asia can only be solved through cooperation. The two sides could use lessons learned from previous cooperative efforts on nontraditional threats to strengthen their collaboration and take preventive steps to ensure peace and prosperity in the region.
  • Bilateral cooperation has occurred in agriculture, poverty reduction, health and disaster management, and energy and climate change. However, the two sides should also explore solutions at a multilateral level, such as the China-SAARC cooperative mechanism.
  • Cooperative measures are crucial for addressing several sensitive issues, particularly terrorism, growing food and energy demands, and water security. These nontraditional security challenges have the potential to exacerbate existing disputes in the region, especially between China and India.