Multi-track cooperation a must to tackle non-traditional security issues in Himalayan region

Although current Sino-Indian relations are still in a state of relative tension, Beijing is encouraging Chinese companies to meet India’s procurement demands for oxygen concentrators and other anti-pandemic supplies, writes  Siwei Liu for South Asia Monitor

Siwei Liu Jun 05, 2021
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Wang Yi Hosts Video Conference of Foreign Ministers of China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka on COVID-19

The security environment in the Himalayan region is becoming complicated. In addition to traditional security issues, such as the unresolved border dispute between China and India, a series of non-traditional security issues have become increasingly prominent, including the current Covid 19 pandemic, as well as climate change, water insecurity, environmental degradation, food security, and so on. 

Many non-traditional security issues have the characteristics of transnational and proliferation concerns, which increase the difficulty of governance, and need immediate regional and even global solutions. In this context, it is urgent to encourage multilateral cooperation, build a multi-participating and multi-channel regional security governance network, and promote a non-traditional security community in the Himalayan Region.

The global Covid 19 pandemic seems far from over, as is the case in the Himalayan region. The second wave of India's Covid 19 pandemic started in mid-March, tearing through the country with devastating speed. Although the current situation is better and related lockdown measures are on the way out, India's battle against the Coronavirus infection remains arduous. Similarly, the pandemic is on an upward curve in Nepal and the entire country is under a new lockdown amid concerns over the spreading virus. Other countries in the region are also taking measures to prevent and fight the epidemic. No doubt responding to the epidemic has become the most urgent security issue in the region.

Not only that, non-traditional security issues such as climate change, water resources, and food security in the Himalayas also are increasingly prominent and worthy of more attention. Take water resources as a case. Although the Himalayas, known as the Asian Water Towers, are not an area with extreme water shortages, there are various challenges like uneven distribution of water resources in the region, rising demand, and serious water pollution in some places. 

Moreover, the Himalayas are also a sensitive area in terms of global climate change, and ecological fragility. Climate change and extreme weather events are exacerbating disaster risks in the region. Food security in the region cannot be ignored either. Agriculture in the Himalayan region is mainly rain-fed, which, therefore, means that it is vulnerable to climate change and water shortage. In addition, the Coronavirus crisis also may worsen food security in the Himalayas.

Indeed, non-traditional security issues are becoming important agenda of regional security in the Himalayas and the security governance model and framework adopted by a single country can hardly cope with these security challenges that transcend sovereignty and go beyond national borders. 

Multinational cooperation

This is why various stakeholders in the Himalayas have also begun to emphasize the importance of international cooperation. For example, we can find that related regional cooperation networks for preventing and fighting the pandemic are increasing. On March 15, 2020, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations held a meeting via video conferencing to discuss a joint strategy to fight Coronavirus. SAARC has also established a USD 18.5 million Covid 19 emergency fund, made up of voluntary contributions from members.

China too has strengthened its cooperation with neighboring countries in the Himalayas. China hosted the virtual conference of foreign ministers of some Himalayan countries to deal with the COVID-19 situation and announced the meeting was open to India. Although current Sino-Indian relations are still in a state of relative tension, Beijing is encouraging Chinese companies to meet India’s procurement demands for oxygen concentrators and other anti-pandemic supplies. In recent years, some regional cooperation networks have also been formed in water resources governance and climate change response, but most of them are track two, rather than track one networks.

But on the whole, non-traditional security governance in the Himalayas presents a fragmented picture, with the development of regional security governance networks being limited, and various resources difficult to integrate.

It must be admitted that because many non-traditional security issues and traditional security issues in the region are intertwined, regional cooperation is not so easy. For example, the border dispute between China and India is still unresolved, which also makes it difficult for the two regional powers to jointly build a regional cooperation network. However, given that many non-traditional security issues have trans-regional and proliferation characteristics, multilateral cooperation is still the best option to solve these issues.

Change of mindset

Therefore, countries in the region should be encouraged to change their mindset and pay more attention to dealing with the survival dilemma faced by mankind, and avoid falling into the so-called security dilemma. At the same time, more non-state actors should be encouraged to participate in regional non-traditional security governance affairs, including non-governmental organizations, social groups, academic groups, and think tanks. The states, local governments, non-governmental organizations and other actors need to cooperate through consultation, co-construction, and sharing, to build a good non-traditional security governance network system.

In brief, in the context of increasing non-traditional security threats in the region which interweave and influence each other, it is necessary and urgent to build a multi-level and multi-track governance network system and promote a non-traditional security community in the Himalayan region.

(The writer is an associate professor, Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan University, China. The views are personal. She can be contacted at cathy98142003@126.com)

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