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Chinese Infrastructure in South Asia: A Realist and Liberal Perspective

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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Since 2000, and with increased focus after the announcement of the One Belt, One Road initiative in 2015, China has led the development of a robust infrastructure program in South Asia. Despite being promoted by China as the creation of a win-win environment throughout the Indian Ocean region, realist scholars argue that Chinas motivations are to utilize this infrastructure to create overseas bases, threaten Indias perceived sphere of influence, and increase Chinese influence by challenging the regional order. When viewed through a liberal lens, the initiative creates opportunities for common development, encourages multilateral growth, and addresses failures that current global and regional institutions havebeen unable to overcome. This thesis assesses both arguments and answers the question Do Chinas motivations seem more consistent with a realist or liberal lens My research found that when assessed under a four-aspect framework that addresses the potential economic, geopolitical, and security related effects of the initiative on South Asia, the liberal argument provided stronger evidence and produced a narrative more aligned with Chinas economic needs. By deciding through which lens to view Chinas motivations, great powers in the region can best assess how to address these programs and either challenge or support China.

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