Renate Solbach: Zeichen

Abstract

India and China, the two oldest civilizations have emerged as the two most prominent actors from Asia in the twenty first century. They not only attract a good deal of Foreign Direct Investment but also provide new market opportunities to the world. In this trade of their multilateral acts and practices and the bilateral understandings the two find in each other an essential rival and competitor. The pandemic that escalated from Wuhan in December 2019, at a time when US-China trade war was on the accentuation, has had a global spread and caused unprecedented economic slump and capital loss to the world that might take decades to recover. Since China has recovered from the pandemic it aims at dominating the Post-Covid 19 order by trying to expand territorially at a time when the states are down with the virus. The growing world opinion against China and the shifting of several companies to India and other Asian states have forced it rake up border issue with India and destabilize it in order to nip the forthcoming challenge as a growing Asian power. The current paper tries to highlight the nature of relations between the two states in the light of current border standoff at Galwan, Ladakh.

 

Introduction

The twenty first century has begun on a frightening note in the wake of the forces of identity politics which have unmasked and proceeded more virulently in the post- 9/11 and 2008 economic recession. While world is witness to the emergence of anti-immigration movements, ethnic violence, religious fundamentalism, deglobalisation, state protectionism and the US China trade war the anarchical state that it generates has brought a significant change in the leadership patterns and profiles. The emergence of the populist wave across the world has created serious implications for the democratic world as in the wake of these events societies have suffered hiatuses at social and cultural levels. Nationalist forces are on the rise and the internal failures and dynamics of states are forcing them pricking over the borders to gain legitimacy to rule. China has been following the same policy by raking up unsettled issues with India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and Taiwan. Its enmity to South East Asian states over the control of South China Sea is public now. The spread of Covid 19 from Wuhan and the consequent economic slump world over and the unfair territorial pressurising by China on Indian borders at Ladakh has brought its traditional competitor into some serious action these days.

The post-Covid 19 scenario with an inimical world against China, conspiracy theories about the pandemic and the unnerved China portends a tomorrow where China aspires to lead the world but its challenge appears to be sunk by the emergence of ›micro-power centres‹ in Asia and Europe. In fact the unwillingness of several companies to carry in China and shift to the other Asian states like India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Philippines where cheap labour is available, mark the beginning of a new order featured by a strengthened Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), renewed US-India collaboration about Indo-Pacific, an isolated China and the EU consolidation after the Brexit and Covid 19 nightmare. The timing of the Chinese assertion along the north-western frontiers of India at Ladakh near Galwan and Pangong Tso is critical in the light of Covid 19 that has not even peaked in India till July 2020. The decision of China to prick the Indian borders is not new but this time it entails certain serious implications like the withdrawal of several companies from it in favour of India, the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the emergence of Indo-Pacific and the troubles in the South China Sea. Impelled by these factors China decides to rake up the longstanding border issue with India since it is the biggest obstacle in the realization of CPEC and China’s free sailing in the Indian Ocean. China’s troubled relations with the South East Asian states over the control of South China Sea, the reduction of APEC vis a vis the newly forged Indo-Pacific and the strategic forum QUAD further increase the significance of CPEC which will remain an unrealisable dream until India approves which is a distant possibility. Now China is willing to execute a forcible solution that has caused border skirmish at Galwan, Ladakh on June 15, 2020. However, the Chinese failure to carry out its plan and large military built up in the area will keep the two states at toes for some time. To understand the nature of strained relations between the two the history would provide a better insight.

Line of Actual Control (LAC)

India and China share 3488 kms. long borders The border is not fully demarcated and the process of clarifying and confirming the Line of Actual Control is in progress. McMohan line (850 kms. or 550 miles) drawn by British in 1914 at Simla determines the borders in the east. But it was not signed by the Chinese representative at Simla conference and never accepted by China. The dispute between the two states in Ladakh over Aksai Chin owes to the British failure to demarcate a clear border line between the empire (India) and China. During the time of British rule in India, two border lines were proposed known as Johnson’s Line and McDonald Line. The Johnson’s line (proposed in 1865) shows Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir i.e. under India’s control whereas McDonald Line (proposed in 1893) places it under China’s control.

In the western sector at the borders of Ladakh the two states have overlapping claims of Line of Actual Control. British stuck to the Johnson Line drawn in 1865 in view of Soviet expansion from north that places the disputed Aksaichin (occupied by China in 1962) with India. Against it China follows the Zhou Enlai line of 1959 (based on Macartney-Mcdonald Line drawn by British in 1899) that runs to the south of Aksaichin. Zhou was the first to use the term LAC in 1959 but Indian Prime Minister Nehru had rejected it since it was coined by Enlai after occupying several hundred kilometres of Indian land. Later after the war Zhau Enlai line of 1959 also stands altered to the south taking more of Indian territory during the 1962 war. However, the term ›LAC‹ has gained currency and legal recognition in Sino-Indian agreements signed in 1993 and 1996. The 1996 agreement states, »No activities of either side shall overstep the line of actual control. However clause number 6 of the 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas mentions, "The two sides agree that references to the line of actual control in this Agreement do not prejudice their respective positions on the boundary question« (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India: »Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas 1993«. https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/6534).

China claims whole of the state of Arunachal Pradesh (eastern sector) from where it pulled back its forces in 1962 unilaterally. According to India China has forcefully occupied about 43,180 sq. kms. of territories in the Aksai Chin area of Jammu and Kashmir including 5,180 sq. kms. illegally ceded to China by Pakistan under the Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement in 1963. Against this China lays claim over 90,000 sq. kms. of territory, mostly in Arunachal Pradesh and about 2000 kms. of area in the Middle Sector (the Indian provinces of Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh). As per the broader understanding reached in 2005 the two sides had agreed that due care shall be taken of the populated areas while the settlement of the unfinished task of borders. However, China has consistently overlooked the commitment while dealing with Tawang and villages in Ladakh at LAC. China still claims areas to the south of Macartney-Mcdonald Line like Pangong Tso and Galwan.

The current standoff took place at Pangong Tso (lake) and Galwan. The Sirijap range that erects around the lake downthrows several cliffs jutting out named fingers. These are 8 in number. India controls Fingers 1 to 4 while its LAC claim line extends to Finger 8. Against it PLA’s patrol teams normally come up to finger 6. Since India decided to raise observatory post at Finger 8 PLA’s patrolling team this time didn’t withdrew from finger 4 and raised structures and bunkers leading to scuffle on May 4 and 5, 2020. The second dispute started over a 60-metre long bridge being built by India in the Depsang Plains across the Galwan rivulet. This point is close to the confluence of the rivulet to the Shyok River. This bridge, once complete, would give soldiers easy access to Daulat Beg Oldie, the last military post south of the Karakoram Pass. The Galwan violence took place at PP 14 which is in Indian side but quite close to LAC.

The Historical Legacy and the Deviations

China had border disputes with about 14 states and it has so far settled almost all of them except few with India or Taiwan. The reasons are not far to be noticed. The question of Tibet ails the bilateral understanding between the two. China’s policy of exercising control over Tibet is centuries long as it has controlled it intermittently in the past. Historically, it has laid claim to Tibet as it walked out of the Simla Conference held on July 14, 1914, thus denying the British doctrine of McMahon line. The same did the later regimes and the onus to settle the issue lies more with India than China. Against this India has placed the things as they received from the British, which the former would disagree to approve (Harish K. Thakur: »India’s Foreign Policy under the New BJP regime«. Journal of Polity and Society. University of Kerala, Vol. 9, No 2, July-December 2017).

China, Tibet and Mongolia have baffling patches of history overlapping in dominance, resistance and subjugations. Tibet was overcome by Yuan dynasty in mid-thirteenth century followed by a series of foreign incursions from English, Sikhs, Nepalese and Mongolians. »Historically China’s regions of Tibet and Xinjiang had been considered as its soft underbelly where China had been repeatedly hit by the expanding empires be it Russian or the British in India or the Mongols or Muslims from the North-West Asia or the nomadic warlords from Central Asia. In more recent period, Western powers had come to be communist China’s sworn enemies. Indeed, from the very inception of communism in the former Soviet Union their opposition had been the guiding force in their decision to support the KMT government against China’s Communists and this was to become the most critical determinant of New China’s world view after its liberation in 1949«. (Swaran Singh: »China-South Asia: Issues, Equations, Policies«. New Delhi: Lancer’s Books, 2003, p 331)

China followed its legacy of dominance and expansion and Tibet became its first victim soon after independence in 1948. It showed to the world that China is not going to compromise over the issues relating to its history and territories it owned in the past. In case of India it dealt more diplomatically expanding territorially and signing ›Panchsheel‹ the principles of non-aggression and non-interference (Harish K. Thakur: »India China Relations in Modi Regime«, Political Discourse. Vol. 2, No.1, June 2016). This has been its policy since early fifties till date towards India and it was India’s failure to avail opportunities to settle the borders in Ladakh and in the east when it passed recognition to Chinese annexation of Tibet. The current May 2020 border stalemate between India and China at Galwan, Pangong Tso and Depsang falls in this western zone of Ladakh.

Due to the changed world view and lack of consistency in policies towards India China has frequently deviated from the commitments it made earlier through Panchsheel in 1954 and then through different agreements of 1993, 1996, 2005 and 2012 as a process of confidence building measures (CBMs). It not only violated the Panchsheel spirit by infringing the Indian borders in the fifties but also the 1996 agreement of Peace and Tranquility several times. The current border standoff and violence on June 15, 2020 was preceded by the one in Sikkim at Naku La in May 2020 and Doklam in 2017 (Swaran Singh: »China-South Asia: Issues, Equations, Policies«. See above.) Between 2008 and 2014 only, more than 600 border intrusions were noticed. So China has been following a deliberate policy of keeping pressure on Indian borders in order to translate other objectives like CPEC into realities.

There has been a visible transformation in the policy stand of China against India in the late nineties as it became more vociferous about its stance on eastern and western sectors of Indian borders. Chinese soldiers have frequently intruded into Indian territories (about 600 times from 2010 to 2013) in both the sectors leading to unarmed skirmishes and violence ending up in the causalities of 20 Indian soldiers and much more on the Chinese side at Galwan on June 15, 2020. In 2013 Foreign Secretary of India Shyam Saran, who was Chairman of National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) had informed the UPA government that PLA had set a new LAC, thus occupying about 640 sq. kms. of Indian territory of eastern Ladakh. This land grab happened after India’s signing of Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) 2013 and ›Border Peace Agreement 2012‹ with China. They also forced the J&K border road authorities on November 29, 2009 to stop work over the construction of a road under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme at Demchok in South East Leh (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. »Border Peace Agreement 2013«. Last accessed on June 17, 2020).

Even in Sikkim that China virtually accepted as part of India in 2003 it is raking up the border issue by committing several incursions over the years. It is also trying to press Thimpu for the exchange of two posts which near the state of Sikkim. On June 16, 2008 Chinese troops almost entered more than one kilometer inside the Indian territory in the northern most point of Sikkim called Finger Point (Sudha Ramchandran: »China toys with India’s Border«. South Asia. June 27, 2008, see also at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/JF27Df01.html). In August 2007 China also had demanded removal of two Indian bunkers at Batang La near India-Bhutan-China Tri-Junction. Interestingly, as per 1890 Anglo-Chinese Convention that defined the border between Tibet and Sikkim Beijing had no objections till now. But now its insistence to move the line southward along Torsa Nala seems to be guided by its desire to gain advantage over the Chumbi Valley under Indian control. On October 10, 2007 when India refused to remove the bunkers China called it the violation of ›Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity‹ signed in 1993. It accused India of building ›facilities‹ on the Indian side of the border (Pushpita Das: »India Has to be Wary of Chinese Intrusions«, at http://www.idsa.in/idsastrategiccomments/IndiahastobewaryofChineseIntrusions_PDas_191007). Later in 2013 at DBO and 2014 at Damchok border standoffs were successfully deescalated by the two. The Doklam standoff ended after 73 days. The construction of Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) road irks China as it threatens its Lhasa-Kashgar Highway in Aksaichin and the current Galwan episode is the result of its insistence to stop work on it.

Perspectival Difference

The two sides have come a long way since the early differences and followed certain shifts in their previous stances. Initially an evenness is visible in the Chinese approach since 1960s. While India follows ›one china policy‹ since beginning when it accepted the Tibetan annexation China accepted Sikkim as part of India only in 2003. The Indian demand of Chinese acceptance of ›one India policy’ in 2014 has not met the desired results. The view of Zhou En Lai that a substantial border problem exists between the two was expressed again by Deng Xiaoping in 1981 and Jiang Zemin in 1997. Considering the issue as a colonial legacy China insists on mutual settlement through peaceful means. But in practice it has done the opposite. During the summit talks of 1960, Zhou En Lai not only established officially that a serious border problem exists but also offered a »reciprocal acceptance of present actualities in both sectors and constitution of a boundary commission«. But this had happened when China had built 175 kms of road as part of 1300 kms. long Xingjian-Western Tibet road in Aksaichin till 1957 and had deceitfully occupied hundreds of miles of territory over the border through recurrent incursions thus humiliating India. Almost in the same vein spoke Deng Xiaoping in 1981:

»China has never asked for the return of all the territory illegally incorporated into India by the old colonialists. China suggested that both countries should make concessions, China in the Eastern Sector and India in the Western Sector on the basis of the actually controlled borderline so as to solve the Sino-Indian border question in a package plan.«
(Neville Maxwell: »Sino-Indian Border Dispute Reconsidered«. Economic and Political Weekly. April 10, 1999).

The same opinions are expressed by his successor Jiang Jemin (President from 1993 to 2003) who also expressed the willingness of the China to resolve the dispute based on mutual trust and concessions. It is worth noting that China dissociates the independent Indian governments from the British Indian government who had never settled the borders with China. The undefined borders, which the two have inherited, need to be settled vigorously and for this China would employ all the means its domestic strength allows. In the case of India the deliberate pending of the resolution serves China’s additional purpose too i.e. keeping India preoccupied with regional and domestic problems to stall its economic growth. In the struggle for hegemony in Asia and the future prospects of $62 billion CPEC India poses a major threat to China.

However, in the post-Deng period the foreign policy of the early fifties has received a different touch from the new masters who belong to a new generation more sensible to the post-cold war neo-globalised world. »The New leadership (Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao President from 2003 to 2013 and Xi Jinping 2013 onwards) is likely to be very pragmatic. Engineers (most of the members of Polit Bureau are engineers) see political issues as problems to be solved based on hard data and hard interests, not as conflicts driven by ideological principles. In many ways, if the larger economic and political context permits, the new leadership is likely to push fundamental reform of the economy dramatically farther than was politically feasible in the Deng period. At a minimum, in the hands of this leadership the era of egalitarian social revolution in China is over (H. Lyman Miller and Liu Xiaohong, »The Foreign Policy Outlook of China’s ›Third Generation‹ Elite,« in David M. Lampton (Ed.). The Making of Chinese Foreign Policy in the Era of Reforms. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), pp.136-137).

Under Xi Jinpin China aims at attaining a superpower status by 2019 and sloganeers for national rejuvenation. Just after becoming General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in late 2012, Xi announced that »the Chinese Dream« is »the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.« China aims at achieving the Two Centenaries: the material goal of China becoming a »moderately well-off society« by 2021, the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, and the modernization goal of China becoming a fully developed nation by about 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic (Kuhn, Robert Lawrence: »Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream«. The New York Times. 4 June 2013).

The Post-Pokharan II Order and India and China

In the post-Pokhran scenario the US has realised the significance of strategic relationships with India. It’s promoting of Pakistan vis-à-vis India in the past to contain USSR in Afghanistan and the Central Asia as also to keep a vigil over China has turned out to be a costly affair. »The recent U.S. approach towards South Asia represents a dramatically successful example of what many believe Washington is congenitally incapable: the capacity to think strategically over the long term and implement complex policies that require diplomatic adroitness and political agility« (Ashley J. Tellis: »The Merits of Dehyphenation: Explaining U.S. Success in Engaging India and Pakistan.« The Washington Quarterly. 31:4, pp. 21–42). With the Indo-US nuclear deal of 2005 it has successfully dehyphenated India and Pakistan in its foreign policy dealings.

After the Pokharan II when Indian Defence Minister George Fernandez declared China as India’s enemy number one the process of dialogue was hindered for some time. However, China didn’t carry the brunt long as it agreed to sit for the dialogue soon. The 2003 visit of Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee to China again reinvigorated the process of dialogue through ›special representatives‹ seeking ‘political solution‹ of the border dispute. The passing of recognition to Sikkim in 2003 as Indian territory and the opening up of the Nathula and Jelepa passes in 2004 for trade were significant developments in Sino-Indian bilateral trade that surpassed the US$10 billion mark for the first time. Another important achievement was the signing of the ›Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity‹ agreement in 2005 by the two. However, practically not much happened on the ground as China kept on pricking the borders through intrusions in both the eastern and western sectors. In 2019, India reiterated that it would not join China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, since it violates the territorial integrity of India as it passes through Pak Occupied Kashmir.

However, the continued Chinese pressure on Indian borders, has gradually forced India to massively rebuild its armed strength. This is tacitly in conformity with the larger US interests in the region. »While Indo-US relations were strained throughout the cold war, when New Delhi was a key member of the Non-aligned Movement, around 1998 an emerging India-United States relationship was clearly recognizable, which the Chinese leadership led to consider potentially dangerous to further stretch tensions with India. Actually, this dynamic is still important as the better the India–United States relationship is, the stronger China wants to build the India-China relationship, and current events like Hu Jintao’s visit to India keep on confirming it as India-China signed wide- ranging joint declaration.« (https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/close-to-hu-visit-china-claims-arunachal/story-ugmGBZjUn7YRgkrpvGwVhJ.html, Last accessed on 8th of March 2010) The widely discussed nuclear deal of US with India has its own ramifications. The deal that provides for the transfer of nuclear fuel and technology to India has turned many eyes sour as it goes against the much adored NPT regime. It not only evoked criticism throughout the world but even in India and US itself thus making the path uncomfortable. However, India has emerged as the major strategic partner of the US in the region and the strategic equations in Asia have significantly transformed.

In the last two decades India has been the largest importer of arms. The exports from the United States to India have jumped 557% in 2013-17 as compared to 2008-12. India spent more than $100 billion on buying new weapons and systems during 2008-17, with imports accounting for around 60-65% of the country’s military requirements (Hindustan Times. March 12, 2018). Over five years from 2015 to 2019, international arms exports grew by 5.5 per cent from 2010-2014 period. The latest data on global arms transfer by SIPRI shows that Indian arms imports have come down significantly (by 32%) since 2015, indicating that the ›Make in India‹ initiative is gaining ground but the country is still ranked as the world’s second biggest weapons buyers, just behind Saudi Arabia. In March 2020 India-US inked a $3billion arms deal that shows a considerable increase in US supplies to India against Russia whose exports to India have come down significantly in recent years.

Despite of the CBMs China has expressed concern over the Indian defence built-up and massive modernization programme, which it sees as a major threat to Chinese hegemony in the region. In the light of the Indo-US nuclear deal of 2005 and the subsequently improved Indo-US military ties and strategic engagements China has been strengthening its relations with Indian neighbours, especially Pakistan, Srilanka and Nepal. If we take the policy analysis of China in the last two decades, one thing is visible that Beijing is adopting a two-pronged approach towards India. First it wants to engage India in strategic alliances and economic forums like Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) counterproductive of the US moves in the region and at the same time not allowing India having a free trail in the region. This fear of China induces it to keep the borders burn and overburden the Indian defence expenditure.

The Need for CBMs

The contemporary geopolitical and strategic dynamics of the world demand for the rational mutual adjustments and measures of building mutual trust and confidence. The relations between India and China have witnessed an era of confrontation and thaw. The major questions that India and China face today must be addressed by entering into strong Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). The key areas regarding this are the military modernization plans of India and China. The two sides had moved strongly in this direction when they signed an agreement for the ›Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility‹ in 1993 to de-escalate tensions along the Line of Actual Control. (Article I of the agreement says, both sides agreed to de-escalate tension across the LAC and solve the issue through ›peaceful and friendly consultation‹. According to Article II, both countries are to reduce military forces based on the ›principle of mutual and equal security‹ to ceilings to be mutually agreed. Article VIII provides for verification and supervision of such force reduction measures. Article III calls for prior notification of military exercises near the LAC. Article IV, provides for ›friendly consultations‹ between border personnel along the LAC.) In addition, it calls for adequate safeguards against violations of LAC. The 1996 agreement was developed on the 1993 agreements. It reiterated several provisions of the 1993 agreement, but went a step further in specifying dos and don’ts on the LAC.

The post-Pokhran era, when Indian Defense Minister and Prime Minister sought justifications for the tests pointing towards China as the major threat to India, was followed by about a two years deadlock in bilateral negotiations. However, China placated India about its apprehensions about nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, a development of major concern from Indian security point of view. In Feb 1999 China’s Ambassador to India Zhou Gang remarked »all cooperation between China and Pakistan in the field of nuclear energy is under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards« (L.I. Sahoxlan. Available at http://www.ipcs.org/article_details.php?articleNo=1906). He also noted that China was well aware of the Indian concern about China’s nuclear and missile assistance to Pakistan and has taken a ›positive, flexible and pragmatic approach and made proper readjustments of certain policies concerned‹.

In the track was yet another significant event in 2003 when after about a decade Indian Prime Minister Mr. Vajpayee during his visit to Beijing stated that China was not a threat to India. The two states also appointed special representatives in order to impart momentum to border negotiations that have lasted twenty two years, with the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary becoming India’s political level negotiator, replacing the India-China JWG. India and China also decided to hold their first joint naval exercise later in the year and discussions on joint air exercise continue. India also acknowledged China’s sovereignty over Tibet and pledged not to allow anti-China political activities in India. On its part, China has acknowledged India’s 1975 annexation of the former monarchy of Sikkim by agreeing to open a trading post (Nathu La) along the border with the former kingdom and later rectify official maps to include Sikkim as part of India (ibid.). In its consistent goodwill collaboration India keeps on reiterating its ›one China‹ policy on Taiwan and it also helped in the smooth passage of the (Beijing) Olympic torch peacefully. Indian Defense Minister Mr. Pranob Mukherjee and Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh also visited China twice in 2008 -- once bilaterally and the second time to attend the ASEAN summit. UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi also visited the communist country during the Olympics. In turn, the Chinese Defense Minister and Prime Minister Hu Jintao have also paid goodwill visits to India. In the following years the Modi-Xi Jinping chemistry has also worked well until the Doklam episode in 2017 and the current Galwan standoff of May 2020.

During his stint of Chief Miinistership of the state of Gujarat Narender Modi had developed good relations with China and after coming to power in 2014 he showed great interest in improving the ties and accentuate trade relations to a new height. Modi went to China five times and met Xi Jinping 18 times at different world platforms. Modi-Xi’s famous ›Swing diplomacy‹ in Ahmadabad was considered to be an event of great consequence but the Doklam standoff that ended after 73 days the future prospects were shadowed. Even after Doklam the duo showed great congeniality in October 2019 at Mahabalipuram in Chennai. However, when Wuhan passed the Covid 19 to the world in December 2019 and India was one of the worst affected states (that maintained silence over Chinese negligence) China showed its character of betrayal and aggressed upon the Indian borders in western sector of Ladakh but to get a befitting reply as it had to withraw at Galwan after the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi and India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s conversations of July 5, 2020. Doklam and Galwan are the two events that have finally derailed the process of CBMs indefinitely.

On the trade front too, keeping aside the Covid 19 and Galwan effects, the relations between China and India are on the upswing. China emerged as the largest goods trading partner of India in 2008, a position which it continues to hold. Since the beginning of the previous decade, bilateral trade between the two countries recorded exponential growth. In 2011, bilateral trade reached US$ 73.9 billion, before dipping to US$ 66 billion in 2012 and rebounding to US$ 71.65 in 2015. For last three years, the bilateral trade has registered robust two-digit growth. For the year 2018, bilateral trade increased by 13.34 % year-on-year to reach US$ 95.7 billion, with India’s exports rebounding to US$ 18.83 billion registering positive growth of 15.21 % year-on-year after 3 years’ continuous decline and growth of 39.11% in 2017. In 2018 India’s imports from China grew by 12.89% to US$ 76.87 billion while the trade deficit widened to $ 58.04 billion (»India China Trade and Economic Relations«. EOI, Beijing. 2019 https://www.eoibeijing.gov.in/economic-and-trade-relation.php). Although, the Indian trade deficit is huge yet Indian dependence on China makes it important that the two should deescalate the border tensions.

What could be done?

The border impasse is old between India and China but the recent standoff has something more. While the world reels under the pandemic the China’s aggression on the border is to divert the attention of the world since it is having a huge world backlash in the wake of Covid 19 virus that spread from Wuhan. The demand for a probe into the origin of the virus intensifies and the decision of WHO to probe the origin of the Covid 19 and Chinese complicity unnerves China. In the post-Covid 19 order, after the much damaged world economy, China sees a leadership role for itself which stands challenged from India in Asia, especially on account of its multi-billion dollar project of CPEC.

While CBMs ensured better growth rate for India the border pricking, territorial assertions and the pandemic bring it down. The recent geostrategic calculations over the prospects of Kashmir after its complete merger with India and CPEC have significantly added to the issue. The two sides had moved cautiously avoiding LAC differences in the nineties. While India had passed recognition to China’s sovereignty over Tibet, China reciprocated by accepting Indian sovereignty over Sikkim by allowing opening of the international trading point at Nathu La (2006). China followed a policy of adjusting on adjustment, a rational and wise one. Immediately after the 1962 war, India passed a parliamentary resolution to fight back every inch of land lost in the war. The same was done by the current government when after the complete merger of Jammu and Kashmir with India and abrogation of article 370 Amit Shah declared in parliament that »we will sacrifice our lives to take Aksiachin and POK back« (Times of India, August 6, 2019). Such legislations sound good unless translated into practice rationally.

The current border standoff vindicates the success of Modi’s foreign policy as world sides with India (US, France, Japan, Australia militarily) against China leaving aside few exceptions. Though, it has faced the brunt at the subcontinental level as Nepal, and Srilanka have tilted towards China. However, there are more reasons behind this as the two states have fallen to Chinese debt trap policy it follows to expand economically. India has to realize this and the sooner the better. The relations with Maldives, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Burma, and the Indian Ocean island states are currently satisfactory. The Chinese concern is about the future of its $62 billion project of CPEC that links Xinkiang province with Gwadar port. It runs through Karakoram area of Pak Occupied Kashmir, an officially claimed territory by India. In 2018 India even turned down the Chinese proposal of changing the name of the project as per Indian wishes. In the wake of the troubled waters in South China Sea and strained ties with Taiwan, South East Asian states and Hong Kong disorder CPEC provides a safe route for China to connect with South Asia, Middle East and Africa. To seek a forcible solution to the disputes by states only reinforces the mutual distrust and armed build up.

Modi government has succeeded in dealing with China and counterbalancing its overtures by equal strength. It has followed a more assertive approach in foreign affairs especially in »Indo-pacific« where it transforms the ›look east policy‹ into ›act east policy‹, secures a deal to build Sabang port of Indonesia near Malacca strait, enters into oil exploration in South China sea with Vietnam and secures an understanding on strategically important Cocos island with Australia. He is the biggest challenge to China’s ambitious BRI project since the road to Indian supremacy in the continent runs through its veins.

Unlike the previous regimes the current Modi government has shown great strength and stubbornness to remain firm on issues of national interest. The Dragon’s logic of ›showing India its place‹ has been thwarted by ›the aggressive lion’s roar‹. It is only under this government that the economically expanding and territorially asserting China has been clipped at Doklam in 2017, Nakula in May 2020 and at Galwan on June 15, 2020. It’s a time when some serious rethinking over India’s China policy requires. While China declares sovereignty over Galwan India should follow the suit. The derecognizing of Tibet as part of China and claiming territories to the north of Aksaichin under Johnson line officially followed by British in 1942; withdrawing from ›one China policy‹ that considers Taiwan as part of PRC; sympathy with citizens of Hongkong should be new zones of interests. Since China occupies territories of Nepal (Rui village and 11 more strategic points), attempts at Sikkim and Bhutan a joint surveillance and monitory system should be devised and the scope of collective deterrence explored. It’s not a time to regret over the developments (as many would prefer due to pandemic) that the country is passing through but we have to endure the global shock and gear up for the right time to strike. The IMF report of April 2020 shows Indian growth rate far above China at 1.9% in 2020 and topping at 7.4% in 2021. This ensures a promising leap from the current state and fast recovery from the Covid 19 hazard and border standoff.

 

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Michael Lersow: Preface to Harish K. Thakur, Understanding the India China Border Fiasco: The Unfair Timing and the Befitting Reply

It seems a little bold that an Indian Professor of Political Science from Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla presents a well articulated and well-grounded view on the Chinese-Indian border conflict. It is in the German (European) interest to find out some background information on this conflict, which has been smoldering for decades, and to get an outlook of the extent and global explosive potential of this conflict between two nuclear powers in the Asian continent.

The starting point of this conflict can certainly be found in the British colonial period. But the influence of the former Soviet Union and its expansion politics can also be seen. At least the British legacy is having an impact and will go far into the future, but this will be fueled massively by the Chinese expansion politics, especially in Asia. The Chinese goal seems to be clearly aimed at hegemony in Asia and the world.

I got to know about Professor Harish K Thakur on Researchgate, an internet platform (social media), on which he stands out due to extremely profound discussions on political, economic and philosophical questions. The view from a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society is different from that from a largely homogeneous society, in which the identity of the vast majority of a society is subject to a certain guarantee.

Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, is a full public university in the capital of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, which is directly adjacent to the conflict areas. Prof. Harish K Thakur has visited the controversial areas between China and India several times and knows the region very well.

What gives the article a very topical meaning is the Covid 19 pandemic, which has hit India hard and led China into an economic crisis after years of rapid growth. In the future, India, as the world’s largest democracy, could play a much larger role in trade relations with Europe and the European Union than before. Indian professionals are welcome. However, India must also strive to create a new development strategy if it wants to tie up international capital on a large scale.

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