RSTV - India ' s World: India-China Ties


Anchor : Frank Rausan Pereira
Speakers : Skand Tayal, Former Diplomat ; B.R. Deepak,.Professor, Center of Chinese & Southeast Asian Studies ; Commodore (R) Uday Bhaskar, Director, Society for Policy Studies

Importance of this Episode:

  • External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj is on a 4-day visit to China. She discussed a host of bilateral issues and ways to step up high-level interactions to improve the relationship. Swaraj arrived to take part in the Foreign Ministers meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Following the Doklam standoff last year, both countries increased dialogue to scale down tensions and improve relations with talks at various levels.
  • This meeting comes in the wake of another meeting between National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, and the top official of the ruling Communist Party, Yang Jiechi in Shanghai. During their talks, the two sides announced that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, would hold an important summit later in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
  • This edition of India’s world will analyse the state of ties between India and China.

Analysis by the Experts:

We have seen several high-level visits from India to China, thus are we moving towards a resetting of ties after what happened in Doklam? It is believed that after the Doklam, there has been a lot of rethinking both in India and China. Since February 2018, one has seen that there have been several new initiatives and several new actions. India’s Foreign Secretary also went to China on 22nd of February, 2018 and he had meetings not only with his counterpart but also with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and State Counsellor, Yang Jiechi. Post this, India’s national security advisor, Mr Ajit Doval had also gone there, thus there have been several initiatives. Also, Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent statement that the Indian elephant and the Chinese dragon can dance together and that there is a lot of synergies and that they can work together indicates on both sides a desire to look at things afresh and now this is really a bold initiative on part of leaders of both the countries- to come together on the 27th and 28th of April to discuss issues. In the press statement they have issued, they have mentioned regarding an “overarching, long-term perspective for the future of India-China relations”. This indicates that the two sides will not go too much into the nitty-gritty and will look at the broader region of the Indo-Pacific. This is because, again and again, a question arises whether the Indo-Pacific region will be unipolar or bipolar or multipolar in nature. What India’s role is in the region? And once there is some kind of agreement on that, it is only then that the future will be decided, whether it will be cooperation, competition or confrontation or a mix of all the three.

If we begin to understand as to what has led to the change in attitude on both sides- we realize that if we review the events from Doklam of last year to where we are now, we begin to realize that a certain sense of anxiety and concern is creeping in both countries- that the entire global grid, is going through various kinds of turbulence, starting with the United States of America and the fact that Donald Trump has acted in a manner which was against the “standard script” of how great powers would normally conduct themselves. We also have the US- Russia dimension, meaning the kind of tension that has prevailed between Moscow and Washington on a number of issues and this has been compounded to a certain degree by the events in West Asia; particularly in Syria which has often been glossed over.  Security analysts feel that the recent events in Syria and the alleged use of chemical weapons represent a very serious kind of transgression. Whether or not it actually happened and who used it is a matter of detail, but it is important to point out as to what is happening around us at the global level.

Concurrently, when we look at Asia, we find a cause for hope as far as the Korean Peninsula is concerned, but that is not a done deal as yet. Apart from the security and strategic dimension, there has also been turbulence on the trade front. The world seems to be moving towards greater ‘protectionism’. We have a huge challenge in front of us in the form of climate change which is a really big global issue. In fact, just the pollution levels in the global oceans are a huge concern. Thus, there were many developments at the global level that needed some kind of stock-taking. It is believed that whatever be the nature of the global challenge or the nature of the global opportunity, India and China need to have some degree of consensus; they may not agree, but they must have consultations in a strategic sense, and they must have a consensus about how to deal with these situations.

But can India and China put aside their differences and work together at some level? As far as differences are concerned, some consensus was reached in Astana and this was reiterated even at the BRICS summit post-Doklam that we would not like our differences to become a dispute. There is a possibility that India and China can work around their differences, which is also precisely why this summit is happening between India and China. The regional and the global configuration of the present day, plus the fact that the India-China bilateral talks post-Doklam has taken place, has yielded in this summit to take place. Also, pertaining to the issue of the trade war between USA and China; the recent sanctions imposed by the USA on one of China’s largest telecom companies, namely, ZTE, has shocked China.

Thus, it is these things when taken together along with the India-China bilateral engagement that the India-China relationship is one of the most important relationships of the 21st Century.  This has been recognized and a certain amount of rebalancing is required for this to take shape. At least the future of this relationship needs to be chalked down. India can then engage with China on a win-win cooperation basis in areas such as trade and commerce.

India also needs to take advantage of China’s 40 years of reform experience- this is because China is completing 40 years of its reforms later this year. In the process of this 40 years of reform, China has accumulated huge capital and have accumulated huge experience while making huge strides even in areas such as technology. It is in these areas that India and China can build their capacities for the future.

Many sections in India have asked as to why this summit is taking place now? Perhaps there is a domestic political dimension also. It is significant that this is the first meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping, particularly after President Xi has been re-elected in such a substantive manner. After his election, he was described by some sections as ‘Emperor for Life’.  For Prime Modi, his administration is in the last lap before elections commence again next year, 2019. Both sides realize the need to consolidate when they have a certain degree of trust or comfort with each other.

The areas of cooperation between both India and China can be many, but ultimately, if it is a meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping to really understand the future of India-China relations and where they are going- then one has to take into account the fact that China is essentially a revisionist power. China is looking for long-term strategic hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region and short-term, economic hegemony through its BRI (Belt Road Initiative).  In all of this, China has a very clear vision of where she is heading.  Ultimately, India is a status-quo power, and China is trying to change the status-quo of India incrementally and a well-planned way whether it is Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Tensions at the borders foul the atmosphere of the bilateral relations between India and China. When President Xi Jinping visited India in 2014, there was a sense of euphoria in the media, that one is going to see a wave of changes in the relationship between India and China. But unfortunately, this has not happened. Even now just before the visit of PM Modi to Wuhan, China, there are a lot of expectations. Now, it is natural for expectations to be high given the sheer size of both the countries; India is one of the fastest-growing economies of the world; thus there is a huge potential for these expectations to be realized. It is important to note that borders are not the only security concern now; the security boundary between India and China is not limited to just the borders between India and China. It also includes Maritime Security. It also includes areas such as piracy and terrorism. Thus, the interests of India and China in terms of whichever security paradigm we are looking into will continue to overlap.  Thus, summits at multiple levels will help. The dialogue mechanisms between India and China currently are very scarce- thus such summits will definitely help.

India and China really need to institutionalize the dialogue mechanism. We really need to reset this relationship- covering all areas such as trade, investment, people-to-people contacts at various levels and see as to how we can build capacities. Building capacities would be the crux of the relationship as far as India is concerned. It is in this area that we can truly be partners of China.

From October 1962 since the Indo-China war, to where we are now currently after 56 years, there has been no movement at all.

It is important to note that former Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao’s visit to Beijing resulted in the signing of the very important “Peace and Tranquility Agreement” on the India-China border in 1993.

The good thing is that since this agreement, not a shot was fired in anger between both the sides. Even during the pressing situation at Doklam, both sides did not resort to firing, testing the resilience of the agreement in the process. But, there is a trust deficit. For example, there is a belief that Beijing conducts its policy particularly in collusion with Pakistan, which has been detrimental to India’s interests. Examples that further attest this is the role played by China in blocking India’s entry into the NSG. This is also extendable to the issue of Hafeez Saeed, and the way China has taken a stand on that. Also, this present bilateral meeting between PM Modi and President Xi Jinping has been put together at a very short notice.

Thus, there appears to be a greater kind of realism on both sides. India and China will not be able to arrive at a consensual territorial dispute resolution and accommodation unless there is political will. This cannot be achieved by cartographers. Going forward, India and China’s relationship may continue to be in the realm of uncertainty as both countries would be wary of each other. Also, flashpoints should not be there between the two countries. It is also suggested that PM Modi should ask President Xi Jinping as to what is his vision of Pakistan. Does China want an Islamised, militarized, a very backwards looking Pakistan? Also, what would be the implications for Afghanistan? Ultimately, it boils down to the fact whether or not China is a well-wisher of India, or does China want to contain India and keep it bottled in South Asia? It is suggested that the important take away from this visit of PM Modi to China is being able to give a signal to various constituencies inside China as well as inside India that they need to engage in a pragmatic, constructive way so that frictions are done away with and a stage is set for a robust India-China partnership for the future.

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