India-China relations: tackling the monster next door

India and China over the last few years have demonstrated a peculiar case of a controlled corporation, in which the convergence of their economic interests tends to mask their prevailing strategic differences. Yet these disagreements, of which the territorial and boundary dispute is foremost, still holds the potential of upstaging ties at any point.

Modi government after coming to power in 2014 has tried to resolve these long-pending border issues with China. But the list of issues is so long and complex like the territorial issue at Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh, or the latest China- Pakistan economic co-operation etc. that it takes only a small issue to flare up quite quickly. So was the case with the military standoff at Doklam in 2017.

The present establishment has tried all in its power to maintain a good relation with China by having a bilateral summit, increasing the trade with China etc. However, India has not been able to utilize its position to reason with China on important strategic matters like not to build an economic corridor in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, as it is technically an Indian territory or to lift off its veto against India’s entry into Nuclear supply group.

Tackling the monster next door

India- China relations are presently in a difficult phase, with each testing the other. The Modi government has energized the Indian foreign policy bureaucracy, which had become moribund in the last few years, and succeeded in giving it a sense of direction.  Internationally, it has taken India out of a reactive non-aligned foreign posture. And operationally, it has been able to carve out a robust China policy, the most important challenge facing India today.

As Jayadeva Ranade, a senior RA&W functionary observed “Exhibiting decisiveness in foreign policy as well as his strong nationalist credentials, PM Modi initiated a phase of hectic diplomacy that sought to re-energies some important relationships and highlight India’s space to manoeuvre.

Clearly, India’s biggest challenge in the coming years will be the uncertainty of geopolitics and the fast-moving diplomatic changes taking place in the Asia-Pacific because of China’s unprecedented rise. So far, Modi and his team have displayed rare resolve and reasonableness in dealing with a more aggressive and assertive China. The test lies in sustaining the policy even as India builds its own military, diplomatic and political strength in the coming years. By the Balakot airstrikes in February 2019, and now the revocation of Article 370, the Modi government has displayed a willingness to break from long-accepted norms in dealing with complex strategic issues.

Way Ahead

The recent visit by Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (MEA) to Beijing has laid the groundwork for President Xi Jinping’s visit later this year for the second Informal Summit after the landmark Wuhan Summit.

The Indian minister has deftly conveyed India’s position on Chinese apprehensions about the abrogation of Article 370 last week. During the second High-Level-Mechanism meeting between his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, who also happens to be the State Councilor, it was made amply clear to the Chinese that the re-organization of the state into two Union Territories had effectively no impact on the Line Of Actual Control (LoAC), the de facto border between China and India.

Additionally, India has made no additional territorial claims. The visit assumes significance in the backdrop of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s visit to Beijing to drum up support for its anti-India rhetoric.

On China urging restraint and bringing up the issue of Pakistan, the Foreign Minister conveyed that India’s internal matter had no bearing on its ties with Pakistan. In a curtly worded Press Release, without naming China, spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had mentioned that it expects other countries to not comment on the internal matters of other countries and respect their territorial sovereignty in a veiled reference to China. While China grapples with the pro-democratic protests in Hong Kong which have shown no signs of relenting, India’s statement which would explicitly mention Hong Kong calling for restraint from all the parties involved in the last thing Beijing would want.

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