Sino-Indian Equation: Time for a Reset
Arun Sahgal

India’s China policy has been marked by friendship, sentimentalism, fear, diffidence, appeasement, brinksmanship, wishful thinking and engagement. Of late, despite positive political overtures, there are undercurrents of growing negativism in the relations.

Indo-China bilateral relations need to be framed from geo-strategic perspective of the two countries and their behaviour. China sees and behaves as a global and pre-eminent power in Asia as well as in its relations with India, thus fall within the framework of engagement in terms of maintaining favourable strategic balance.

In this context, it is important to understand that countries along Chinese periphery be it South, Southeast or East Asia are facing China's growing political and economic influence backed by not so nuanced military power. As a result, policy decision making of these states carry a strong context of Chinese intimidation not so much on account of direct Chinese challenge but due to strong commercial and economic linkages that are imperative for the regional sustainable development. Hence, none of these countries want to be viewed as antagonistic towards China and have in many forms begun to compromise and make concessions to China. Increasingly, this same pressure is felt worldwide; the balance of power is clearly changing in favour of China, particularly in Asia. It is also clear that Chinese are aware of this transforming phenomenon and can be in a sense seen as the rationale and logic of Chinese assertive behaviour towards Southeast, East or South Asian countries.

In so far as India is concerned, Chinese have begun to look at India not only in terms of potential economic rival, but also more importantly as a link in ‘Asian Rim China containment strategy’ being put in place by America, as it begins to reassert its power in Asia. Consequently, Chinese perception of India having become a close strategic partner of the United States appears to be making it to use its regional leverages to coerce Indian leadership on the futility of such an idea (if one exists in the first place) and induce bilateral relationship on terms favourable to China. A corollary can be seen in the massive Chinese infrastructural investments in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK); upping its stakes on the Jammu & Kashmir issue in favour of Pakistan; denying of visa to Indian military commander of J&K; as well as stapling of Visas of J&K citizens of India are clearly intimidation tactics. Similarly, China’s inroads into Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh also fall in the same category; no doubt our shabby political and economic handling has also been a contributory factor.

On the other hand, Indian perception of Indo-China relations is primarily bilateral, thus Indo- China relations are seen in tactical terms of resolving bilateral differences, building partnerships and common approach on ‘global commons’. The idea is to manage the differences and build on common concerns and convergences. Although the two nations have called for common approaches on climate change, energy security, food security, and restructuring institutions of global governance, contradictions on boundary and Tibet issue remain. The changing Chinese perspective on Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir; the unresolved boundary issue such as Arunachal Pradesh, where despite fourteen rounds nothing tangible beyond the exchange of maps, has emerged as sore points in Indo-China relations.

The question is how India can rearrange its relations with China to put it on an even keel. First and foremost issue is to understand the perspective of this relationship.

The primary function is to figure out that while boundary is part of India’s core security concern, for China, it is connected to its (inflated) apprehensions about Tibet and its overland strategic infrastructure (i.e. road and rail links, port development). Because they form a part of Chinese policy of strategic periphery consolidation to secure and utilise potential geo-economic opportunities in the future, as it strives to improve its underdeveloped southern and western China. Further, it is Taiwan in East Asia and Han heartland which are China’s primary concerns and they are several thousand miles away from the Indian heartland as well as practically out of Indian military ambit. Continuing with the previous argument, China possesses more leverage over India’s core interests’ vis-à-vis India’s control over Chinese core interests. It is imperative that India ought to address this dichotomy so as to balance its relationship and prevent any predatory exploitation by its neighbours who are prone to use China as leverage against India.

The second bone of contention between India and China is the boundary issue. The dispute not only caused a brief war in 1962, but also continues to be a thorn in the relationship. However, the important aspect is that the hurried manner in which India attempts to resolve the dispute is problematic. Confidence Building Measures (CBM) including political parameters in resolving the dispute have by and large maintained peace along the disputed boundary despite occasional transgression. It is futile to continually harp on early settlement, in fact, an attitude of nonchalance and indifference would force China to rethink its strategy on boundary issue. It also must be added that the steps India is taking to upgrade both its military and infrastructural posture over period of time will create a dynamics for resolution.

On Twang and Arunachal Pradesh, India must maintain its unambiguous stand of no compromise on its sovereign territories. If the issue is to be discussed during negotiations, then India should also reopen the question of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. This is not to suggest that we should adopt a tit for tat strategy but to make the Chinese understand that they should also be equally sensitive to our concerns.

Jammu and Kashmir – Kashmir areas – as alluded to by our Foreign Secretary during a recent address, we must be able to clearly define that this as our redline and state publicly to our visitor that Jammu and Kashmir territory is integral part of India, hence Chinese investments in the infrastructural facilities and maintaining of duplicity in its stand on Kashmir is unacceptable. In fact, India should gently remind the Chinese Premier about the future of Shaksgam Valley. Unclear strategy and infirmities in stating our positions has cost us dear for long. A degree of firmness and clarity of Indian perspective would go a long way in conveying Indian stand and resolve.

Apart from China’s positions over India’s territorial concerns, the issues of proliferation and terrorism remain alive. China’s clandestine transfer of sophisticated nuclear technology to Pakistan and its continued assistance for its nuclear programme are of serious consequence to India. In addition, Chinese strategy of over-looking Pakistan’s role in harbouring and sponsoring global terror networks need to engaged. The time has come for India to state its position of unacceptability in regard to Chinese policies and the necessity of reversing them as they detrimental to India’s interests. An improved and positive relationship with China is possible only if it understands and responds to issues that are vital to India. Even though Pakistan remains China’s most important strategic partner, continuance of the same strategies can jeopardise Chinese security sooner than later. The growing terror networks have already reached Chinese doorsteps in the volatile Xinxiang region.

Another vital issue in India-China relations has been the widening imbalance in their economic interactions. While most observers including official statements have lauded the $60 billion trade, an objective assessment of the actual Sino-Indian ‘interdependence’ would reveal an uncomfortable imbalance which cannot either be eulogised or deplored in our China discourse. China accounts approximately for about 20 per cent of India’s overall trade deficit and acquired an important position as a leading supplier of telecommunications and power equipment for Indian companies. This facilitated China to acquire a certain level of leverage over India’s development. In contrast, India exports natural resources, for instance iron ore comprises 44 per cent of exports to China, to feed the ever growing and expanding furnaces of Chinese industries. If this remains unchecked, the possibility of this leverage being transferred to the political sphere remains high.

It is important that India clearly seeks from China to open its markets and provide Indian companies a level playing field. If reports in the newspapers are to be believed, China’s cost advantage in terms of labour and other input costs is petering and Indian entrepreneurs are beginning to source more and more indigenously. This should be highlighted and gently reminded that while India opens its infrastructure and telecommunication sector China must reciprocate in Information Technology (IT), pharmaceutical and others sectors which are India’s mainstay. Therefore, it is high time that India pronounces that it will not only extend a red-carpet welcome but also can pull the same if we were to protect our interests.

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Published Date : 13 December, 2010

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