February 27, 2024

Complexities of India-China Relations and the Future Trajectory

If China stands by its often proclaimed conviction that power and influence come through economy and trade, then China has no option but to build bridges of understanding with India.
Keywords: China, India, War, Galwan, Democracy, Ideology, Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, Trade, Economy 
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In the year 2022 much has happened on a global level that holds many lessons not only for warring parties but also for the world at large. In particular, democracies have to do some soul-searching about whether the established parameters are efficacious enough to protect them from armed conflicts and serve their real interests.

Some serious questions arise and these have to be answered. Two of the five permanent superpowers, also members of the Security Council, are not liberal democracies but both are among the highly developed countries. China’s economy is now comparable to the American one in certain respects despite the difference in population size and per capita income. Both countries enjoy enormous influence and clout all over the world. This should be a moment of introspection for the democracies that human well-being and material development are not implicit to democratic ideology. 

Democracy is suited to countries with multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural structures. In authoritarian regimes, minorities of different denominations are bulldozed. While minority issues should not be politicised, the irony is that these generally are. That is why external actors are tempted to whip up the sentiments of the minorities in a neighbouring country.

After independence, India accepted the de facto status of the McMahon line hoping China, too, would follow suit. The Chinese did not raise any border issue during the Bandung Conference where Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru proposed the Panchsheel or Five Points formula as the cornerstone of India-China friendship. India had walked another mile for cementing its friendship with China by surrendering a US offer of the seat of the Asian Continent in the UN Security Council to China. How ironic that despite this magnanimous act, China has opposed India on many issues  of global or regional importance that come up before the Security Council or at the General Assembly of the UN. 

China launched an early incursion against India in her north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, then called the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA).  China illegally grabbed Tibet in 1953 without any resistance from India. The result of India’s blunder about Tibet was that the war of 1962 was imposed on us. Though the Chinese troops voluntarily withdrew from the Indian Territory, which they had seized during the disastrous conflict, the incursion was a prelude to China’s claims to many more areas beyond the McMahon Line, from Arunachal Pradesh right up to Ladakh. China has been intermittently harassing  India on border issues by raising spurious claims. Beijing still asserts that Arunachal Pradesh is a disputed area.

In 1962, China grabbed a vast chunk of the Aksai Chin that belonged to the J&K State. Thereafter, Pakistan ceded more than five thousand square kilometres of the Shaksgam Valley in Aksai Chin to China to facilitate the rail connection between Xinjiang and Tibet. Not satisfied with the overt and covert grabbing of Indian Territory along the border, China has raised claims to vast tracts of Indian territory in Eastern Ladakh. The  skirmishes at Doklam in Bhutan and the Galwan Valley in Ladakh happened while China was building an army and Air Force base close to the international border. The reason for the Galwan brutal clash in Ladakh was the building by India of a network of roads and communication systems close to the ‘Line of Actual Control.’

Many meetings between the field commanders of the Indian and Chinese Armies have not yielded any concrete result so far and the stalemate continues in Ladakh with two hostile armies eyeballing each other. The harsh topography and the biting cold with winter temperatures falling to -30 and -40 degrees Celsius heights of 15,000 to 18,000 feet render the confrontation particularly painful. 

Though both concede that a nuclear war should never be fought, China had been entertaining the illusion that her forces could easily push back the Indian forces as in 1962. However, the Galwan episode in Ladakh and Tawang in Arunachal opened China’s eyes to see for itself that it was not the India of 1962 she would be fighting against. It dawned upon Beijing for the first time that the days of blackmail and bullying were past. A decade of peace would help India to rise to the level of the foremost economies of the world.

Beijing is now trying to mediate between Russia and Ukraine for chieving a ceasefire. The address of China’s high-profile diplomat Wang Yi, the Chairman of the Defence Commission, at the Munich Security Conference appears to sketch the roadmap of China’s new foreign policy since Xi Jinping began his third term as Chairman of the CCP and President of China. If China wants to eclipse the US as the world’s economic leader, she cannot achieve that goal without winning India’s goodwill. China has had a  bitter experience with Pakistan and Chinese diplomats, when asked why they closed their consulate in Islamabad, replied that a state which cannot protect its citizens cannot give them any protection either. 

If China stands by its oft-proclaimed conviction that power and influence come through economy and trade, then China has no option but to build bridges of understanding with India, the world’s largest consumers’ market. This is the verdict of history.

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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