Reality-check on Present State of India-China Relations

The Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh has just returned from an official three day visit to China from January 15-18, 2008. On his return to India the spin-masters of the Indian policy establishment got busy giving unwarranted spins to a visit that brought no forward movement in India-China relations and especially the most controversial issue of the boundary settlement.

Every time China and India exchange high level political visits the references to the settlement of the border dispute are cloaked in worn-out clich's that both leaders have expressed their determination to reach a settlement of the border dispute by putting into effect mechanisms to accelerate the dialogue and raising the level of discussions.

The present visit of the Indian Prime Minister to China this month was no exception and similar rhetorical outpourings followed in official statements. The China lobby within India and in the think tanks would like Indians to believe that the Chinese style of negotiations on complex issues is painstaking and therefore slow. Therefore from China one can expect only incremental forward movement in changes in China's foreign policy formulations and attitudes toward India. If that be so then why do Indian political leaders become so voluble in painting rosy pictures of their official exchanges with Chinese leaders when the latter mare more reticent in their assertions on this issue. And the second most important point is whether India is content with incremental changes in China's policies and not resort to exploration of alternative options which are available.

In my Column of August 4, 2007 entitled 'China Re-asserts Antagonistic Postures Towards India' the following major observations were made:

  • China's needling and antagonistic postures against India (and these were outlined) were being pursued in tandem with rhetorical assertions of China's sincere desire for friendship with India and settlement of outstanding issues.
  • The China lobby in India was making much of the new approaches initiated by China in its India policies.
  • China stands rattled by the enhancement of India's strategic profile in the global strategic calculus and views in this an inherent possibility of an impediment in China's quest for challenging the established status-quo of the global strategic power equations.
  • China's latest manifestations of antagonistic postures towards India can be read as arising from the intensification of the US-India Strategic Partnership.
  • India should consequently expect that China would linger on the boundary settlement with India and use it as a strategic pressure-point against India along with its India containment policies.

A reality check of the present state of China- India relations against the backdrop of the above would indicate the following :

  • Despite many assertions on the boundary issue China continues to refuse to exchange maps with India on their boundary alignment.
  • India is every time told that the framework and the guiding principles have to be first formulated as if to say that more than a decade which has passed was not enough when the first discussions on these aspects were first touched upon
  • Recent reports from Indian official circles indicate that Chinese troops made more than 300 incursions into Indian Territory in the last two years.
  • Chinese troops demolished Indian bunkers in the vicinity of the junction of India-Bhutan border.
  • Chinese academics have begun forcefully reiterating that China-India boundary settlement is not possible until India agrees to compromise by handing over Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in India to China.

To the above list needs to be added that China still continues to be ambivalent and is not explicit in asserting that it would not oppose India's Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council and that it would not oppose the passage of the India 'US Nuclear Deal in the Nuclear Suppliers Group negotiations. The latter has been commented as such by the Indian Prime Minister on his return from China that he could not get any firm guarantees from China on that score.

China has also not given any indications that it is now inclined to recast its South Asia policies that impinge on India's strategic sensitivities and pose a threat to India's national security interests with special reference to its nexus with Pakistan

Overall, the present picture of China-India relations is neither promising nor optimistic as sought to be made out by most Indian strategic analysts. It is forgotten by them that with India's growing strategic salience in global affairs and India's strategic and military buildup, China 'India relations are no longer a one-way street. China needs to recognize that any future Chinese foreign policy formulations must take this into account.

Concluding one would like to emphasize that India should strive to forge a friendly and co-operative relationship with India but at the same time keeping its strategic guard against China in a high state of vigilance and alertness.

India's political leadership, its policy establishment and its strategic community should not be overtaken by romanticism generated by China's rhetorical flourishes and in the process become oblivious to the lessons of the history of China-India relations and the strategic vagaries therein.


More by :  Dr. Subhash Kapila

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