China and India are the two most populous countries and fastest growing economies in the world. Growth in diplomatic and economic influence has increased the significance of their bilateral relationship. Currently, ties between the two nuclear-armed countries have severely deteriorated due to a military standoff in Doklam last year.
2017 was a comparatively difficult year for China-India relations. With military tensions close to their disputed territories, increasing competition in their neighborhood, and growing strategic mistrust, relations between Beijing and Delhi reached a nadir in 2017. The damage inflicted on the relationship between the two Asian giants needs to be mended in the larger interest of world peace. Hence, Delhi and Beijing must start rethinking and rebuilding their relationship in 2018.
The past year witnessed several episodes that seriously damaged China-India relations and put them on a downward trajectory. Several of these were serious as well as routine, such as the tensions around the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, China’s continued blocking of the bid to designate Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, the Doklam standoff, the scuttling of India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG), the blockade of Indian oil exploration in the South China Sea in Vietnam, India’s refusal to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and an increase in the transgressions by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) along the Sino-Indian territory.
There was a 25-30 per cent increase in transgressions by the Chinese PLA, particularly in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. On an average around 300 transgressions are reported along the China border due to “difference in perception.” Nearly 15 PLA soldiers entered the northern bank of Pangong Lake in Ladakh within Indian Territory in August 2017. Although the situation in the lake area was quickly defused, things may spin out of control and lead to a conflict if more such attempted incursions occur on either side of the 3,488-km border.
When the tensions were running high at the Doklam plateau in Bhutan, around 50 Chinese soldiers breached the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Barahoti, Uttarakhand on 25 July 2017. However, these were minor incursions compared with the five episodes that shook bilateral relations and had serious strategic consequences.
First, was the unprecedented Doklam military standoff, a two-and-a half-month test of wills prompt by China’s construction of a road in the territory adjoining Bhutan, not far from a strategically key section of the Sino-Indian border. The standoff featured unprecedented Indian military involvement in the territorial dispute between two neighbours and a shockingly strong Chinese reaction against India’s firm stand. This included implicit military threats against India and a massive media campaign against New Delhi, the first such campaign against India in decades. While the Doklam standoff was eventually resolved, it has however left a deep sense of mistrust between the two sides.
Second, India’s decision to boycott the BRI summit held in Beijing in May 2017, which even Chinese adversaries such as Japan and the United States attended, was another major blow to China-India relations. To China, the boycott was not only a signal of India’s hostility to its most important international project, but also an affront both to Beijing’s self-image as international leader and, personally, to the BRI’s champion, President Xi Jinping.
The most important immediate reason for this unprecedented snub was the fact that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the crucial Pakistan leg of the BRI, includes projects in POK which India claims, thus legitimising Pakistan’s position on the issue and establishing facts on the ground. However, at a deeper level, India’s decision not to attend the meeting reflected New Delhi’s profound unease with the BRI, a project that in its perception would extend Chinese power in South Asia, encircle India, and bring Beijing and Islamabad even closer.
Third, the development that quietly damaged China-India relations in 2017 was India’s decision last November to join the revived Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a strategic dialogue between the United States, Japan, India, and Australia with a naval component. Beijing has opposed Quad as a potential anti-Chinese alliance of democracies aimed at containing it and checking its maritime rise in the Indo-Pacific. That opposition played a major role in abstaining from the talks. India’s decision to join the resurrected but still somewhat amorphous Quad inevitably reflects its worries about China’s growing power and assertiveness, particularly in the Indian Ocean, and Delhi’s readiness to hedge against them.
Fourth, despite China’s adamant stand against India’s entry into the prestigious Nuclear Supplier’s Group, India announced in May 2017 that it would not stop its efforts to work towards securing the membership of the elite group. Slimming India’s chance of entering the 48-member NSG, China has let it be known that there is no change in its stance on the admission of non-NPT countries into the ‘elite club’.
During a state visit to India in November 2010, President Obama announced U.S. support for India’s participation in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, theWassenaar Arrangement, the Australia Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime, “in a phased manner,” and to encourage the evolution of regime participation criteria to that end, “consistent with maintaining the core principles of these regimes.” During a visit to India in December 2010, French President Sarkozy also expressed his country’s backing for India’s inclusion in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The United Kingdom has for a long time been a supporter of India’s inclusion in the NSG. During his Republic Day visit in January 2015, Mr Obama said that India was ready for NSG membership. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has also offered unconditional support to India’s entry into NSG.
On 6 June 2016 during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Geneva, Switzerland announced its support to India’s membership of the 48 member group. President Obama reiterated US support on 8 June 2016 during Mr Modi’s visit to Washington. Japan has also expressed its support for India’s membership.
Source: By PK Vasudeva: The Statesman