Sino-Indian tensions

C
hina and India- the world’s two most populous nations comprise more than one-third of global humanity. Memories of border battles — the most recent in 1962 — fester, and the 4,000-km frontier, which cuts through disputed territory, remains tense.

They share a border, have fought a bitter war and continue to compete for geopolitical supremacy in the region. Political ambitions and distrust on either side have sometimes been at the cost of better economic sense.

Both have a long and chequered history dating back thousands of years. The two neighbours fought a short border war in 1962 and since then, although much water has flowed down the Yangtze, a sense of mistrust has consistently dogged their bilateral ties. Both are shy of each other.

On the positive side, India has been cooperating with China in many areas. It was one of the first countries to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Besides, India and China are part of the BRICS, along with Brazil, Russia and South Africa. They have also teamed up at global forums on climate change to resist demands from developed nations to agree to binding emission cuts. China and India, however, fear that agreeing to binding emission cuts would force them to jettison their ambitious growth targets.

New Delhi is loath to take on Beijing directly. This is seen in the recent case of India cancelling the visa issued earlier to a Uighur activist, Dolkun Isa, the Executive Committee Chairman of the World Uyghur Congress to attend a conference in India. The granting of the visa to the Uighur activist was seen as New Delhi's riposte to being snubbed by Beijing on the Masood Azhar issue. t has shown that New Delhi is wary of upsetting Beijing, especially given its enormous clout at international forums as a permanent Security Council member and NSG entry- both China has blocked.

India and China jointly occupy parts of Jammu Kashmir along with Pakistan. India now asks Pakistan to vacate and hand over Azad Kashmir to India but it has not asked China also do the same. The reason is obvious. In fact, it was Pakistan which always demanded Kashmir region from Indian occupied Jammu Kashmir while India refused to budge and in order to retain Kashmir India even fought war with Pakistan, leading to the creation of LOC. India first acquired nukes followed later by Pakistan, further complicating the tensed situation in the region and bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.

A UN veto member China is possibly the largest global economy while as largest South Asian regional economy India tries to somehow catch the distance. Between Beijing and New Delhi, nonstop flights only run three times a week. There is not a single direct flight between two of Asia’s financial capitals, Shanghai and Mumbai. In 2013, 175,000 Chinese went on holiday in India. Thailand, meanwhile, attracted 4.6 million Chinese visitors in 2014.

Tensions

The Indian government recently has expelled three journalists of the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua. This is the first time for New Delhi to expel Chinese journalists that could kick off a diplomatic row between China and India.

India’s military buildup near Chinese border also shows that the situation has become a tinderbox. It has been revealed that the Indian Army has moved over 100 Russian tanks T-72 to Ladakh, a disputed border between Indian occupied state of Kashmir and Tibet under Chinese rule. Both countries are preparing for the worst situation they could face in the midst of deteriorating relations. In addition, Indian Navy has sent three warships to the disputed South China Sea to plan training with Malaysian Navy, showing that there’s nothing strange with seeing any military conflicts between the two countries.

India thinks it should be on the UNSC with veto handle to control the world and is annoyed that China has not supported India's pitch for permanent membership of the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) and is the only one of the P5 members trying to stymie India's bid. Sparks flew when in the days leading up to India's second round of nuclear tests in May 1998, the then Indian defence minister George Fernandes, termed Beijing as India's "potential enemy No 1" worse than Pakistan or USA.

The stumbling blocks between India and China are hard to budge. China’s historic friendship with Pakistan hasn’t helped, nor has India’s decades-long hosting of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader living in India newly sworn in PM Modi invited to his inauguration in 2014. Then there are other issues too working against any credible ties to which NSG issue has been added last year to sustain the bilateral tensions. India seeks membership of NSG without signing the NPT. USA just pretends as a “terror victim” and strategic partner against terror wars, it promotes Indian interests in nuclear domains.

In recent years there have been attempts to mend and strengthen the relationship through bilateral visits from both heads of state. And while Indian manufacturers, like their counterparts elsewhere, complain about inexpensive Chinese products flooding the market, Indian consumers are lapping up everything from cheap Chinese phones and toys to clothes made in China.

India’s military buildup near Chinese border also shows that the situation has become a tinderbox. It has been revealed that the Indian Army has moved over 100 Russian tanks T-72 to Ladakh, a disputed border between Indian occupied state of Kashmir and Tibet under Chinese rule. Both countries are preparing for the worst situation they could face in the midst of deteriorating relations. In addition, Indian Navy has sent three warships to the disputed South China Sea to plan training with Malaysian Navy, showing that there’s nothing strange with seeing any military conflicts between the two countries.

The Indian government recently has expelled three journalists of the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua. This is the first time for New Delhi to expel Chinese journalists that could kick off a diplomatic row between China and India.

Fruitless effort

Narendra Modi made his first visit to China as Prime Minister of India in May 2014. One of his first stops will be the Wild Goose Pagoda in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, which, legend has it, was originally built to store first Chinese pilgrim to India in 7th Century Xuanzang’s Buddhist treasures from India.

Much before he became India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi was already a self-professed admirer of China. “China and its people have a special place in my heart,” Modi said in 2011 while he was on his fourth visit to the country as the Gujarat chief minister. “I admire their hard working, disciplined and resilient nature and above all, their sense of history.”

So, after he took control of the government in New Delhi last May, Modi wasted little time to try and strengthen ties with Beijing. Within days of taking office, he promptly invited Chinese president Xi Jinping to India. But by the time Xi arrived in September, the tricky nature of the India-China relationship was in full display: The Chinese president conducted a state visit in India while troops from both countries squared off in Ladakh.

Though relations between these two Asian behemoths warmed up in the aftermath of the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to India in September 2014 and the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China in May 2015, the relations have once again hurtled downhill as they pursue their respective foreign policy agendas. Mutual trips by Indo-China leaders therefore have not been able to improve the tensed relations.

Through the "Maritime Silk Road" initiative, China has been trying to reach out to countries such as Sri Lanka and Maldives, right in India's immediate neighborhood. Besides, of late, relations between China and Nepal have warmed up, particularly in the aftermath of the visit to Beijing by the Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli. Although China has asked India to be part of the Maritime Silk Road, New Delhi is in two minds over whether to join owing to the suspicion of India and other nations. Moreover, China put a "technical hold" over India's attempts to designate the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, as a terrorist since New Delhi views him to be the mastermind behind a host of terror attacks in India, with the most recent being the Pathankot terror attacks in early January this year.

China accused Modi of “playing little tricks” over border disputes and security issues, hoping to boost his domestic prestige while increasing his leverage in negotiations with China and went on to criticize the Indian elites’ blind arrogance and confidence in their corrupt democracy, as well as “the inferiority of India’s ordinary people.”

Political economy

China is India's largest trading partner and like with many other countries, this relationship too is imbalanced. Trade between the two countries has been expanding annually at 15 percent since 2007. The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $70.4bn last year with India reeling under a huge trade deficit of $52.67bn. Unfortunately for India, so has its trade deficit with China. In the financial year 2016 that ended March 31, India exported a little over $9 billion worth of goods to China, while it imported goods worth $61.7 billion, taking the trade deficit to a whopping $52.7 billion. Therefore trade experts said India's dependence on China for export oriented growth is limited.

India mainly exports raw materials to China such as cotton and copper and as the Chinese economy rebalances to become more consumer led, there will be a further fall in exports. This is evident from the 2015-2016 figures that show Indian exports to China fell by over 24 percent.. China is a huge market for Ayurvedic and agro products and IT services India is eager to expand there in a big way.

The bilateral trade hovers around $70 billion, less than half the dollar figure of commercial ties between China and Australia. When President Xi visited India last September, the trip was hailed as groundbreaking — the first time a Chinese President had stepped on Indian soil in eight years. Yet Xi’s visit resulted in an underwhelming $20 billion in promised Chinese investment over a five-year period. By contrast, Xi vowed $46 billion in infrastructure spending for ally Pakistan during a trip there last month. As Xi was in India, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army reportedly dispatched hundreds of soldiers past the Line of Actual Control to a remote section of the India-China frontier.

Over the past 13 years, 142 Chinese companies have invested a total of $27 billion in India in sectors such as automotive parts and consumer electronics, according to CII. Top Chinese companies investing in India include Huawei Telecommunications, ZTE, Alibaba and Xiaomi. During the same period, 139 Indian companies have invested $12 billion in China, largely in the software and Information technology (IT) services sector. Many small manufacturers are sourcing products as diverse as firecrackers and religious idols from China. During Indian PM Narendra Modi's visit to China, 24 agreements worth $22 billion were signed between Indian and Chinese companies to finance and invest in projects across sectors.

Meanwhile, China's relations with its "all-weather friend" Pakistan are at an all-time high, with Beijing announcing that it will invest $46bn in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will connect Kashgar in China's Xinjiang province with the port of Gwadar in Pakistan.

Large Indian firms have traditionally been more interested in looking for mergers and acquisition in the West rather than investing in China. Dependence on China to fund the budget deficit is far more limited compared to some global peers. India's total external borrowing as of the end of 2015 stood at $480 billion and the share of sovereign debt was just 19 percent with the rest made up of commercial borrowings and nonresident Indian deposits, according to government data.

Tourism is an area of cooperation and many Buddhists from China come to India while visiting the birthplace in neighboring Nepal of Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of the religion.

American link

The relations between China and India are worsening rapidly as India supports US pivot in Asia against China. Unless the situation changes dramatically, the two countries could even go through armed conflict against each other. It would be no strange thing if this really happens, because they really went through armed conflict due to Sino-Indian border dispute in the early 1960s.

Part of the reason for the growing bonhomie between India and the USA is China's growing belligerence. India and the USA say they have a common interest in ensuring the safety and security of the sea lanes of communication in the Indo-Pacific region which was reflected in the joint statement released by the two sides during the visit of the US President Barack Obama to India in January last year.

And under Modi, India has slowly, but surely, moved away from its traditional stance of non-alignment to multi-alignment. He has given a vigorous push to India's "Act-East Policy" which aims at improving India's ties with its neighbours in Southeast and East Asia. His first visit outside the Indian subcontinent after taking charge was to Japan, which has seen frayed ties with Beijing, of late.

The US-India Joint Statement notes that they "affirm the importance of safe-guarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea."

Chinese leadership advocates free trade, while US President-elect Donald Trump and his team appear committed to carrying out an economic policy based on protectionism. Trump has repeatedly blamed free trade agreements for damaging the US economy. The US president-elect has announced that he will withdraw from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Trump and any other country intent on pursuing protectionism against such policies in a speech at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland. He compared such efforts to attempts to "divert a river into lakes and creeks" and said that it was not possible.

China will be hit the hardest if countries hide behind trade barriers and if globalization is seen as the root cause of all evil. While the shadow of a credit bubble looms large over its economy, China, driven by a low-wage, enormous workforce, has become the global factory for low-cost products which it badly needs to market. It must have noted Donald Trump's protectionist rhetoric with horror.

Observation

The reason behind such confrontation between the two countries is not complicated. First, their disputed borders are the major cause of tensions between them. They even had a war against each other 50 years ago, but failed to make any progress on the border dispute. Besides, the gap between the positions of China and India over Tibet is wide. While China sees Tibet as one of its local governments, India sees it as a government in exile.

Other reasons such as China’s expanding footprint in Nepal and its ambition to keep Southeast Asia under its control are also driving the bilateral relationship to the gate of armed conflict. Perhaps, the relations between the two countries should pass the crisis in order to find a string of efforts for normalization.

The bilateral relationship cannot be very good unless the border dispute is solved. Yes, not just that. In order to facilitate the bilateral ties on a large scale, India has to solve the Kashmir issue as Kashmir nation lies between India and China.

China's has opposed India's entry into the 48-member grouping, which is one of the irritants in Sino-India ties. China on January 16 warned India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) cannot be a "farewell gift" to the outgoing US President Barack Obama. Beijing's reaction came after US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal of Indian origin described China as an "outlier" in the process of letting India joining the nuclear trade bloc. "Regarding India's application to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, regarding non-NPT countries admission to the NSG, we have made our position clear before so I will not repeat it," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said here. "I just want to point out that NSG membership shall not be some kind of farewell gift for countries to give to each other," Hua said, obliquely referring to Obama who will be succeeded by Donald J. Trump. The US government, under Obama, has strongly backed India's membership in the NSG, which regulates the global nuclear trade. Beijing objects to New Delhi's inclusion in the bloc, citing rules that India's non-signatory status to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

While it is unlikely that India will be a part of any Western-led attempts to bandwagon against Beijing any time soon, it also wants to ensure that Beijing does not seize the initiative in India's backyard.

Of course, China is also preparing for the worst. According to military sources in Beijing, China has deployed more troop along the India border, showing off its will to respond immediately if the worst really happens.

India cannot take the foreign cricketers and badminton or other sports/entertainments coming to play joint sport exercises as a victory for foreign policy, after all, they come to play for money and they are trained to do exactly what the sponsors expect and the mafias want. Don’t the English cricketers now do exactly what Indian sponsors and government agencies want? Governments promote their sportsmen also to be top billionaires by all possible means.

India requires prudence and pragmatism in dealing with countries with different economic and political systems, like China and Pakistan, while core media in the country should shed extra elements of arrogance and over confidence.

Prolific writer, Independent Analyst; Columnist contributing articles to many  newspapers and journals on world politics; Expert on Mideast affairs, Chronicler of foreign occupations & freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.)  Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA); Commentator on world affairs & sport fixings, Former university teacher; Author of eBooks/books

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