Signalling a Shift? Parsing the Indian Statement of the 13th India-China Corps Commander Level Meeting 

The press release by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs at the end of the 13th round of the  India-China corps commanders meeting held on 10 October was explicit in declaring that “the situation along the LAC had been caused by unilateral attempts of Chinese side to alter the status quo and in violation of the bilateral agreements.” It put the onus squarely on the Chinese side to “take appropriate steps… so as to restore peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the Western Sector.”[1]

The statement is noteworthy for being one of the few times that New Delhi has directly accused China of bad behaviour outside of the context of major provocations such as the Galwan clash in June 2020[2] or the Chinese attempts to unilaterally change the status quo on the south bank of the Pangong Tso a few months later on 29-30 August.[3] Other instances include Minister of State in the MEA, V. Muraleedharan’s replies to questions in the Rajya Sabha in February[4] and the Lok Sabha in February[5] and March[6], as well as Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla in a speech at the end of June this year.[7] Both would refer to Chinese attempts over the last year to unilaterally alter the status quo in Ladakh. 

A major change in tone and tenor is evident especially if one compares the latest statement with one from just a year ago at the end of the 7th round held on 12 October 2020. That statement was, in fact, a joint one with the Chinese that characterised discussions as “constructive” (twice in the space of a single paragraph), as “positive” and as having “enhanced understanding of each other’s positions”.[8]

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To Be or Not to Be? BRICS and India’s Confused Signalling on China

At the 6th JP Morgan “India Investor Summit” in mid-September, Foreign Minister Dr S. Jaishankar stated that India-China relations “can only be based on ‘three mutuals’- mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests”. The implication is that China is seriously working against or at least constraining India’s strategic interests. If so, New Delhi’s continued engagement with China through such forums as BRICS is a puzzling facet of Indian foreign policy, even acknowledging India’s need to be seen as exercising ‘strategic autonomy’. If the Indian government expects the rest of the world to take its arguments about Chinese bad behaviour seriously, then there is a case to be made for New Delhi cutting down on such mixed signals as its participation in the BRICS summits represent.

Rhetoric Masks Reality

Unlike say the G-20, BRICS is a small grouping that throws up in sharper relief both a particularly anti-West political orientation, which India itself does not quite have, as well as China’s outsized global role and influence, which is surely not what New Delhi intends. Indeed, BRICS could very well be done away with given that India already has a strong bilateral relationship with Russia and has engaged with Brazil and South Africa in a separate forum, IBSA, with an explicitly pro-democracy agenda.

Continue reading To Be or Not to Be? BRICS and India’s Confused Signalling on China