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Borders Foreign Policy Political Parties

A Growing Chinese Presence in Nepal

Last week, the Nepalese government released a new map of the country which included Kalapani at the India-Nepal-Tibet trijunction as part of its territory,[1] drawing immediate protest from India.[2] Administered by the latter as part of its Uttarakhand state, the area has been a bone of contention for several decades now between Nepal and India.

Earlier, in November 2019, Kathmandu chose the occasion of the release of new Indian maps to reflect the reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir, to register fresh protests over the depiction of Kalapani as Indian territory.[3] The trigger for the present Nepalese action seems to be the inauguration by the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh of a new approximately 90km-long road to the Lipulekh Pass, across Kalapani.[4] This route is one of the two through India for the annual pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet. The other route through Nathu La in Sikkim was hitherto the only one with a proper road while the Lipulekh route involved an arduous three-week trek. With the new road, travel time from Delhi comes down to as little as three days.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Covid-19 Introduces New Tensions in India-China Relations

The year 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and China. While the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic provides a new backdrop to this milestone in bilateral ties, it does not substantially change the direction in which relations were heading, only the pace.

Bilateral ties have seldom been smooth, even if the default position of the leaderships on both sides has been to portray them as being normal and in reasonable fettle. After the low of the Doklam stand-off in mid-2017, ‘informal’ summits between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping were promoted as a way to put the relationship back on the rails. The Indian government has certainly expended much effort domestically to make it look like the informal summits were some sort of diplomatic breakthrough. Except that problems have cropped up so regularly in the relationship that it fools no one.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Vacuous Summitry

Following the Doklam stand-off between India and China in mid-2017, the Wuhan ‘informal summit’ between Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping the following April was seen as some sort of a tension-busting exercise and hosannas were sung to a new kind of diplomacy with talk of a ‘reset’ in the relationship. In the run-up to the second informal summit to be held at Chennai tomorrow[1], however, the shallowness of the exercise is now evident especially in the security and political realms.

Even if one were to ignore the fact that it was not until yesterday that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs finally confirmed that the summit was even on, the level of mutual suspicion today appears to be no less than was the case following Doklam.

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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy

India-China Relations: Running on Empty

China’s decision to take India’s reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir to the UN Security Council raises several questions about its interest in durable good relations with India.

Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to Beijing was clearly not enough to prevent China from issuing yet another statement declaring China’s ‘Clear Position on the Kashmir Issue’ on 12 August. This statement, which followed the meeting between Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi and Jaishankar,[1] was essentially a combination of the two statements issued previously by the Chinese on 6 August on India’s decision in J&K[2] as a more specific one on Ladakh.[3]

Even if held behind closed doors, the UNSC meeting on 16 August was significant because it was for the first time since 1965 that it had convened exclusively to discuss the Kashmir dispute.

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Borders Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism War and Conflict

Chinese Reactions to India’s Reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir

The change in status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir effected by the Indian central government has led to considerable international attention, including from China.

On 6 August, the Chinese Foreign Ministry offered two separate comments: one “on the Current Situation in Jammu Kashmir”[1] and another more specifically “on the Indian Government’s Announcement of the Establishment of the Ladakh Union Territory Which Involves Chinese Territory”.[2]

In the first statement, while China declares that it is “seriously concerned” it asks “both India and Pakistan to peacefully resolve the relevant disputes through dialogue and consultation” (emphasis mine). One should read this as the Chinese indicating they do not see it only as an Indian responsibility to “safeguard peace and stability in the region”[3], that Pakistan should not imagine it has sanction from Beijing to stoke military tensions in the wake of India’s actions.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

India-China Boundary Dispute: LAC Transgressions Will Continue

The next ‘informal summit’ between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be held in Varanasi on 12 October. The announcement of the date has been accompanied in recent days by a series of reports on the state of affairs on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries.

In recent years, some transgressions on the LAC have developed into serious confrontations between the two armies as in the case of Depsang in 2013, Chumur the following year and in Pangong Tso in 2017[1] in the midst of the Doklam standoff in Bhutan.

While reports of LAC transgressions by the Chinese have reduced in number since the Modi government came to power, this might simply be because leaks to the press were plugged. Certainly, it would not be in character for the Chinese to stop their activities along the LAC just because they have made promises to this effect.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

China’s Reactions to India’s Attack on Balakot, Pakistan

Remarks from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the wake of India’s attack on Balakot in Pakistan and the subsequent tensions between the two South Asian neighbours[1] appeared to suggest that Beijing was taking a more or less neutral stand. The official spokesperson’s answers to repeated questions on the Indo-Pak incidents stuck to the same overall formulation calling for restraint from both sides and for de-escalation.

A Pakistan Slant

However, the fact is that this apparent Chinese neutrality also creates a false equivalence between India and Pakistan in which Pakistan’s original sin as the perpetrator of terrorism, including the Pulwama attack, is erased and equal responsibility assigned to both India and Pakistan for the current instability and tensions.

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Borders Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism

China-Pakistan Bus Service through PoK: Complaining is Easy

On the eve of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first state visit to China came the announcement that the two countries were starting a bus service along the Karakoram Highway between Kashgar in Xinjiang and Lahore.[1] The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was quick to protest on the grounds that the bus service passed through Indian territory under occupation by Pakistan.

The MEA statement leaves out the fact that this is not the first bus service between China and Pakistan. The first was launched in June 2006 between Gilgit and Kashgar, used by both traders from Pakistan and Chinese tourists and traders. Just a month earlier, a truck service had also begun with Chinese traders allowed to bring their vehicles up to Karachi and Gwadar.

There is no record of the MEA having protested these Sino-Pak connectivity services in 2006.[2]

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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy

Modi’s Indonesia Visit: China in the Mix

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia at the end of May 2018 followed that of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to the Southeast Asian nation earlier the same month.[1] The Modi visit is a significant step not just for the bilateral relationship but in clarifying what India’s strategy is in the region. It is, therefore, important to both understand China’s impact on the India-Indonesia bilateral relationship and what it is that India is up against in converting the rhetoric into action.

As important as practical immediate-term outcomes are – as on counter-terrorism, for example – a long-term vision should also animate the relationship between India and Indonesia that has for long been consigned to a secondary or tertiary status in both capitals. One Indian official on the eve of the visit said that he expected the visit to be ‘forward-looking’. But he also set its foundation very low by noting the obvious that ‘India and Indonesia do not share any territorial disputes, which is significant to add momentum to the relationship’.[2]