Assessing India’ China Policy in 2021

What is the sum total of the Indian government’s achievements in dealing with China in the last year? 

One, on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) itself, in the rush to create the semblance of ‘achievement’, the Indian government proved too eager to make concessions and to show as if the bilateral relationship was getting back on track. As a result, the Chinese got the Indian Army to vacate the Kailash ranges occupied at the end of August last year in return for disengagement from just two points – Pangong Tso and Gogra – in the opening months of the year. The entire process has subsequently stalled with Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang remaining points of friction. This was entirely predictable and indeed, the government had fair warning.[1]

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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]

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

Xi Jinping in Tibet: What India Needs to Look Out For

It is noteworthy that Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary and Chinese President Xi Jinping started his visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) last week by flying into Nyingchi. This is because on Chinese maps, the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh is shown as part of the Nyingchi and Lhoka prefectures in TAR.

It should not be surprising that Beijing keeps a close eye on what it considers sensitive territorial issues. However, it would be incorrect to assume that the only kind of Chinese transgression into Indian territory is of the military sort. China’s civilian infrastructure build-up in TAR or Xinjiang is almost always seen in India as being also of military use, as indeed they could be. But their other uses must not be ignored. Nor should pronouncements from the Chinese leadership on matters of culture or the environment be dismissed merely as propaganda aimed at Tibetan and other minorities in TAR. They also have value as propaganda aimed across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at India’s border populations.

Continue reading Xi Jinping in Tibet: What India Needs to Look Out For

Chinese Behaviour Both Target and Model for Indian Foreign Policy

Even as India targets China in its alignment with the other democracies in the Quad, it is worth reflecting on how closely the temper and, to an extent the practice, of Indian foreign policy appears to be aligning with those of Chinese foreign policy. China’s assertiveness beyond its boundaries derives in large measure from the nature of the Communist Party of China (CPC) as a political party that does not believe in sharing power at home, from its conflation of regime interest with the national interest. 

For Indians this should not be so hard to understand.

Continue reading Chinese Behaviour Both Target and Model for Indian Foreign Policy

A ‘New Normal’ Emerges in India-China Relations

Since May this year, India and China have been involved in a serious confrontation along their disputed boundary known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). China has pushed its version of the LAC further westwards at multiple locations in the Western Sector of the dispute in eastern Ladakh/Aksai Chin. This, it has done, in clear violation of existing bilateral agreements and Chinese troops now occupy vast swathes of territory previously falling within Indian control.

On the night of 15 June 2020, 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers lost their lives in a fierce and brutal physical fight at high altitude in the Galwan Valley. The casualties are all the more notable because the clash involved not firearms but an almost medieval-era array of clubs and assorted weapons. These are the first casualties on the disputed boundary since 1975 and brings to a close an era of relative peace guided by a series of bilateral agreements on confidence-building measures and protocols on troop behaviour along the LAC. 

Continue reading A ‘New Normal’ Emerges in India-China Relations

印中關係新常態

今年的6月15日晚間,20名印度士兵和人數不詳的中國士兵,在印度西北部拉達克的加萬谷發生嚴重肢體對抗後喪生。這是自1975年以來,在以實際控制線為代表、有爭議的中印邊界上首次傷亡。

邊界爭端分西部、中部和東部3個部分。除了西段的拉達克,包括阿魯納恰爾邦在內的東段也存在著爭議,軍事紛爭並非僅局限於一個地區。

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An Opportunity to Rethink India’s Economic Policies

India has in recent months taken some initial steps against predatory Chinese capital and technologies in its economy. Without quite naming China, the Indian government has both tweaked FDI rules to limit acquisition of Indian companies without government approval and banned a few score apps of Chinese origin on national security considerations. These are welcome decisions that have long been called for and should not have waited for either a pandemic or tensions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

Continue reading An Opportunity to Rethink India’s Economic Policies

Reorienting India’s China Policy Towards Greater Transparency

The first Indian casualties on the disputed India-China boundary since 1975 should be occasion to reconsider several long-held beliefs and methods of dealing with the relationship that successive governments in New Delhi have adopted over the years.

This essay will deal with just one trope – that foreign policymaking in India cannot be an open, public or democratic exercise and that ‘quiet diplomacy’ is the way to go in dealing with China. There are two central problems with such a position – both of which have been on view during the ongoing crisis on the LAC and which have severely constrained the Indian government’s ability to assess the situation as well as to find options to deal with it.

First, the desire to keep decision-making on China within the strict confines of the government has much to do with the run-up to the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. The lesson learned following India’s defeat seemed to be that discussing matters openly in Parliament or with the general public tended to limit the freedom of manoeuvre for the Indian government to engage in negotiations with the Chinese side that would require compromises by New Delhi in order to have a realistic chance of a resolution that at least broadly met India’s interests.

If this tendency has continued within the Indian government, it has to do with a second reality valid until quite recently, which was that expertise on the border areas or on what went on there was limited to the Army and various paramilitaries – the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and previously, also the Assam Rifles, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs – that had manned the borders and/or with the diplomats and other civilian officials who held administrative charge of these areas.

There are good reasons why neither position is tenable any longer.

For the rest of the article originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Reorienting India’s China policy towards greater transparency’, Raisina Debates, Observer Research Foundation, 17 June 2020 see here.

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. Continue reading India-China Boundary Dispute: LAC Transgressions Will Continue