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]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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China’s Vaccine Diplomacy and India

China recently made it mandatory for people coming from India and 19 other nations to received Chinese-manufactured COVID-19 vaccines if they wanted to enter the country.[1] The problem is, of course, that there are no Chinese vaccines available in India and nor are they likely to be given that India is a major producer of vaccines itself. It is tempting to call the Chinese decision a thoughtless act and one of wanton malice towards the thousands of Indians – students, professionals, family members – waiting to return to China, over a year after many left the country to visit their homes for the long Chinese New Year holidays.

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Chinese Transgressions on the LAC Deserve a Punitive Response

Reports have emerged that China has increased its troop strength along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh breaking its agreement made at the sixth round of talks on 21 September 2020.[1] Earlier in December, videos emerged of Chinese civilian vehicles transgressing into the Demchok area also in Ladakh.[2] Meanwhile, the Indian Army referred to a confrontation last week between Indian and Chinese troops in the wake of a transgression by the latter at Naku La in northern Sikkim, as a “minor face-off”.[3]

Essentially, what we are seeing since the Galwan clash in June 2020, is the steady normalization of confrontations and tensions along the LAC as well as of fruitless bilateral talks. This was predicted.[4]

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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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