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Rules of play: Avoid unnecessary reactions
Post the Doklam stand-off, one may think that a new page in Sino-Indian relations has been turned. But unless China drops ‘unrealistic' claims on the boundary, no progress can be made
The next round of border talks between India and China is expected to be held in Delhi next month. Other bilateral issues may also be discussed when the Special Representatives, Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor meets the Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi. Doval will probably first congratulate Yang, who has recently been promoted to the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo. It will be the first encounter between the two countries after President Xi Jinping’s election for a second term and the 20th round of border talks, four months after the end of the 73-day long Doklam stand-off at the trijunction between Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan.
While the Indian Press has been restrained about the forthcoming talks, it has not always been the case for China. The sharp tongue of Hua Chunying, one of the spokespersons of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, did not help smoothen passions during the Doklam episode. One still remembers the bad names she gave to Doval, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the then Defence Minister or the Army Chief.
Though some commentators are ‘cooler’, it is not the case for all. Qian Feng, an expert at the Chinese Association for South Asian Studies told The Global Times: “The talks, coming months after the stand-off, will put managing a crisis on the top agenda as future disputes remain possible, and both sides need to manage the disputes and avoid confrontation.”
One may think that a new page in the Sino-Indian relations is turned but some Chinese ‘experts’ remain extremely aggressive. The same Chinese tabloid quoted Hu Zhiyong of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of International Relations; he said: “India should also be more realistic and show more sincerity in maintaining the fragile ties that returned to normal after the BRICS Summit in September. …If India refuses to make a deal on the issues and continues to send senior officials to the disputed border, the talks will not yield tangible results.”
What does ‘realistic’ mean? To accept China’s stand on the tri-junction in the Doklam area or in Ladakh? The tabloid specifically mentioned Arunachal Pradesh: “Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited the South Tibet area (which India calls Arunachal Pradesh) to inspect defense preparedness.”
Unless China drops these ‘unrealistic’ claims on the boundary, no progress can be made. The question is: Why create an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion before the talks start. Probably, China is not interested to see any progress in the border talks. Further having disowned the 2012 agreement that the status quo at the tri-junction should be maintained till a solution is agreed between Bhutan, India and China, Beijing feels that the best form of defense is aggression.
About her visit to some border posts in Arunachal Pradesh, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rightly (and politely) said the North-Eastern State is Indian territory and the country is not concerned about someone else’s opinion on it. China had objected to Sitharaman’s first visit to the border state, saying her tour of the ‘disputed area’ was not conducive to peace in the region.
“What is the problem? There is no problem. It is our territory, we will go there,” Sitharam told a media person.
Another unnecessary reaction of the Chinese media: After The Economic Times reported that India plans to construct 17 highway tunnels totaling 100 kilometers along the line of actual control, The Global Times bitterly complained. The party mouthpiece quoted Xie Chao, an ‘expert’ at Tsinghua University’s Department of International Relations, who said that “boosting border infrastructure has been Indian’s consistent policy.” A poor joke, when one knows the reality.
Another ‘expert’, Zhao Gancheng, director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies stated that “the tunnel building along the border is a further fermentation after the Doklam stand-off.” He reiterated China’s baloney stand: “On June 18, Indian troops illegally crossed the border and trespassed into Chinese territory in Doklam.”
Fermentation or not, India is decades behind China in the field of border infrastructure, but Zhao dared to criticise India in The Global Times: “Although some Indian senior officials made a friendly gesture toward China after the stand-off, India has pursued its previous policy along the border — developing infrastructure as well as troop mobility.”
The communist mouthpiece commented; “The Indian Government is playing two cards over the border issue, the situation of which will be a ‘new normal’ for the China-India border.” Xie Chao warned: “It is the Chinese Government’s responsibility to safeguard border safety and China won’t take the initiative to seek military force to tackle border problems. But a balanced force along the border will make China cope with the tensions.”
Is it not double standards? While India is far behind China which develops infrastructure at a swift pace, the slightest improvement on the Indian side is condemned by Beijing and its ‘experts’ as an aggressive move. All this was before the ‘Quads’ meet on the side of the Asean meet in Manila. Officials from the US, India, Australia and Japan met, raising the possibility of a bloc to counter-balance China’s fast-paced strategic expansion.
It might be an occasion for the Chinese spokespersons and ‘experts’ to complain, with a reason. Already a week earlier, Hu Zhiyong had said to The Global Times: “The US and Japan are stepping up their efforts to cozy up to India as a balance to China, which gives India more ‘confidence’ to play tricks behind China’s back on the border issue.”
Hu further asserted: “However, the US is merely fooling India and its real intention is to increase weapons sales to the country, and India should be more realistic in that China will not lose if a military conflict erupts after another border dispute.”
Now, Beijing has something concrete to whine about. The South China Morning Post gave the background: “The idea of the quadrilateral security initiative of ‘like-minded’ democracies was first raised by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, but wary of their relations with China, India and Australia hesitated to take part initially.”
The Hong Kong newspaper added: “Analysts said the Quad meeting was not a coincidence given that Trump appeared keen to promote his Indo-Pacific concept as the cornerstone of his Asia strategy and worked hard to strengthen ties with its allies and partners, including India and Vietnam, to counterbalance China.”
Immediately, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reacted saying that regional cooperation should neither be politicised nor exclusionary. During his meeting with Prime Minister Modi, President Trump also mentioned regional security and he pledged to boost bilateral trade and security ties. Modi would have told Trump that India-US ties were becoming broader and deeper. “You too can feel that India-US ties can work together beyond the interest of India, for the future of Asia and for the welfare of the humanity in the world.”
(The writer is an expert on India-China relations and an author)
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