Changing India-China relations – will they go all the way?
The trip to China from June 29 to July 5, 2014, included visit and interactions at Beijing with 4th Army Aviation Regiment, China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), ACJA, Tencent (qq.com), Ministry of National Defense (MND), China Daily, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), China Daily, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and at Shanghai with Shanghai Naval Garrison and ACJA Shanghai Branch, besides sightseeing at both cities. Discussions were in a spirit of camaraderie and on wide-ranging issues including geopolitics, international relations, prevailing situations in the Middle East, Af-Pak region, Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region (IOR), plus the scourge of terrorism and prospects of future India-China relations.
The issue of settlement of the India-China border did figure prominently, as did the BDCA, additional Chinese demand of a ‘Code of Conduct’ to supplement the BDCA, and need for continuation and enlargement of CBMs. China has a strong economy and its military potential is growing at enormous pace with requisite government focus on RMA and research and development.
Defence needs including weapon platforms like fixed-wing aircrafts and helicopters are largely met indigenously, some produced through joint ventures with foreign firms. China has made good progress in the space, cyberspace and electromagnetic domains as well. Early this year, China successfully tested a hypersonic platform that will boost delivery of ordnance considerably.
In the cyber field, China has its own hardware, software and operating systems. Ten- cent is and Internet company placed at number four out of 100 companies globally by
Forbes. It offers the equivalent of Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, microchat, Wizard, Google, Gaming etc and claims on improvement over Twitter. They also offer V-chat which is the equivalent of Whatsapp.
All journalists in China must be members of ACJA, which has a laid down ‘Code of Ethics’ for journalists, punishment for default ranging from fiscal fine to being jailed. All media, therefore, is government controlled. Strict party control at all levels not only in media but in all spheres has its own fallouts, with youth awareness and craving for no curbs. Recent protests in Hong Kong are just one example.
Though China cites capability and intentions in portraying threats from the US, Japan, South Korea, etc, the actual threat to China is from within. Therefore, great effort goes towards imbuing nationalism. Despite the economic progress, China is also battling poverty. Then is the problem of the Uighur insurgency in Xinjiang that appears to be on the rise with considerable quantities of illegal weapons recovered within China. Then is the question of the ETIM terrorists inside Pakistan supporting Uighurs, which China axiomatically would be concerned no matter the outward bonhomie shown towards Pakistan. Then there have been media reports of problem between Chinese personnel on various development projects both in Myanmar and Gilgit-Baltistan.
On the issue of India-China relations, some plain speaking between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping can perhaps address the complex border settlement issue. It is but natural that with three Generals in the powerful Politburo, the urge to be aggressive is natural.
Just as the Indian media delegation commenced its China trip, two months of high drama of confrontation around the Chinese oil rig in Vietnamese waters has just ended.
With regard to the prolonged Chinese intrusion in Eastern Ladakh during April 2013 (ostensibly 19 km deep into Indian territory in Raki Nala area of Depsang plains), the explanation given was that the local Chinese commander wanted to go pitch tents in a sunny area due to severe cold at his own post. But that hardly is plausible because then you don’t carry a 30 feet banner reading “this is Chinese territory” and display it to the whole world. The hard fact is that despite years of border talks, China has not exchanged maps for the western sector (Ladakh) and Eastern Sector (erstwhile NEFA) and her territorial claims in these sectors have been progressively been increasing over the years.
The claim to entire state of Arunachal Pradesh was made as recent as 2005. India too fully understands that China gives scant respect to economic cooperation in regard to territorial claims, Taiwan being the top example. It is also clear that with increasing CNP, China does not care much about international arbitration and wants to resolve issues on bilateral basis – EEZ disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam being examples. Then is the question of sharing of river waters keeping international norms of sharing on the basis of size of the river basin. But is China prepared to discuss this with India? In this aspect, visit of the Indian Vice President to China has not achieved beyond China agreeing to share hydrological data during the flooding season.
In the present scenario with Prime Minister Narendra Modi heading a majority government in India and his equation with the Chinese hierarchy, the scope for enhancing the India-China relationship to the next level is almost boundless. But economic cooperation apart, taking the relationship all the way to usher a new Asian century is only possible if the vexed border issue is resolved speedily accommodating Indian strategic interests.
In matters of international cooperation, nations must first learn to respect each other on equal footing. This does not appear to be the case today. While China is doing several development projects in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (with reports of tunnels being dug for deployment of missiles), she objects to India’s assistance to Vietnam in oil exploration. This sort of attitude has to change. It is no secret that China has been trying very hard to get access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean through Myanmar and Pakistan. Resolving the border with India should actually be a massive geopolitical gain to China by getting access to Indian ports via Nepal, though that axes may well be figuring in a Chinese offensive plan against India – cashing on the most unexpected. The leadership in both India and China are surely weighing these issues but a strong and meaningful India-China relationship can actually change the geopolitics of Asia and the world.