Chang­ing In­dia-China re­la­tions – will they go all the way?

SP's LandForces - - SOUTH ASIA / FOREIGN RELATIONS - —By Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

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.

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