UN­EASY TRUCE

Mint Asia ST - - In­side -

have worked hard to es­tab­lish in­sti­tu­tional frame­work to dis­cuss all is­sues to en­sure peace and tran­quil­lity in the In­dia-china bor­der ar­eas. In­dia is com­mit­ted to work­ing with China to find peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of all is­sues in the bor­der ar­eas through di­a­logue.”

In July, in a state­ment to Par­lia­ment, In­dian for­eign min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj urged both In­dia and China to pull back— seen as a re­sponse to Bei­jing’s de­mand of a uni­lat­eral pull­back by In­dia.

In an­other state­ment to Par­lia­ment in Au­gust, Swaraj in­di­cated there could only be a diplo­matic so­lu­tion to a mil­i­tary stand­off with China and ad­vo­cated pa­tience in In­dia’s han­dling of the prob­lem.

The In­dian for­eign min­istry also stated that diplo­matic con­tacts were on be­tween the two sides to re­solve the stand­off. The min­istry also re­called that in June, Prime Min­is­ter Modi had reached an un­der­stand­ing with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi that dif­fer­ences be­tween the Asian giants should not be al­lowed to be­come dis­putes. This was dur­ing a meet­ing be­tween the two on the mar­gins of the re­gional Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (SCO) sum­mit in the Kazakh cap­i­tal.

All this came amid news re­ports of China car­ry­ing out war games in Ti­bet, close to the stand­off site, and In­dia mov­ing large num­bers of troops to the area.

The res­o­lu­tion

Then, 73 days into the stand-off, on 28 Au­gust came the news that both sides were be­gin­ning to dis­en­gage. A two-line state- ment from the In­dian for­eign min­istry said that thanks to diplo­matic con­tacts, the two coun­tries had agreed to “the ex­pe­di­tious dis­en­gage­ment of bor­der per­son­nel at the face­off site at Dokalam”.

It later added that the dis­en­gage­ment had been com­pleted “un­der ver­i­fi­ca­tion”.

Two weeks af­ter the res­o­lu­tion, there is still no of­fi­cial word of how the agree­ment was reached. And in the ab­sence of an of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tion, the­o­ries abound. One of the the­o­ries is that China saw it pru­dent to make a tac­ti­cal re­treat given that In­dia and Bhutan were seen to be on more solid le­gal ground. And with the BRICS sum­mit com­ing up, China would not have wanted to jeop­ar­dize a show­piece event hosted by it for Dokalam.

“With the economies of coun­tries like South Africa, Brazil and Rus­sia not do­ing well, In­dia’s ab­sence at BRICS would have been telling,” said Srikanth Kon­da­palli, a pro­fes­sor of Chi­nese Stud­ies at the New Delhi-based Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity. He pointed to the fact that In­dia only con­firmed Modi’s pres­ence at the BRICS sum­mit a day af­ter In­dia and China an­nounced their mil­i­tary dis­en­gage­ment.

On the mar­gins of the BRICS sum­mit, Modi and Xi met and agreed to adopt a “for­ward look­ing ap­proach” in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween In­dia and China, said for­eign sec­re­tary Jais­hankar.

“One of the im­por­tant points which was again made dur­ing the meet­ing was that peace and tran­quil­lity in the bor­der ar­eas was a pre­req­ui­site for the fur­ther devel­op­ment of our re­la­tion­ships, and that there should be more ef­forts made to re­ally en­hance and strengthen the level of mu­tual trust be­tween the two sides,” Jais­hankar said.

Given that In­dia and China were neigh­bours, ar­eas of dif­fer­ences would ex­ist, “but it should be han­dled with mu­tual re­spect” and ef­forts made to find com­mon ground in ad­dress­ing those ar­eas, he said.

In the de­fence arena, “the per­son­nel in­volved in de­fence and se­cu­rity must main­tain strong con­tacts and co­op­er­a­tion, and en­sure that the sort of sit­u­a­tion which hap­pened re­cently do not re­cur,” Jais­hankar said.

Chang­ing dy­nam­ics

An­a­lysts say one of the ma­jor take­aways from the Dokalam episode is the need for bet­ter bor­der man­age­ment. “We had agree­ments in 1993, 2005 and 2013. I think the many pro­vi­sions sug­gested in these should be bet­ter im­ple­mented,” said Kon­da­palli. One of the sug­ges­tions to be im­ple­mented was the set­ting up of a hot­line be­tween the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship of the coun­tries, he said.

Hap­py­mon Ja­cob, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity in New Delhi, says In­dia would have to be more wary of China in the fu­ture.

“In­dia has long en­joyed a spe­cial sta­tus in the South Asian re­gion and of­ten treated it as its ex­clu­sive back­yard. With China ex­pand­ing its in­flu­ence in the re­gion and com­pet­ing for sta­tus and in­flu­ence, it con­sid­ers South Asia along with In­dia in it, as its pe­riph­ery. And China is un­likely to re­spect In­dia’s ex­clu­sive pri­macy in the re­gion,” Ja­cob said.

For­mer for­eign sec­re­tary Kan­wal Sibal noted that In­dia’s strong stance had fun­da­men­tally al­tered the dy­nam­ics of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. Pre­vi­ously, In­dia was seen as not stand­ing up to China. Post-dokalam, that had changed and this was likely to be noted by coun­tries in South-east Asia, which have mar­itime bound­ary is­sues with China, such as in the South China Sea.

“They will draw the right con­clu­sion without In­dia hav­ing to pro­ject Dokalam as a vic­tory,” Sibal said.

Many ir­ri­tants dog Sino-in­dian ties. They in­clude the un­set­tled bound­ary dis­pute, a bal­loon­ing trade im­bal­ance in China’s favour (In­dia’s trade deficit with China mounted to $46.56 bil­lion last year), Chi­nese in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion in Pak­istan-ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir, which is dis­puted be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan.

China claims 90,000 sq. km of In­dian ter­ri­tory in Arunachal Pradesh and oc­cu­pies around 38,000 sq. km in Jammu and Kash­mir. Also, un­der an agree­ment signed be­tween Pak­istan and China in March 1963, Pak­istan il­le­gally ceded 5,180 sq. km of ter­ri­tory claimed by In­dia in Pak­istan-oc­cu­pied Kash­mir (POK) to China.

From the Chi­nese point of view, the fact that In­dia con­tin­ues to host the Ti­betan spir­i­tual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom China re­gards as a “split­tist”, is an ir­ri­tant. In­dia’s out­reach to coun­tries like Ja­pan, Viet­nam and oth­ers in South-east Asia is also viewed with sus­pi­cion by China.

In a seem­ingly bold move, In­dia has re­port­edly sold Brah­mos cruise mis­siles to Viet­nam, which has strained ties with China over a mar­itime dis­pute in the South China Sea.

In 2014, In­dia had ex­tended a $100-mil­lion ex­port credit for de­fence deals to Viet­nam and in­creased en­ergy ties with the coun­try.

For now, though, China and In­dia are mak­ing the right noises.

“Xi Jin­ping and Naren­dra Modi have held suc­cess­ful bi­lat­eral talks in Xi­a­men and both sides should con­sci­en­tiously im­ple­ment the con­sen­sus of the lead­ers and en­sure healthy and sta­ble devel­op­ment,” Chi­nese for­eign min­is­ter Wang said in Xi­a­men, fol­low­ing the BRICS sum­mit. *

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