By Mayank Mittal & Madhurima Dhar
Amidst talks at the G-20 summit and the recent military standoff at the Doklam Border, the past decade has been a witness to the Indo-China relations transcending bilateral dimensions and acquiring global strategic significance.
The two countries together account nearly 37% of the world’s population and are among the world’s top trading countries with 35 countries naming China as their top trading partner and 6 naming India as theirs. They bear the mantle of the greatest economic and political threat to Western supremacy in the decades to come.
What is unprecedented in this power dynamic between the two nations is that these two aspiring superpowers share a border which has been the bone of contention between them. Thus, the rivalry between India and China is the “the contest of the century”. In this article, we try to break down this complex bilateral relationship between the two Asian power houses.
HISTORY OF INDO-CHINA RELATIONS:
Sino-Indian relations are often characterised by its peaceful border which is quite a feat considering the unresolved disputes between the two nations. The soreness in our relations was pointed out by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel in a letter he wrote to Jawahar Lal Nehru. Our acceptance towards Chinese control of Tibet was sealed in the Panchsheel Agreement of 1954, which has been infringed time and again. History is a witness to China’s policy of expansionism and aggressive intrusion into its neighbour’s territory.
The McMahon Line, which serves as the border between India and Tibet has never been formally recognised by the Chinese. Also, China claimed the region south of the McMahon line, controlled by NEFA(North-East Frontier Agency) which is now the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The successful invasion of Tibet in 1950 left India in a queasy position who still believed that a formal recognition of the McMohan Line could ease out the strain between the two countries.
However further violations of the Panchsheel Agreement, the building of a highway from Tibet to Xinjiang via Aksai Chin which was responded by India by granting asylum to the 14th Dalai Lama(fled Tibet in 1959), all acted as catalysts to an armed conflict.
Indians were no doubt handed a humiliating defeat in the Indo-China war of 1962 by being routed on both Aksai-Chin and NEFA front. The external pressure from both superpowers lead into China’s withdrawal, leaving NEFA in Indian hands. However, India was a weak nation back then, fighting with poverty and illiteracy. Our lack of resources in comparison to the Chinese and unpreparedness to fight on high altitudes did not help our case either.
The tag line “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” is an amplification of our relations with China. Time and again they have tried to tread upon our toes and has a long list of ongoing disputes with India and other countries. For example:
- Illegal construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea.
- Continuous support to its all weather ally Pakistan in the international forum.
- Violating India’s territorial integrity in Arunachal Pradesh and J&K.
- Despite India’s excellent record in terms of non-proliferation, China has misused it’s veto power by blocking our NSG bid.
- Blocking India’s bid at the UN to blacklist Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Azhar Masood as a global terrorist.
- Challenging India’s sovereignty by building CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) in the disputed POK region.
The Doklam region (disputed area between China and Bhutan) in Chumbi Valley is the current flashpoint between the two nations. Indian troops are involved in a military standoff with the Chinese Army, thereby depriving the Chinese of constructing a road which hinders India’s access to its north-eastern states and gives China a greater access.
To counter China’s growing influence, India has taken steps both on diplomatic as well as military level.
India is actively trying to join export control regimes such as the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group to strengthen its nonproliferation credentials and build up a strong case for NSG membership.
India and Japan have drafted AAGC (Asia-Africa Growth Corridor) to counter China’s OBOR.
To counter CPEC, India has come to a consensus with Iran and Afghanistan regarding the Chabahar Port.
The recently inaugurated Dhola-Sadiya bridge connecting Assam and Arunachal Pradesh was India’s way of telling China to keep off by bolstering our defence preparedness.
There is a virtual agreement that the battleground for the Indo-China military rivalry is the Indian Ocean. The Chinese “string of pearls” which is a web of valuable ports and assets is countered by India’s naval build-up.
The course of Indo-China relations is integral to the economic growth in the two countries. The problem is that China doesn’t see India as its prime rival and has awarded that position to the United States.
It is not in our best interest to descend into outright hostility with the Chinese. Both nations have a lot to learn from each other in terms of economic policies and cultural integration of different ethnicities.
Perhaps it is time for India to put its best foot forward by coordinating with Japan, the USA and the EU in order to promote alternatives to Chinese economic exploitation in Asia and Africa.
India’s initiative to develop South Asian satellites for the SAARC countries is a great step in strengthening our interest in our immediate neighbours. We need to focus on delivering our existing commitments because that is where China scores over us. We need to work proactively on providing better alternatives to Chinese policies.
The two countries are capable of being more than just the Asian version of the cold war. They bear the mantle of leading us into the Asian century by having more productive and mature ties.