Deep socio-economic and diplomatic relations between India and China will benefit the world
Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is more than confident that the standoff with China on the Boklam Plateau would be resolved amicably given a huge list of such incidents on the Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim sectors in the past. The imaginary border which is not defined anywhere gives rise to such incidents due to perceived differences of opinion on what constitutes whose territory. China prefers to push the envelope more aggressively while India relies on diplomatic engagement to resolve such issues. With India constantly upgrading its border infrastructure, China is getting more bellicose.
In an interview, former foreign secretary and national security advisor Shivshankar Menon has taken the position that the only way out is dealing with the Chinese directly. Jaishankar and Menon, as old China hands, have considerable experience to suggest strategies and measures in dealing with China. Even Beijing takes both these gentlemen seriously. Communist leadership in China also fully understands that the duo are peaceniks and had tactfully engaged with their counterparts in the past. The addition to this combination is the current national security advisor and prime minister’s points-man, Ajit Doval, who’s again a seasoned strategist.
The troika will have to work overtime to find a solution to the stand off near the western tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China that has entered the second month. The starting point could be to restore status quo ante as in the past couple of negotiations. A new modus vivendi with China has been pushed as negotiations between China and India-Bhutan happen in right earnest. In effect, what’s being put forth was for the conflicting parties to co-exist peacefully either temporarily or permanently, till a solution was found.
This is a time-tested strategy for both India and China. When the eyeballing at Depsang in 2013 and Chumar in 2014 happened, both sides pursued this line to mutual advantage. And, it took years to find a solution to border disputes. Most Indians forget Nathu La 1967 when India gave the Chinese a bloody nose. The fighting that erupted on September 11, 1967, was preceded by months of accusations from both sides about incursions and territorial intrusions. According to an account of the clashes written by Maj Gen Sheru Thapliyal, who was posted in Sikkim at the time, the Indian side lost more than 70 soldiers while the Chinese casualties were more than 400. Years later, the Sumdorong Chu incident in 1987 in Arunachal Pradesh is another such standoff between the Indian Army and Chinese People Liberation Army (PLA) where India-China came close to a war. But Indian diplomacy mixed with caution and aggression not only avoided war but also brought China to the table to discuss. The impact of the 1987 incident was such that when then PM Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988, he talked with the Chinese premier on equal footing.
In the present context, the Doklam standoff is more complicated given that Bhutan, China and India will have to agree on positioning of their respective military posts. Further, China must be willing to postpone construction of roads infrastructure on the Bhutanese territory that’s patrolled by Indian forces. What has complicated the issue is China’s repeated aggressive statements giving diplomatic niceties a by your leave. War mongering interspersed with accusations; threats and physical action rolled out by Beijing to pile up pressure on India will have to end. Negotiations will have to be worked on to find a lasting solution to this complex problem between the two countries.
The two sides need not wait till the national security advisors of both countries meet in China during July 27-28. Preparations for formatting the negotiations can begin right away. NSAs will also have to pave the way for a dialogue at the highest level when the BRICS summit happens at Xiamen in China during September this year.
Deep and strategic relations between India and China will have to be attempted rather than these minor skirmishes leading to avoidable tensions on both sides. As both Shivshankar Menon and Jaishankar have postulated, the relations between China and India that have arrived on the world scene have to be “special, singular and without strings attached.”
Pursuing an anti-India stance on the global stage will not help China evolve as a global leader. Xi Jinping will have to reverse his policy of opposing India’s entry into the nuclear suppliers group. Chinese communist leadership will have to take a lead in designating Masood Azhar as a global terrorist and, thereby, prove its commitment to the cause internationally. Again, Xi Jinping will have to rework the China Pakistan Economic Corridor keeping India’s sovereignty issues at the fulcrum.
Deep socio-economic and diplomatic relations between India and China whose rise has been almost simultaneous would work not only in the interest of the Asian region but also the entire world.