Rising tensions escalate hostility and distance Indo-China accord

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Dr Sana Hashmi

Dr Sana Hashmi

Taipei, June 7, 2021


                                    Chinese troops at the Galwan Valley (Courtesy: Getty Images)

I have given an overview of India-China relations, particularly in the context of the boundary dispute and the Galwan clashes of 2020-21.

I have argued that the violent Galwan Clashes that killed at least 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers is a reason why India-China relations will not get back to normalcy any time soon.

I have explained the major reasons for China to opt for escalation with India.

Some of the reasons include (1) China’s familiarity with India’s approach of resolving the dispute bilaterally and not going for third party intervention (2) Certainty of India’s adherence to One-China Policy with respect to Tibet and Xinjiang (3) China’s practice of ‘teaching’ countries that do not go China’s way a lesson (4) China’s lashing out of frustration amid criticism of covering up of the info vis-à-vis Covid-19 (5) Continuity in the Biden administration policy towards Asia (6) Elevation of the quadrilateral security dialogue and India’s apparent interest and strategic position in the Quad and the Indo-Pacific and (7) India’s consistent opposition to the Belt and Road Initiative also played important roles in China’s enmity towards India.

Growing mistrust

There is growing mistrust on India’s part, and the recent developments have changed India’s attitude towards China. There is a realisation among Indian leadership that the border dispute

is not about differing perceptions, and China does not respect the status quo. Therefore, achieving a breakthrough in the dispute becomes all the more important for India.

In conclusion, I reiterated that the problems will be recurring in the relations if China does not pay enough heed to India’s sovereignty concerns, and this will push India further towards establishing an anti-China coalition. For lasting stability in relations, border dispute resolution is the key.

Dr Sana Hashmi with colleagues and visitors at TAEF


Belt and Road Initiative

Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s overall scheme of things. Asia’s two other biggest economies, Japan and India are not part of the BRI. On the contrary, they are trying to create their own mechanism which goes on to establish that China’s road to great power is full of challenges. And there is no doubt that China is committing mistakes in its foreign policy behaviour particularly with regard to the BRI investments.

Most of the great powers in world history decline because of overstretching their capabilities.

BRI is a mixed bag and has got mixed responses from countries across the world. In some regions, it is challenged more than in other regions. Countries renegotiating the projects is giving them a better chance to dictate terms in the BRI projects. Malaysia is an example here. But what is important to keep in mind before we reach any conclusion that China has shown remarkable enthusiasm in promoting and implementing its BRI plans, and it has paid off in many cases.

The mixed response that the BRI has gained so far is the very reason why it is here to stay. It is on the countries that are alarmed by the BRI to consolidate their policies by combining their efforts to deal with the challenges emanating from it. For China, the best way forward on the BRI would be to make it more inclusive and financially transparent.

The American equation

There is continuity in Biden’s administration policy. In fact, in comparison to the Trump administration, it is more action-oriented. One example is the elevation of the Quad and the Indo-Pacific construct. China is still a factor in Biden Asia policy.

India is one of the important players in the Indo-Pacific, and the US-India relations are only witnessing an upward trajectory. China threat is a common concern for both the US and India.

India, like the US, is a strong proponent of the Indo-Pacific of which the Quad is one mechanism. Both countries, along with others that have embraced the thought that Indo-Pacific promotes a rules-based order, openness, inclusivity, and transparency.

As far as China’s response to the Indo-Pacific is concerned, no official statement has come out. However, it does oppose the idea and considers it an anti-China coalition and sometimes Chinese scholars and officials refer it to as Asian NATO.

While India is cooperating with like-minded countries to deal with the China challenge, it is less likely to go for a full-fledged anti-China coalition.

India still is non-aligned and prefers to resolve differences with China through mutual consultations and dialogues.

Chances of an overt conflict with China are bleak but India will continue to strengthen ties with the US and remain an active part of the Indo-Pacific.

The challenge to Tibetan Movement

My comments revolved around the two developments that took place recently. The first is the appointment of Penpa Tsering as the political leader of the Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan government-in-exile).

Tsering has talked about reinitiating dialogue with the Chinese. This is somewhat hinting towards the middle way approach the crux of which is to have “genuine autonomy” within Chinese control, not gaining independence.

While this has been the official policy of the Tibetan leaders in exile, neither is the CTA recognised by the Chinese nor do they pay any heed to the Middle Way Approach advocated by the Dalai Lama. Also, there is striking variation between the ideologies of the older and younger generations of Tibetans-in-exile.

This will pose a challenge for the Tibetan movement.

The State Council Information Office in Beijing briefing media in White Paper on Tibet on March 27, 2019

(Photo for Asian News Photo by Zhu Xingxin)


China’s White Paper

As expected, it was mentioned that only China has the right to appoint the next Dalai Lama. We have to see the timing. The White Paper is there to consolidate its claims on Tibet further amid the elections in the CTA. If we look at the words used in the White Paper such as democratic reforms, economic reforms, modernization, all point out how China has been attempting to justify its activities in Tibet (as has been the case with the previously issued White Papers).

China’s control over Tibet has serious implications for India. China’s attempt to build infrastructure in Tibet and improve its connectivity with the mainland has been one of China’s major strategies, not only in terms of military preparedness but also to overcome the challenge of regional disparity.

So, in essence, China’s control over Tibet is more consolidated leading to more aggression for its neighbours especially India. Tibet is a buffer zone for India and is important in a geopolitical sense for both China and India. For countries, to have a stable relationship with China, it is important to find a solution to the issue of Tibet.

Dr Sana Hashmi is a Visiting Fellow to the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF) based in Taipei. As a former fellow of Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Consultant in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Dr Hashmi’s research focuses on Taiwan’s foreign relations, Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, Taiwan-India relations, China’s Foreign Policy, China’s territorial disputes, and Asian security. The above appeared as a TAEF Commentary.

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