No thaw in India-China relations


Post the recent informal meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the 15th BRICS summit in Johannesburg, hope seems to be fluttering in the hearts of the uber-hopefuls that there is peace on the horizon on the India-China front. It is hoped that the rather petulant statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, that the meeting took place because the Indians wanted it, and not because the Chinese were keen on it, would have nipped in the bud any such dreams of possible peace. In fact, the Chinese outburst reveals a rather intemperate and immature trait, typical of authoritarians, who do not understand how mature nations function, or about the need for dignity in bilateral relations, even if the two sides are rivals. In response, India’s Ministry of External Affairs, which had been maintaining silence on the matter, had to set the record straight in the media through sources by saying that the Indian side was responding to an earlier offer by PRC to hold formal bilateral talks; but only an informal meeting could be held. Post the meeting, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement that said “President Xi stressed that improving China-India relations serves the common interests of the two countries and peoples, and is also conducive to peace, stability and development of the world and the region…The two sides should bear in mind the overall interests of their bilateral relations and handle properly the border issue so as to jointly safeguard peace and tranquillity in the border region.” Noble words, but also hypocritical given that it was Xi Jinping’s PLA that perpetrated the present crisis over three years ago, by incursions and by attacking Indian soldiers at Galwan on the intervening night of 14-15 June 2020. Whatever little hope that New Delhi had of India-China relations shaping the 21st century into an Asian century, evaporated that night. Ever since, things have been going downhill.
If the PRC were so serious about good relations with India, it should have stopped the war-like infrastructure building along the LAC, including the dual-use border villages. The buildup of man and materiel on the other side of the LAC is reaching unprecedented levels. In response, India has been forced to match the PLA, even though it does not have as deep a pocket as China has. Meanwhile, ground level attempts of incursions have not stopped. It is known by now that while the minor incursions are decided upon at the level of the local commanders, any major incursion has the clearance from the highest level—and there is only one man in the whole of PRC who can give such a clearance. The problem is China wants the border stand-off and the changed LAC as the new normal. India will never agree to it. Before Galwan India hoped that relations could be managed. After Galwan it has given up that hope. In the words of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, India-China relations are “abnormal” and until and unless the border situation is sorted there is no going forward. If China had peace on its mind, why are the Ladakh troops disengagement talks stuck? Why does China’s belligerence regarding Arunachal continue? Why is PLA buying—according to media reports—spike-studded mace for its soldiers stationed along the LAC? All this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Short of a kinetic warfare, China is doing everything to try and hurt India’s progress, to compromise its territorial integrity. Each one of China’s actions concerning India is unfriendly.
We will know inside a few days if the chat that happened between the two leaders in Johannesburg has smoothened the path of Xi Jinping’s visit to New Delhi for the G20 summit. Beyond that there cannot be any breakthrough in India-China relations in the near future. China wants to dictate the terms of its engagement with India, to bully this country into submission. While, under its current leadership, India will continue to stand up to the bully. Also, as long as Xi Jinping is President—for life, apparently—relations will continue to go downhill, for he does not have peace on his mind.