Image Courtesy: https://journal-neo.org/2017/09/02/upon-evading-a-major-conflict-with-china-india-gets-back-to-political-games/
Article No. 006/2018
It has become a force of habit for both the official machinery and the state-run media in China to continue to object to the visit of any dignitary to Arunachal Pradesh. The most recent outburst was aimed against the Prime Minister of India who is to visit Arunachal Pradesh from 15th February 2018. While such objections have become routine and rightfully ignored by India, there is a need to develop a long-term strategy to ensure that there are no situations such as the Doklam which was defused by deft handling on both sides. The recent actions by China including the Doklam misadventure adds to the present level of deep mistrust and lack of confidence in establishing good neighbourly relations.
According to the report published by Xinhua it claimed besides many other accusations that “the so-called Arunachal Pradesh was established largely on three areas in China’s Tibet – Monyul, Loyul and Lower Tsayul — which are currently under illegal occupation by India. These three areas, located between the illegal “McMahon Line” and the traditional customary boundary between China and India, have always been Chinese territory.” McMahon line has been referred to as an illegal one and also has been dubbed as a colonial legacy in the past. However, China had no qualms about using the same McMahon line to resolve the boundary issues with Myanmar. So it is obviously a question of what is convenient and not what is the ground reality.
Whether it is the South China Sea or the East China Sea or the Himalayas as contested areas, It is well known that China does not let go of any opportunity to keep its unsubstantiated claims alive. This is the pattern and qualifies to be dubbed as its way of handling its claims with “Chinese Characteristics” a term also used extensively by Xi Jinping during the 19th Congress. Even in the case of Doklam, it again quoted an 1890 agreement and totally ignored the 2012 agreement that clearly required the maintenance of status quo between Bhutan and China. Yet, China tried to change the ground position by trying to construct roads in the disputed area.
China has consistently pursued its double standards in many areas of concern to India. While it makes a lot of noise about the so-called disputed nature of Arunachal Pradesh according to its perception, it has again no issues in engaging in massive construction and investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through Pak Occupied Kashmir (PoK). India needs to step up its means of protests in different fora at the highest levels to highlight the aggressive nature of Chinese investments which show no respect for India’s sovereignty and stand on the Pak occupied areas. There is a need to let the Chinese know in very strong terms that the construction activity and investments along the CPEC have to be stopped forthwith as it infringes on the sovereignty of India.
There are many other irritants vis-à-vis India when it comes to dealing with issues of concern which highlight the scant regard that China has for proven facts or for the recommendations of other nations. Though nothing new, here are a few examples to reinforce this point of view.
Specifically, in the context of counter-terrorism, the approach of China is again exemplified by ‘Chinese characteristics’. Fearing terrorist attacks and reprisals by the minority groups, Beijing has enforced severe religions restrictions in Xinjiang against the Uighurs. It also endorsed the joint declaration on counter-terrorism during the BRICs summit. However, on every occasion whenever there was a resolution against Masood Azhar, it has bailed out Pakistan and the terrorist mastermind. The statement in the press on 16th February 2018 attributed to Masood Azhar the founder and leader of Jaish-e- Mohamad (JeM) clearly brings out the complicity and involvement of Azhar in carrying out the terrorist attacks in Sunjuwan. He boasted that the terrorists were able to move way beyond the borders to carry out this attack deep inside Jammu. It is not that China requires more proof on the activities of JeM founder, but it does not want to be seen as acting against the interests of Pakistan its all-weather ally which believes in state-sponsored terrorism.
Admission to Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG)
That the aspiration of a responsible nuclear state India, to be admitted to the NSG,has been stalled repeatedly quoting some technicality or the other is indicative of the mindset of China. More importantly, China is dissatisfied that similar privilege is not being extended to Pakistan a known proliferator of nuclear technology. China appears to club both India and Pakistan in the same league. One needs to take note that Pakistan is also responsible for the development of nuclear missiles by North Korea, causing major security concerns in the Korean peninsula and the region.
It is evident that China wants to pose all impediments to the growth of another Asian power which is seen as a competitor which poses hurdles to China’s growth and aspirations. From the point of view of India, the admission to the NSG has become an issue of flogging a dead horse as it has other means and agreements which allow it to obtain its supply of nuclear material for its peaceful nuclear use. Even China is aware that with or without the admission to NSG, India has secured the requirement of supply of nuclear fuel by many bilateral agreements. Hence its stance is more to make India uncomfortable.
Admission to UNSC
Despite the support of many nations for India’s candidature to the high seat in United Nations, China has successfully stalled this initiative by the four members of the big five. What has not been stated is, should there be a revamping/restructuring of the UNSC. China does not want neither Japan nor India to be part of the new structure and therefore has conveniently stalled such moves by applying the “Chinese Characteristics”. While it is known that the UNSC itself is held hostage to the whims and fancies of the big powers who are equipped with the veto power, China uses the veto power to needle India on issues which come to the UNSC.
Compliance with International Statues and Awards
China is a signatory to the United Nations Conventions on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS). Unlike the USA, it has also ratified the UNCLOS. Yet, quoting some unsubstantiated historical maps, it has claimed the whole of the sea area in the nine-dash line and has carried out militarisation of the Islands in the SCS. It has constructed artificial Islands out of rocks and reefs to reinforce its claims in the area and has brought thousands of acres of sea areas under its control. A small neighbour – Philippines mustered enough courage to approach the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in Hague and the PCA award came down heavily on the malpractices of China in damaging the environment by indiscriminate dredging of the coral causing environmental degradation. The PCA ruled in favour of the claims of Philippine’s. However, China again has demonstrated that it does not care for an international ruling and upheld its wrongdoings by rejecting the award obviously with Chinese characteristics.
From all the above accounts, it is clear that the relations between India and China will continue to be under phenomenal strain requiring constant attention. There are other developments in the region which are seen as aimed at China. The Quadrilateral association of the four democracies viz the USA, India, Japan and Australia is seen as a military alliance aimed at stymying the Chinese aggressive maritime expansion from Asia to Africa and beyond. India’s initiative along with Japan for creating the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) is seen as a counter to the Maritime Silk Road (MSR). India has to work at many levels to ensure that its interests are protected. India will need to have robust mechanisms to ensure that it does not come under undue pressure because of the aggressive posturing by China. By exploring alternate avenues for investment to India for mega projects and by not endorsing the MSR, India has been perceived by China as an impediment to its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). There is no need now or ever to endorse the BRI which is unilateral in nature and in any case, not a benign one as projected. It is left to the nations on the road to make an assessment of the long-term impact of the loans by China for infrastructure development before inviting the Chinese to invest in these vulnerable economies. There is also no need to increase the trade deficit in China’s favour by giving in to their demands for greater entry into India’s uncaptured market sectors.
There is another important area of river water sharing and the behaviour of the upper riparian state, China in undertaking projects along the Brahmaputra River known as the Yarlung Tsangpo in China. Any unilateral action to build or divert river waters in China would affect the quantity and quality of water flow into India. India will need to approach International tribunals in time to ensure that some of the harmful projects in China are stalled. The reports of diversion of the Brahmaputra River and mega projects in China have the potential to systemically deny the rightful share of water to the lower riparian states notably India and Bangladesh.
While some of the initiatives such as the Quad or the AAGC with Japan or Chahbahar with Iran have their own utility, there are many other areas in which India will need to work alone without any help from others. The foremost option in the present context is to approach the highest international tribunal to stop all construction/investment by China in Pak held areas. There can be no justification for the CPEC which is arbitrary, unilateral and with malice towards India. While ignoring the unsubstantiated rhetoric both by the official channels and the Chinese media on any visit of any dignitary to Arunachal Pradesh a sovereign territory of India, is one response, the need of the hour is to work on strategies that serve both the long term and short-term interests of India by working at many levels.
[Commodore RS Vasan IN (Retd) is Regional Director, Chennai Chapter of National Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi, and Director, C3S. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of any institution he is affiliated with. He can be reached at email@example.com]