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India needs Pragmatic Approach towards China; By Jai Kumar Verma

C3S Paper No. 0125/ 2015

Courtesy:  Bureaucracy Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned from a three-nation tour of China, Mongolia and South Korea on May 19. However, all the concentration was on his visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese Ambassador to India, Le Yucheng, mentioned in an interview that Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China was very successful and there will be farreaching effects of his tour. He pointed out that Chinese President Xi Jinping received Modi outside Beijing and spent more than five hours with the visiting dignitary indicating that China gave enormous importance to Modi. Not only this, a Cabinetrank Minister accompanied Modi throughout his tour. The India-China boundary dispute was discussed and both sides agreed to strengthen their bilateral relations and economic development till the issue is resolved amicably.

On the substantive side, a total of 24 inter-governmental agreements, including 21 business agreements of USD 22 billion were signed. The argument that China pledged USD 46 billion to Pakistan just a few days before Modi’s visit to China may not be given undue importance. Firstly, China is using Pakistan as a proxy against India. Secondly, only memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) of USD 46 billion were signed and other relevant details were not chalked out.

The significant point is that both India and China are suspicious of each other and there is acute distrust between them. Their border dispute often results in skirmishes. There is geopolitical hostility and differences exist on riverine and marine issues. Chinese authorities showed lot of outward hospitality but did not budge on any substantive issues.

Modi tried to convince the Chinese leaders that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is not mutually agreed upon. Therefore, border violations take place. Hence the dispute must be resolved but China did not agree on it. In fact, China has toughened its stand on Arunachal Pradesh and describes it as South Tibet. Analysts say that China will use the border issue as a lever with India when it needs Indian assistance.

China backtracked from its promise of exchanging maps with India on the Aksai Chin area and Arunachal Pradesh and even in this Modi visit, it did not agree to exchange the maps. China has also refused to share hydrological data on rivers flowing in both the countries.

Modi offered electronic visas on the arrival of Chinese nationals in India. It is a quantum jump as a few years ago the cases of all the Chinese passport holders were referred to the Ministry of Home Affairs and visa was granted only after getting clearance from the MHA. By offering electronic visa, Modi gave the message that times have changed and we must move forward in the 21st century.

China is opposed to India becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council as well as its joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Modi could not get any positive assurance from China on both these issues.

The investment of USD 22 billion promised by China may not prove very lucrative as a larger portion of the money will be used by Indian firms to buy Chinese goods which would further enhance the trade imbalance. Not only this, India exports raw material to China while China exports finished goods to India. Needless to say that China has flooded Indian markets with cheap goods which is proving disastrous to the small and cottage industries of India. Chinese have stopped importing pharmaceutical, electronic and agricultural items from India, under flimsy grounds.

Modi in the current visit was full of confidence and dealt with every issue forcefully. However, India needs a pragmatic approach towards China. India must accept the fact that China’s economy is five times stronger than that of India, Secondly, Chinese defence forces are better equipped than Indian forces. Thirdly, China has developed much better infrastructure in the border areas. India started constructing border roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects very late. Last but not the least, China has close relationship with Pakistan. Although China did not help Pakistan in the 1965 and 1971 wars, Pakistan may attack India in the case of war between India and China. China has also developed close relations with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh besides several other countries.

Consequently India must be friendly with China till it develops infrastructure on the Indo-China border, strengthens its armed forces with new weaponry, raises a new Mountain Strike Corps, inculcates geopolitical alliances, especially with the United States, Japan, important European countries, Australia, Canada and neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and if feasible with Pakistan too. US-Japan defence cooperation is increasing. Both these countries want to include India in this cooperation but India should continue its policy of non-alignment. New Delhi must give a clear message to Beijing that India will not join any alliance against China.

India must strengthen itself and then negotiate with China to achieve the desired results. The Modi visit may prove a fruitful beginning of a formidable task of developing cordial India- China relationship.

(The writer retired as a Director of the Cabinet Secretariat. He is now a Delhi-based strategic analyst and is a member of the panel of various training institutes of Intelligence and paramilitary organisations.)

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