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Weekly Column – By Ravi Dutt Bajpai

C3S weekly column W001/2015


 Is China Framing India’s international agenda?

In the last few months China has undertaken some seemingly bold diplomatic initiatives that seem to suggest that it has usurped the control of framing the international agenda from its Asia-Pacific rivals. This is not to suggest that the internal problems within China have ceased to be a major challenge to the Chinese state but it is a testimony of China’s diplomatic wherewithal that it has continued to acquire global leadership at the international level while containing its domestic problems. Among several of its potential international rivals, China has managed to trim India’s options in dealing with some of the major issues in international affairs specifically in four key areas; sharing international rivers, climate change negotiations, finding a pan Asian order beyond the Sino-centrist framework and securing its own backyard in South Asia. India may well find innovative methods to deal with this diplomatic quicksand but at this point China appears to be driving India’s international agenda.

 Water has long been a source of tension in Asia even though it may not have led to an open confrontation yet. The rapid rise in human population and steep decline in the availability of fresh water may well lead to serious conflicts. The Tibetan Plateau in China is the origin of several major rivers sustaining approximately 1.4 billion people along its banks. China has negotiated several trans-boundary water management treaties with its northern and western neighbours while it has not entered into any such agreement with its southern neighbours including India, which are situated downstream along the rivers starting from the Tibetan Plateau.China’s ambitious plans to generate hydropower from these Tibetan Plateau rivers has caused serious anxiety in India about the sustainability of the water flow in its territories. In November 2014, the first power-generating unit in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region on Yarlung Tsangpo or the Brahmaputra became operational resulting in media overdrive in India. Questions were raised about China’s designs on the river. It is quite pertinent to note that India has embraced a similar approach towards its own downstream neighbours when it comes to trans-boundary water sharing and therefore, India cannot adopt a high moral ground on this issue. China and India have not ratified the UN Convention of the Law of the Non-Navigational uses of International Watercourse, thereby limiting the scope of institutionalised cooperation in trans boundary water sharing. India will have to negotiate some bilateral agreements on water sharing with China and by the virtue of its geographical location and strategic calculations China can dictate the terms of any such agreement.

 China staged a diplomatic coup by signing a favorable climate change deal with the United States during the APEC summit. This deal has brought India’s stand on the Greenhouse gas emissions and climate control negotiations in global focus. A proper reading of the China-US climate change deal debunks the myth of reduction of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by this agreement since it allows China to raise its overall pollution level based upon per capita calculations rather than reducing the volume of its pollution. Some of the leading Indian analysts have cautioned India against signing any similar climate change agreement should it hamper India’s economic growth prospects. India has been left with two equally difficult options, one for India to follow China’s example and negotiate a similar climate control agreement based upon per capita calculations or alternatively embrace a bold initiative and adopt drastic reduction in its overall GHG emissions. The first option will ultimately sabotage the very purpose of decelerating the rate of climate deterioration; the second option will result in limited impact on global climate change while it may adversely affect India’s faltering economic growth. However, India may be obliged to accept a climate control agreement similar to the US-China deal that may be bad for India’s economic growth but will certainly be worse for global climate change.

 India faces a difficult challenge in establishing a pan Asian order beyond the Sino-Centrist framework. India seems to be lagging behind in stitching up a broad coalition of Asian partners to establish a credible and sustainable alliance. China’s economic prowess is driving its international influence at the global level; in a regional set up such as BRICS, China has assumed the leadership of BRICS Development Bank and the BRICS Emergency Fund. In the Asia-Pacific region China has also managed to take the pole position by making significant financial contributions towards the establishment of theAsian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund.India may have reservations towards the revival of Silk Road and the formation of the maritime silk route due to its own strategic calculations. However, the regional countries in Asia stand to make significant infrastructure and economic gains through these transport network and India may have to shelve its objections to the Chinese initiatives in order to maintain friendly relations with other Asian countries.

 China may not win a popularity contest in its immediate neighborhood due to the territorial disputes in East China and South China seas. However, none of its neighbours are keen to embrace India at the cost of annoying China. In fact, India’s South Asian neighbors are very keen to serve under a China led regional order. The most recent South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit has illustrated the declining Indian influence in its own backyard while establishing the ascendance of China in South Asia.

 2015, may well be the year in which India has to find innovative ways to chart its own course in international affairs rather than reacting to Chinese designs. However, it seems quite a challenge for Indian policy makers in the contemporary strategic spectrum.

( Ravi Dutt Bajpai is currently pursuing a Masters in International Relations at Deakin University, Melbourne. He is associated with the Institute for Post Colonial Studies in Melbourne and is a regular social and political commentator with the Hindi daily, Prabhat Khabar, published from Bihar and Jharkhand. With expertise on China, India and Australia in world/Asian politics, he is a regular commentator on Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in Hindi in Australia. Email id:  bajpai.ravibajpai@gmail.com. )

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