'Friends, not Rivals'

India and China are "friends and partners, not threats or rivals" and should "help each other succeed instead of undercutting each other". So said Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a press conference on the sidelines of the annual session of China's Parliament, National People's Congress on March 7. The Chinese are masters in propaganda. The way they are frequently talking of 'India-China' friendship deserves serious attention, as if nothing happened last year. Wang Yi without directly referring to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) stand-off said," The rights and wrongs of what happened in the border region last year are clear. So are the stakes involved". Meanwhile, India and China have been engaged in ten rounds of diplomatic and military level talks for disengagement after tensions began rising along the high-altitude border in April 2020. The situation worsened and jingoism gripped the country when 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a physical clash in mid-June in Ladakh's Galwan valley. Responding to Chinese overtures the Indian Ministry of External Affairs admitted for the first time that the disengagement of Chinese troops in the Pongong Lake area was a significant step forward and that it was not in the best interests of either  sides to prolong the issue. What is needed is to shed mutual 'suspicion' and create conditions by expanding bilateral cooperation to resolve the thorny border question left by history. It remains to be seen whether India and China can complete total disengagement of troops at all friction points, in the coming weeks.

India-China relationship is essentially how the world's two largest countries with a combined population of 2.7 billion can make greater contributions to the advent of what the Chinese euphemistically call Asian Century. No doubt both India and China share the same or similar position on many international issues. But they also differ on many major issues. They talked of two great civilisations in the yester years and they will talk more of the same in the coming years despite the unresolved contentious border dispute.

Indications are that the Chinese are now not in a hurry to clinch the boundary imbroglio, albeit at one stage it appeared that they would continue their aggressive exercises at LAC, notwithstanding global outcry against Beijing. Perhaps they have more pressing engagements elsewhere. It seems both China and America are closing their ranks in view of mounting tensions in the Indo-Pacific region. Japan is continually accusing China of trying to change the status quo in the east and south China seas. Then there is the question of Taiwan. As per an American intelligence report, China could invade Taiwan by 2027. In recent months China has intensified its military activity around the island. True, Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, but it remains Taipei's most important ally and military backer. Taiwan is a factor that matters in strategic calculations of both America and China.

Meanwhile, the summit meeting of the Quad—India, US, Japan and Australia—took place last week. The main purpose of Quad or what they call Asian Nato, is to thwart China's advance in the Indo-Pacific region. In other words America wants to get back its hegemonic sway in every theatre of geo-strategic importance. Surprisingly India is still in a dilemma as to how to balance its equation in America-led manoeuvring while not discarding China's mellowed stance in the Himalayas.

Europe's biggest party is all set to take tougher line on Beijing—it is actually an extension of America's plan of encircling China. The European People's Party calls for a start on Taiwan investment talks and for Taipei to be welcomed to participate in WHO meetings, mechanisms and activities, particularly during the pandemic. Previously, calls from countries such as Australia for Taipei's involvement in the WHO angered China. But Europe's pro-Taiwan exercise means America has not changed after Biden's take-over.

After Trump, Joe Biden too challenges China's Sinicisation efforts in Tibet. The Biden administration in its first direct message to China on Tibet, has reminded Beijing that it should not have any role in the Dalai Lama's succession, thus continuing the hard line taken by Trump.

And with the approval of American authorities, Tibetans living in exile have started movement against China's human rights violations in China. They recently observed the Tibetan Uprising Day in America and elsewhere. They observe it every year to commemorate the 1959 revolt against communist China's repression in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Tibetans and their supporters remember to pay homage to all those who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet's independence struggle. No amount of historical jargons can deny Tibet's semi-independent status before the People' Liberation Army entered northern Tibet in 1950. A new pamphlet released by the International Campaign for Tibet documents policy and institutional changes, posing threat to the very survival of Tibetan Buddhisim. Maybe, there are exaggerations but all allegations are not baseless. It is difficult for China to tackle all fronts opened by America --so peace diplomacy returns in India-China bilateral relations after a short period of confrontations, much to the satisfaction of common people. China has everything to gain by making India a sleeping partner in the Quad. Given the changed geo-political context that is unlikely to happen.

15. 3. 2021

Back to Home Page

Vol. 53, No. 39, Mar 28 - Apr 3, 2021