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Monday, August 8, 2022

Sino-Indian Relations

The Dragon takes a turn


Despite the regime change, sustained efforts are needed to bridge the India-China trust deficit
Tags : China | India | Communist Party of China | Hu-Wen | Xi-Li | Internal security | Chinese intransigence on Tibet |

For China watchers in India and elsewhere, especially in the ASEAN region, the recently concluded 18th Party Congress (18 PC) of the Communist Party of China has brought no relief or news to cheer about. In the interim, it seems to be business as usual. The new set of rulers will have to deal with the existing policies inherited from the Hu-Wen team. Wading through the numerous reports emanating from Beijing and other places, it is evidently clear that there is no departure from dealing with China’s “core interests” particularly with reference to Tibet, Taiwan, maritime boundary or China’s desire to take its appointed place at the international high table.

China today has multiple internal issues. The Xi-Li administration will have to carry this baggage. The most important among the issues facing China today is the increasing restlessness amongst the Tibetan and Uighur minorities and the crescendo has grown over the past three years and it threatens to intensify. The extent of internal security and instability is demonstrated by the gargantuan homeland ministry budget which has overtaken the national defence allocations. The 18 PC has not so far evolved any new formula towards either a healing touch or some resolution of the massive problem.

There is reason to believe that the government and party mechanism dealing with the ethnic issue will throw up new faces and the direction it takes remains to be seen. Reports indicate diminution of ethnic representation in the party’s various organs. The Dalai Lama establishment would have no-doubt assessed the new leadership and may prefer to wait and watch for signs on how the Tibet policy is formulated and ultimately played out. There was earlier hope that under a Xi regime, a moderate policy on Tibet could be expected due to his late father’s less than anti-Tibet outlook. The big question is, will the son oblige?

Chinese intransigence on Tibet will continue to impact India-China relations. The emergence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as a major influence in the new regime will contribute further to the intransigence since the military is opposed to any dilution in China’s policy on the international boundary issue. In fact the military has a hawkish stance on several “foreign policy” issues and is at odds with the foreign ministry over it.  Nearly 15 rounds of talks between the Special Representatives of India and China have not produced any major document except to ensure that peace and tranquility prevails on the perceived borders. However, China continues border violations and transgressions at will vis-à-vis India.

That none of the major power brokers in the Xi-Li combination have visited India in any high level capacity is note-worthy. Xi visited India in 1992 as a senior party functionary. His visits to countries in our neighborhood is also note-worthy. He was slated to visit India late last year, which was canceled and the foreign minister came in his place. State Councillor Dai-binguo, the Special Representative on  the boundary talks, demits office early next year and his successor will not be announced till then. However, the forthcoming visit of India’s National Security Adviser to Beijing will be among the first interactions with members of the new regime and its outcome keenly watched. With a debilitated Congress led UPA government in office, weakened by corruption and other scandals, it remains to be seen as to how Beijing responds to Indian overtures on various issues affecting India-China relations.

It is still premature to pass a judgment or presage the direction or trajectory of India-China relations. The coming few months needs to be watched to get a sense of the developments before the new regime gets going. The reactions in major regional capitals that are at odds with Beijing would have to be factored in. The US has already kick started its campaign in Southeast Asia as witnessed by Obama’s recent visit.

There is considerable trust deficit in India-China relations and sustained efforts are needed to bridge the gap. India needs to identify its core interests in discussions with the incoming regime. The covert Chinese influence in India has increased manifold especially in key sectors. The war over stapled visas continues thereby indicating a ‘business-as-usual’ syndrome.

The political authority in China too has suffered considerably in the penultimate year of Hu’s office, the Bo Xilai episode has exposed the extent of corruption in both political and economic life. Some serious issues certainly confront the Party. The next few months will be crucial for China especially its next generation leaders.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017