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BRP Bhaskar: India-China ties in a trough
April 25, 2017
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

A year after President Pranab Mukherjee spoke of India-China relations as the defining partnership of this century and called upon governments of the two countries to jointly impart momentum to bilateral ties, there is no sign of a forward movement. On the contrary, mutual distrust is threatening to destroy the good work done after the 1961 hostilities over the disputed border.

Ahead of a visit to the border state of Arunachal Pradesh by Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India since 1959, this month the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned that it could damage bilateral relations.

Arunachal Pradesh, which was administered by the British under the name of North East Frontier Agency, is now a full-fledged state with an area of about 84,000 square kilometres and a population of 1.38 million. China claims it is South Tibet. After India ignored the warning and the Dalai Lama went ahead with the visit, Beijing announced Chinese names for six Arunachal towns to reinforce its claim.

This was the Dalai Lama’s seventh visit since 1983 to Arunachal Pradesh, where the 17th century Tawang monastery, headquarters of the Kama-Kargyu sect of Tibetan Buddhists, is located. While China routinely objected to his visits, this is the first time it has followed up the protest with any step at all. P. Stobdan, a former diplomat, believes China only wants to discourage India from thinking it can use the Dalai Lama as leverage in the dealings between the two countries.

India-China relations are now in a trough now. Each side feels that the other is not sufficiently sensitive to its interests.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose neighbourhood policy is conditioned by the Hindutva perspective on Pakistan and terrorism, is peeved with China for blocking India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its attempt to get the UN to brand Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist.

China is suspicious of India’s evolving strategic relationship with the United States. Also, it is unhappy about India’s indifference to President Xi Jinping’s pet One Belt One Road project.

OBOR is a global network of roads, railways, pipelines and utility grids that will link China with South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia and through them to Europe. When completed, it will be the world’s largest platform for economic, social and cultural cooperation.

India’s reservations about OBOR stem primarily from its opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will run through Azad Jammu and Kashmir. CPEC is one of several corridors envisaged as part of OBOR. The corridors are expected to be dotted with energy and industrial clusters.

The Indian government initially cited lack of details about the elements of the project as a reason for its holding back. Last month an official spokesman spelt out its objection: “CPEC passes through Indian territory.”

The argument is, no doubt, valid but the objection comes too late. The 1,300-km Karakoram highway, which runs from Kashgar in the Xinjiang region of China to Abbotabad in Pakistan and will become part of CPEC, has been operational for about four decades already. India learnt of that road project only after work on it began in 1959.

India is yet to respond to China’s invitation to attend a meeting on OBOR which it has scheduled for May. The government must take an early decision in the matter, after weighing carefully the advantages that may accrue to the country from the project and the disadvantages that may result if it keeps out of it.

India’s absence will, no doubt, diminish OBOR’s worth as it is now the world’s fastest growing economy and one of the largest markets. But India needs to note that more than 60 countries with a combined GDP of $21 trillion have evinced interest in the project and it thus bids fair to be a success even without India. In fact, the chances are that circumstances may eventually compel India to join it so as to benefit from it.

An early positive decision may confer two advantages. It may lift India-China relations from the trough into which it has fallen. Many details of OBOR are still to be worked out. By joining the group before the details are filled in India may be able to play a role in shaping its course in a way beneficial to it.

India must not lose sight of the fact that it cannot secure its legitimate place in a reformed UN except with the concurrence of China, which is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning
 

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