China’s Strategic Challenge for India

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Earlier alike, the second consecutive BJP-led government formed on 30th of May 2019, under the premiership of Narendra Modi will certainly focus its major policy attention on the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In his first inning Modi worked on two counts- on the one hand he tried to combine India -China economic relations in larger interests of both, but on other hand he kept in mind India’s encirclement of China by forging and strengthening a strong understanding with major power of the world, even outside the region. 

In fact, by growing understanding with ASEAN countries, especially nations  surrounding China and friendship with countries who are not on good terms with PRC, Modi gave a clear indication to China and small neighbours that they are on India’s foreign policy radar system and their actions are being scanned by New Delhi. Day after oath Modi has formed his team of experts and now it is widely believed to deliver the outcomes. As he has returned in  his second term with more seats and in a assertive way, people’s hope with him is natural. Even in recent past there has been a series of controversies relating to territory and other strategic matters not aimed to harm substantially but to tease or make India unease. It’s a regular feature of India – China relations and the time has come to minimise the China effects.

Bone of contention

In the context the decades old dispute between them is about  Arunachal Pradesh. For example, when in February 2019,  Indian Prime Minister  Narendra Modi visited Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese authority objected and said that the move may derail the ongoing normalisation process. It was seriously opposed by New Delhi by saying that the state of Arunachal Pradesh is an “integral and inalienable part” of India. Indian leaders visit Arunachal Pradesh from time to time, as they visit other parts of India. This contradictory position on the border has no cooling down and in response to a question on Modi’s visit to the area, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, “China’s position on the boundary question is consistent and clear-cut. The Chinese government has never recognised the so-called ‘Arunachal Pradesh’ and is firmly opposed to the Indian leader’s visit to the East Section of the China-India boundary.”

“China urges the Indian side to bear in mind the common interests of the two countries, respect the interests and concerns of the Chinese side, cherish the momentum of improvement in bilateral relations, and refrain from any action that may lead to the escalation of disputes or complicate the boundary question,”.China claims the north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet. India and China have so far held 21 rounds of talks to resolve the border dispute. Now is the testing time for the “strategic guidance ” issued at Wuhan after the summit of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Premier  Narendra Modi to defuse confrontations during patrolling in accordance with existing protocols and mechanisms.

China is  in occupation of approximately 38,000 sq. kms. of Indian territory in Jammu and Kashmir under the so called China-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963 which Pakistan ceded to Beijing along with 5180 sq. kms. of Indian territory in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). The People’s Republic of China also claims approximately 90,000 sq. kms. of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and about 2000 sq. kms. in the middle sector of the India-China boundary. The Arunachal Pradesh dispute is China’s most intractable border issue. The area of disputed region is three times that of Taiwan and six times that of Beijing. However, Arunachal Pradesh is the only issue which has a potential for conflict between India and China. If ever India and China go to war one day, it will be on this issue. India considers recurring Sino-India border clashes a potential threat to its security. 

Since the war of 1962, each side continued to improve its military and logistic capabilities in the disputed regions. China has continued its occupation of the Aksai Chin area, through which it built a strategic highway linking Xizang and Xinjiang autonomous regions. China had a vital military interest in maintaining control over this region, whereas Indian’s primary interest lay in Arunachal Pradesh, its state in the northeast bordering Xizang Autonomous Region of the PRC.

Issue of Line of Actual Control

The border between India and China and specifically the ill-defined Line of Actual Control (LAC), had remained free of any major incidents through the 1970s and the early 1980s. While relations between the two countries remained cool, official statements from Beijing and New Delhi professed a desire to solve the border tangle peacefully through mutual consultations. As a starter, in December 1981, both sides held yearly/occasional talks and a  number of border related CBMs put in place, but the border issue remains mired in various bilateral and domestic compulsions and contradictions on both sides. Border ‘encounters’ between India and China are not rare and arise from the very real disagreements that exist between the two sides in demarcating the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the ground.

Now the post-1962 policy of not developing the border areas has been changed and in 2008 the Government of India decided to develop the region to address the situation arising out of poor road connectivity and undertook the phase-wise construction of 27 road links in border areas of India-China in J&K,  Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. 

 However, the differences in perception of the Line of Actual Control between India-China continues till date. Both sides carry out patrolling activity in the India-China border areas. Transgressions of the LAC are taken up through diplomatic channels and at Border Personnel Meetings/Flag Meetings, as both sides desire a reasonable settlement of the boundary question through peaceful consultations. Nevertheless, the possibility of periodic low-level confrontations between them can’t be ruled out.This has left both sides sensitive to each other’s border activities to dispose the worst-case perceptions of the ‘other sides’ .

The term “LAC” gained legal recognition in Sino-Indian agreements signed in 1993 and 1996. The 1996 agreement states, “No activities of either side shall overstep the line of actual control.” However clause No 6 of the 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas mentions, “The two sides agree that references to the line of actual control in this Agreement do not prejudice their respective positions on the boundary question”.

The Indian government claims that Chinese troops continue to illegally enter the area hundreds of times every year. In 2013, there was a three week standoff between Indian and Chinese troops- 30 km southeast of Daulat Beg Oldi. It was resolved and both Chinese and Indian troops withdrew in exchange for a Chinese agreement to destroy some military structures over 250 km to the south near Chumar that the Indians perceived as threatening. Later the same year, it was reported that Indian forces had already documented 329 sightings of unidentified objects over a lake in the border region. They recorded 155 such intrusions. Later some of the objects were identified as planets by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics as Venus and Jupiter appearing brighter as a result of the different atmosphere at altitude and confusion due to the increased use of surveillance drones. In October 2013, India and China signed a border defence cooperation agreement to ensure that patrolling along the LAC does not escalate into armed conflict.

Recent Developments

For the Indian security establishment, China poses a strategic challenge rather than a threat. India is primarily concerned by China’s assertiveness in the border dispute, by its growing trade and defence relationships with India’s South Asian neighbours, and by the expansion of Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean, the latter of which India fears as possible encirclement. All this has hardened New Delhi’s perspective towards Beijing. But, at the same time, China is India’s largest trading partner.

Although Modi seeks stronger trade and investment links with China, he has also been tough on his powerful neighbour. In his electoral campaign, he criticised China’s “mindset of expansion”. When Chinese forces crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at Chumar during a September 2014 trip to India by President Xi Jinping, Modi’s response was robust. He sent reinforcements to the area and ensured that Indian troops held their positions. He publicly expressed concern over the border dispute, and raised the issue of Beijing’s policies in the neighbourhood with his guest. In June 2015, India declared that the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project was “not acceptable”, as it would use infrastructure in disputed Kashmiri territory.

In a significant departure from the previous government, Modi is willing to form a combined front with the United States on Asia-Pacific security to counter an assertive China. During President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi in January 2015, the two governments issued a document that outlined their joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. It included a paragraph affirming “the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.This was understood to imply that the two parties had reached a consensus on the need to counter Beijing’s assertive handling of conflicting regional territorial claims. A 10-year defence framework agreement has also been signed with the US, and trilateral cooperation between the US, Japan, and India has been raised to foreign-secretary level. The annual India–US Malabar naval exercise has been expanded to include Japan. India is also seeking to bolster defence and naval cooperation with Vietnam.The joint India–US vision recognises the complementary nature of India’s new “Act East” policy.

 

 

China had a vital military interest in maintaining control over this region, whereas Indian’s primary interest lay in Arunachal Pradesh, its state in the northeast bordering Xizang Autonomous Region of the PRC.

 


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