17th June – Remaining non-aligned

Remaining non-aligned is good advice

For weeks, the India-China stand-off has dominated the national discourse now which warns about the possibility of a major conflict along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh and Sikkim sectors.

Why the conflict is happening?

  • Border infrastructure – Both India and China have been strengthening their border infrastructure in recent years, and while the strengthening of the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road may have angered the Chinese, to ascribe China’s recent show of strength to this would be misplaced.
  • Shift in approach – Admittedly, Chinese President Xi Jinping disdains Deng Xiaoping’s aphorism, “to keep your head low and bide your time”, but Mr. Xi is not known to act irresponsibly. A demonstration of military strength, merely because India was improving its border infrastructure, would fall into this category. More recently, India was one of the earliest countries to put curbs and restrictions on Chinese foreign direct investment.
  • Close India-US cooperation – India needs to do a deep dive to discern whether there is a method behind China’s actions, viz., as for instance, the existence of certain geopolitical factors, an increase in bilateral tensions between India and China, economic pressures, apart from China’s internal dynamics. India is today a member of the Quad (the U.S., Japan, Australia and India) which has a definite anti-China connotation. U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest ploy of redesigning the G-7, including in it countries such as India (India has conveyed its acceptance), but excluding China, provides China yet another instance of India and China being in opposite camps.
  • India’s opposition to BRI – India is almost the last holdout in Asia against China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). India also loses no opportunity to declaim against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China further views India’s assertions regarding Gilgit-Baltistan, as an implicit attack on the CPEC, China’s flagship programme.
  • Internal politics – We should also not ignore the impact of internal pressures that have been generated within China — in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in part due to other factors. Mr. Xi has, no doubt, accumulated more power than any other Chinese Communist leader since Mao, but there are reports of growing opposition within party ranks to some of his policies, including the BRI.

Does China express disapproval of India’s shift towards the US?

The Global Times has implied in one of its editorial pieces recently, that China’s friendly policy towards India should be reciprocated, and that India “should not be fooled by Washington”. On the eve of the recent high-level border talks between top military leaders, China again made an elliptical reference to the need for India to maintain equidistance between the U.S. and China. Such sentiments do impact border matters. Almost all India-China border agreements are premised on the presumed neutrality of both countries.

What lessons should we take?

  • These are dangerous times, more so for countries in China’s vicinity, and specially India. India is being increasingly projected as an alternative model to China, and being co-opted into a wider anti-China alliance which China clearly perceives as provocation.
  • We cannot ignore or forget the circumstances that led to the unfortunate India-China war of 1962. Faced with the disaster of the Great Leap Forward, and increasing isolation globally (with even Soviet leaders like Nikita Khrushchev trading barbs), Mao chose to strike at India rather than confront Russia or the West.
  • A single misstep could lead to a wider conflagration, which both sides must avoid. This is not the time for India to be seen as the front end of a belligerent coalition of forces seeking to put China in its place — even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, now seems to be joining the anti-China bandwagon under prodding from the U.S.
  • India has consistently followed a different policy in the past, and it is advisable that it remains truly non-aligned and not become part of any coalition that would not be in India’s long-term interest.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTION – Former National Security Advisor Shri MK Narayanan advises India to not engage in a web of alliances against China during the ongoing border crisis. Do you agree? What should be the way forward.

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