What are going to be India’s choices along the LAC, in the realm of trade and investment, people to people exchanges, multilateralism, and the new cold war between the US and China? What role will the US and other middle powers play in this rivalry?
India and China: Beyond the Binary of Friendship and Enmity by B.R. Deepak examines an array of issues relating to India-China relations and their historicity, interconnectedness, and contemporaneity. It explores the Chinese, Indian and Western perceptions while discussing the complex India-China relationship. The author argues that the so-called equilibrium and understanding between India and China that was built on the premise that both are at the same level of development, and hence need to give full play to their complementarities and potentialities has collapsed obviously owing to the shift in the balance of power favouring China. China’s massive economic growth in the last four decades, particularly the last decade is worth noting as China’s 2010 GDP of 6 trillion US dollars catapulted to 14 trillion US dollars, whereas India’s 1.7 trillion only rose to 2.8 trillion US dollars. This also resulted in China bridging its technological and economic asymmetries with the US, while India’s asymmetrical relationship with China widened further.
The equilibrium was built on the premise that both India and China are at the same level of development, and that there was enough space for them to develop simultaneously and hence the need to stabilise the border, diversify relations in other areas and join hands on many issues of common concern. Since the visible power shift, this narrative started to develop fissures as China ignored India’s sensitivities by building China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship of the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), passing through disputed territories of Gilgit Baltistan claimed by India. India’s open opposition to the BRI, China’s rubbing to India on issues such as cross-border terrorism, blocking India’s efforts to bring terrorists like Masood Azhar under the scanner of 1267 sanction committee, and blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) made the relations reach the nadir and culminated in the Doklam standoff in 2017. China’s threat theory scaled new heights and India tried to needle China by issuing visas to the Uyghur rebels for a conclave in Dharamsala. Had it not been for the slated BRICS summit in Xiamen, the 73-day standoff would have been prolonged. Two unofficial Modi-Xi summits held in Wuhan (2018) and Mamallapuram (2019) tried to put the relations back on the track; consensus that they will not let the differences turn into disputes, and the issuance of strategic guidelines to their militaries in the border areas, failed to stop transgressions along the LAC. The security deficit with China resulted in the upgrading of the Quad and India synchronizing with US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy. The Covid-19 pandemic further brought bitterness to already strained relations, as India imposed a ban on export of medical equipment to China, evacuated its citizens from Wuhan, cancelled working visas of the Chinese, and joined the chorus of 62 countries seeking investigation into the source of coronavirus. If this wasn’t enough, the stealth attack at Galwan by the People’s Liberation Army on 15 June 2020 that resulted in the martyrdom of 20 Indian soldiers sounded the death knell for the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and the very Line of Actual Control (LAC), as China moved its own claim line further westward, changed the status quo, and presented a fait accompli.
These changes at the bilateral, regional and global stage have forced countries to recalibrate their foreign policy approaches and choices. What are going to be India’s choices along the LAC, in the realm of trade and investment, people to people exchanges, multilateralism, and the new cold war between the US and China? What role will the US and other middle powers play in this rivalry? How will regional blocs such as SAARC, BIMSTEC and ASEAN play out in this contest? Will India embrace the US as analysts have been talking about? What will happen to the BRI, especially when the notions of China’s neo-colonialism and debt traps have been debated fiercely across the continents? Will China be able to overcome the Malacca dilemma by constructing ports like Kyaukpyu and Gwadar? Or will the view of the constructivists prevail that by establishing robust mechanisms, India and China relations will be back on track? How will Covid-19 and Galwan impact India-China relations? Or will the realists, who believe that war is inevitable in face of security dilemmas of the nations, prevail? India-China scholarship has been arguing that India-China relations are too complex to be defined through the binary of friendship and enmity. Will this line of thinking change after the Galwan fatalities?
India and China: Beyond the Binary of Friendship and Enmity has attempted to find some answers to these questions. The book is divided into three parts, namely, “India-China Conflict and Cooperation: Assessment and Narratives”; “Pakistan, BRI and India-China Relations”; and “Indo-Pacific, World Order and India-China Relations”. The first part consists of four chapters where the author looks into the perceptions and images about India and China built over a long period of time in history. The author argues that these are built on shallow understanding of each other, and have been further deepened due to protracted rivalry between the two, generating much of the distrust. Though it would be difficult to absolutely erase these images and perceptions, however, policy recalibration through pragmatic constructivism could be a good beginning. Moving away from the traditional discourse on the border issue, the author attempts to formulate a paradigm of China’s “victim psychology” and India’s “tough posturing” for cause of the 1962 war and provide some plausible solutions. While looking into the CBMs, he argues that these fall short of finding a solution to the border issue, and do not minimise the scope of breaking out of the hostilities, as has been demonstrated by the Galwan violence. The fundamental perceptions about Tibet by different stakeholders are formulated on the basis of the author’s interviews and enquiries with the representatives of the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Government in Exile, the leaders of Tibetan Youth Congress, the representatives of Students for a Free Tibet, as well as the Tibetan émigré in India and ordinary Indians. Here he also explores some of the major differences and contradiction between India and China over Tibet; the future course of the Tibetan movement; the reincarnation issue of the Dalai Lama, India’s “One China Policy” etc, issues.
In Part II, there are three chapters. The author argues that India needs to live with the patron-client relationship between China and Pakistan, which has resulted from Sino-Pak animosities towards India. India’s abrogation of Article 370 and joint offensive of Pakistan and China on India’s move, including some Chinese scholars openly suggesting that the abrogation was the main reason behind China’s posturing in Eastern Ladakh have been analysed exploring various viewpoints. While enhancing capacities and capabilities to deal with the challenges arising out of this axis, the study opines that India must shift its focus to our northern borders, and deal with Pakistan without making a fuss about it; nonetheless, must continue the policy of strategic engagement with both the countries. As regards the BRI and Maritime Silk Road (MSR), apart from examining the triggers and contours of the MSR, the study focuses on responses from various stakeholders. China’s energy security with the BRI countries has also been explored, elements of cooperation and competition along with India’s options have been discussed. The study argues that though both India and China have initiated their own domestic, peripheral and external energy strategy, it is pertinent that they cooperate in international energy markets, so as to curb crude oil prices, bring down the prices of the bids, transportation, and share their experience and technologies, which certainly is easier said than done, but not impossible.
The last three chapters in Part III focus on the Indo-Pacific, multilateralism, and post Covid-19 pandemic and the Galwan Incident. The study evaluates approaches of India and China towards the Indo-Pacific, and as to how the modernization of respective naval forces and overlapping interests has not only given rise to the rivalry between India and China, but also China’s rivalry with the US. It posits that while maritime exercises have enhanced some mutual understanding between the two, however, effective or inefficient handling of soaring maritime ambitions in the Indo-Pacific will have far reaching security consequences in the region and world.
The study concludes that the narrative of “emerging India”, which was based on India’s robust economic growth, demographic dividend, and capacity to handle domestic and global challenges pragmatically has entered unpredictability post Covid-19 and Galwan, therefore, the kind of equilibrium and understanding India seeks with China is extremely difficult, for China has been vocal to remind India of her asymmetric relationship more often than not. China will have no compulsion to accommodate India’s interest whether bilateral, regional or global. Therefore, India must free herself from any delusion that China will be sensitive to India’s sensitivities; the best India could do is to undertake a comprehensive review of her China policy, and formulate a new policy which is long-term, goal oriented and sustainable.