The Sino-Indian partnership
It looks that now both China and India comprehend each other. They understand their strengths and weaknesses. Both do not intend to revive mutual hostility. Classical Chinese General Sun Tsu has taught enough to his nation: ‘know yourself and your enemy’. It is a big change after the border skirmish that took place between them in October 1962 that resulted in a crushing defeat for Indian troops. The disputed border has been thus militarized since then. The success made China to increase its regional influence.
Both China and India have counter irredentist claims. China claims Indian’s Arunachal Pradesh as part of eastern Tibet and objected the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Arunachal Pradesh in 2009 on account that it was a disputed territory. On the contrary, India calls China to return its territory of Aksai Chin. India claims it as part of the ancient Buddhist Ladakh Kingdom. India supports the Chinese Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama. This irks China.
China’s strategic leverage with Pakistan is another tool that it plays against India, according to experts. India does not want China to build projects on Pakistan’s side of Kashmir. The China-Nepal ties counter the Indian influence too. On the other, to counter-balance China’s influence, India has been expanding ties with Taiwan. These are serious crises and dilemmas of emerging partnership between China and India.
Both sides have been trying to settle matters along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) through peaceful negotiations. Their relations are on the improving side nowadays. Chinese Premier Li Kepiang will undertake his visit to New Delhi on 20 May. The visit is highly significant because it will be Kepiang’s first official visit after the charge of Premier in March. Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will go to Beijing on 9 May to finalize the arrangements for the visit.
The troops of China’s People’s Liberation Army have entered 10 km deep the Indian Territory in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector in eastern Ladakh, part of the Indian-Held Kashmir, on 15 April. It is a de facto border. The Indian side claimed that a Chinese helicopter also flew over Indian soil. The number of Chinese soldiers was reported to have 20. Many reports pointed out that Chinese incursion could be related to a recent Indian program to accelerate road building near the LAC to help facilitate transport of Indian troops.
Moreover, the New York-based Wall Street Journal (26 April) states that there could be possible reasons for the present incident. These include: building of dams on the Brahmaputta River by China. India is concerned about the flow of water and wants to monitor the building of dams. Second, China is increasing its military in the Asia-Pacific region that disturbs India. The paper notes that India did a number of energy projects in South East Asia, which China claims it domain.
To Chinese, the PLA troops conducted a normal exercise. The Chinese side reiterated that their troops did not enter into Indian soil. They refused the allegation that Chinese troops violated Indian soil. The incident happened because the boundary is not demarcated between the two countries. Rather it is ill-defined. It was good omen that the incident did not escalate. There is a mutual goodwill prevailing between them to amicably resolve the territorial dispute. Both countries have been avoiding aggressive rhetoric since 2009.
Not the military but diplomacy was given a chance by realizing India’s inability to build forces in the area. Lack of infrastructure such as roads is a major concern for India. The Chinese troops have leverage. India’s position was marred by the fact that building infrastructure along the LAC was taken objectionable by China and it wants dismantling of all such infrastructure.
It was expected that the PLA’s Ladakh incursion would not upset the scheduled visit of Chinese Premier. The new Chinese leadership is flexible toward India. Indian elections have been approaching and India Government decided to avoid confrontation with China. Politicians accused the Indian Government for not taking ‘proper action’ against China. Indian attitude is, however, somewhat new to such kind of situation. In case of Pakistan and in similar situation, India would have acted differently. India tried to keep the situation under control. Many were astonished in India as to why China was not treated as par with Pakistan.
In spite of border dispute, both nations stress on strengthening economic relations. China has become India’s second largest trading partner. Bilateral trade has hovered around US$ 77 billion by March 2012 with the potential to grow US$ 100 billion by 2015. Their bilateral trade had slightly declined from 2011. Energy, infrastructure, agriculture, information technology, and tourism are the areas of trade cooperation between them.
Over 136,000 Chinese tourists visited India in 2012. In 2012, Chinese tourists spent over US$ 85 billion the world over. China-India air travelling has also been expanding. Air India operates four flights a week between Delhi and Shanghai. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the group known as the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) are regional locomotives where China and India interact with each other.
Islamic militants could be a source of damaging Sino-Pakistani ties. Enemies of Pakistan-China friendship cannot be discounted. They might be using militants to destroy the fabric of Pakistan-China ties. Pakistan’s security personnel need to be extra-vigilant to tackle any move aims at disturbing Pakistan-China relations in tribal areas.
China has always remained sensitive to Taliban incursion and its impact on China Muslim-dominated Xinjiang autonomous region in the western part of the country. Some source say that Chinese Muslim separatists and terrorists use Waziristan for getting training and obtaining weapons in order to seek an independent East Turkistan under the banner of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). They attacked Kashgar in 2011. Chinese authorities alleged that separatists received training in Waziristan. Uighur’s separatism is a grave concern for China.
On the other hand, such moves might be intensifying contacts between China and India. In the post-US Afghan situation, China and India have been developing a common stance. China prefers economic cooperation with Afghanistan and distance from political engagements. India has done massive developmental work in Afghan after 9/11. Both China and India believe that the Taliban pose a threat to regional stability. Recently, Beijing discussed such matters with India. This is a brand new development. Hitherto, Pakistan guided the Chinese policy toward Afghanistan.
(Dr Ahmad Rashid Malik-The writer is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad)