To counter China, India needs to enhance multilateral ties

Conducting bilateral diplomacy can no longer be the solution for India when dealing with China. Yet military action is also not the answer, writes Megda Bharadwaj for South Asia Monitor

Megda Bharadwaj Jul 12, 2020
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The ongoing military stand-off between the People’s Republic of China and India on the eastern part of Ladakh has reopened past wounds. On June 15, the border conflict between India and China resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers in Galwan Valley near the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Later, according to reports 10 Indian soldiers, who were captured by the Chinese Army were released. Although there is no official confirmation on the deaths of the Chinese soldiers, the number is said to be approximately 40.

India-China share a history of conflict starting from the 1962 Indo-China war. The end of the first war marked the loss of India and the rise of China in the region. While several attempts have been made by the leaders since then to resolve the dispute and strengthen their bilateral ties, no concrete resolution has yet been established. Throughout the years, the countries have tried to maintain their sovereignty and have maximized their security. This impacted their relations as it resulted in growing border tensions and both continued to view each other as an aggressive state. 

The conflict at the Galwan Valley reignited the border tensions existing between India and China post the 2017 Doklham standoff. While the 2017 Dokhlam standoff and other conflicts post-1975 war were more or less peaceful, the recent dispute was the most violent conflict between India and China in the last 45 years. During the conflict, neither of the sides used arms and ammunition; instead a series of physical fights led to the death of Indian and Chinese soldiers. This was in complete violation of the 1993,1996, 2005, 2012 agreement and the 2015 Border Defense Corporation Agreement which was enforced by the two governments by keeping the ideologies of five principals of peace intact. According to the agreement: Neither side shall use or threaten to use force against the other by any means or seek unilateral military superiority.

While the exact reasons for the initiation of the conflict remain vague, an Australian strategic analyst think tank evidence strongly suggests that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces have been regularly crossing into Indian territory temporarily on routine patrol routes. Other officials have stated increasing activities of the Chinese army near the border area, including setting up tents and machinery and damming of the river. A recent assessment by the US Intel suggests that Chinese troops initiated the attacks to "teach India a lesson". All said and done the question that arises now is how will  bilateral relations between the countries change?

Soured ties

India and China are emerging to be two of the most powerful countries in Asia. They have always had a contentious relationship, but post the conflict, relations between the two have soured and specifically affected three main areas: first, there is a possibility that the economic ties between the two countries would be re-assessed. China is the largest trading partner of India while India is amongst the top ten trading partners of China. After the deadly clash, a wave of nationalism has risen in India where Chinese products have been boycotted. In the recent act by the Narendra Modi government, India has restricted any further investment by Chinese companies without the approval of government authorities. Also, several infrastructure and developmental projects have been instructed to be canceled including the Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Company of China that had received a contract of around Rs. 1,500 crores to build the underground portion of the rapid rail project between Delhi and Meerut. While the government continues to focus and propagate the idea of Make in India, the border clash has only accentuated this sentiment. 

Second, for both India and China technological industry has come to become a critical component of their economy. For long, the Indian government has been concerned about the privacy and data breach by the Chinese apps. The clash between the two countries provided the government with the much-needed incentive to restrict the usage of these apps and thus the Modi government banned 59 apps, including TikTok which has up to a third of its users in India. Another techno-security concern emerges from the usage of 5G technology that has already been banned in the US. As a result of tensions at the border, the government has disallowed any vendors to participate in the 5G trials. The crisis caused by coronavirus and border dispute has forced the Indian government to adopt a similar strategy as the US to tackle Chinese aggression.

Finally, the major cause of concern for India has been its security. Since the emergence of both countries, there have been security concerns not only over the LAC but also on the east of India near the Line of Control with Pakistan. The China-Pakistan friendship dates back to the cold war era and persists to date. China has become one of the largest arms and nuclear suppliers in Pakistan. Moreover, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious plan One Belt, One Road Initiative directly threatens the territorial sovereignty of India as one of the four corridors passes through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Going forward, India would be determined to increase its military and defense capacity at these sensitive points. This would also include engaging with western allies to develop better military and security relations. Any defense agreement formulated with China in the past would be reconsidered as well.

Curbing China 

Conducting bilateral diplomacy can no longer be the solution for India when dealing with China. Yet military action is also not the answer. The Modi government needs to take concrete steps to curb Chinese influence within the nation and develop security measures that would ensure attacks, such as the one in Galwan Valley, are not repeated. One approach that can be adopted is strengthening ties with its allies and developing concrete defense and security agreements with them. It would also include increasing its presence in regional multilateral institutions and not let Chinese monopoly grow. 

And lastly, ensuring that it improves its quality of relations with its neighbors. For India to become one of the leading states on the global stage, it is pertinent for it to develop astute strategies when dealing with China.

(The writer is a graduate of Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies. Boston, US. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at Bharadwaj.megda@gmail.com)

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