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India’s tit-for-tat approach vis-a-vis China and its implications

The tit-for-tat approach appears to be a good asset for India in dealing with China, but in the process New Delhi should also take into consideration the larger implication that will evolve with the use of this approach, writes Pema Tseten Lachungpa for South Asia Monitor.

Mar 9, 2017
By Pema Tseten Lachungpa
 
The proposed visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang, a district in the northeastern Indian state of Arunanchal Pradesh has brought another low in the ever growing India-China bilateral relations. Arunachal Pradesh, the easternmost point of Indian territory, has been subjected to dispute over the recognition of the MacMahon line as Beijing claims its jurisdiction over Tawang and claims Arunachal Pradesh as a part of China’s Tibet.
 
In the words of Dai Bingguo, who served as China’s boundary negotiator from 2003 to 2013, the MacMahon line – drawn by the colonial British government -- did respect China’s jurisdiction over the Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh. In this regard, New Delhi’s permitting the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of the Tibetan community, to visit the disputed territory despite China’s warning will create a new conundrum in bilateral relations.
 
At one point the philosophy of allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the disputed territory might turn out to be a wrong move in New Delhi’s approach towards Beijing, particularly in the period of India’s pragmatic transformation in the loosely woven globalised world where an ally or good relations can help in the overall growth of the nations. As China is our closest neighbour it can be an answer to many of our problems despite many riddles that surrounds our relations.
 
However, in the interest of India, the proposed visit of the Tibetan spiritual leader signifies New Delhi’s growing realistic approach in the world that is hungry for hegemonic power.
 
In the past years, New Delhi has been significantly pushing and sending its diplomats, including the recent high profile visit made by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, to China for a strategic dialogue over the issues of mutual interest in bilateral, regional and international domain, including the banning of Jaish-e-Mohammad Chief Masood Azhar, and acknowledging New Delhi’s membership to the elite Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.
 
But in most cases, the dialogue failed to bring any fruitful outcome as Beijing still remains critical to making an exception for India’s membership in NSG, preferring instead a consensus-based decision for admitting new members which have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), thereby pursuing a hyphenated approach linking simultaneous inclusion of both India and Pakistan. In the case of banning JeM chief Masood Azhar, Beijing maintains that there is not enough evidence against the Pakistani terrorist and the issue is between India and Pakistan, which should be resolved mutually.
 
Hence, in this developing picture India seeks an alternative path to push its core objective vis-a-vis China. The first such alternative came when India signalled to help Mongolia amid its alienation from China. India’s spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, Vikas Swarup, said India is “ready to work with the Mongolian people in this time of their difficulty”. This comment is in line with that of Mongolia’s ambassador in India, Gonchig Ganbold, who sought India’s assistance in helping Ulaanbataar out of its current problems with China.
 
The second instance came when a Taiwanese delegation, which included three parliamentarians, among others, visited India in February 2017. The visit elicited a sharp reaction from the foreign ministry of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The official media in Beijing claims that India playing the Taiwan card will suffer losses by challenging China over the sensitive issue since Beijing characterises Taiwan and its associated territories as a province of China. 
 
The third instance came up over the proposed visit of the Dalai Lama to the disputed territory of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing holds Dalai Lama as a separatist who is spreading propaganda for Tibet’s independence. Adding to it, China perceives Arunachal Pradesh as part of the larger south China and, therefore, the visit of the Dalai Lama to the disputed territory will increase regional instability bringing further tension in the northeast region which is already witnessing cross-border insurgency problems. 
 
As Beijing is reluctant to give assent to India’s pending issues, New Delhi feels that there is an alternative option of using the Taiwan question or the Dalai Lama issue as a bargaining chip in pressing its demand with China. India knows the complex relations that Beijing has with Taiwan and the Dalai Lama who at times produces an element of surprises and hiccup to China’s national security in foreign policy and geo-strategic realms.
 
India in this regard has taken the best effective measures to use this card in dealing with China over pending issues. But whether this will be in New Delhi’s interest depends on how it will use the card since using the bargaining card might even backfire in other strategic areas where India feels it has control. As an old player who know the how-do of its neighbour India, Beijing will counter and this we are already witnessing in our neighbouring countries.
 
With its development initiative and soft monetary incentives, Beijing is slowly making inroads into our neighbouring countries, particularly in Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Sri Lanka and Nepal where India has major stakes. This is seen as Beijing’s new initiative to trip India’s growing comprehensive national power and influence beyond Asia. 
 
Hence, using the tit-for-tat approach appears to be a good asset for India in dealing with China, but in the process New Delhi should also take into consideration the larger implication that will evolve with the use of this approach.
 
Lastly, India and China are emerging global players who have the assets to conquer its dominance in the globalised world. During this run, it is predictable that none will enjoy holding the second position. As such, there will emerge many challenges and problems in bilateral relations and the only solution to this problem is being constructive which is never ending.
 
(The author is a PhD scholar in the Department of International Relations, Sikkim University, Gangtok. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to editor@spsindia.in)

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