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India-China Strategic Relationship Challenges and Prospects

By Special Correspondent Published : November 2009

New Delhi. The Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) organised a seminar on “India-China Strategic Relationship: Challenges and Prospects” with a visiting team from the PLA Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing, on October 19, 2009 at the CLAWS campus. Dr Mohan Guruswamy chaired the seminar and the main speakers were Dr Monika Chansoria, Research Fellow, CLAWS, and Major General, Zhao Pi, who led the team from the PLA Academy of Military Sciences..


Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd), Director CLAWS, in his opening remarks, congratulated the visiting Chinese delegation for having recently celebrated 60 years since the establishment of the PRC. It is believed that the balance of power is gradually shifting to Asia and the 21st century could well be termed as the ‘Asian century.’

He said that at the strategic level it appears that China wishes to maintain stability with India, reflected by growing economic and trade linkages, cooperation in the WTO and collaboration in the ongoing climate change debate. However, at the tactical level, the territorial and boundary dispute emerges as the most significant and complex challenge facing the two countries that needs to be resolved at the earliest. He also expressed the view that some recent moves on the part of China have been less than friendly.

Major General Zhao Pi began by congratulating CLAWS for the commendable work being done by the Centre as the areas of research covered by CLAWS are commendable.

As the highest military think tank of China, which undertakes research, Maj Gen Zhao looked forward towards more such interactions between their think tank and CLAWS. It should be underlined that the opportunity in front of China and India is far greater than the disputes.

The global strategy patterns and global financial crisis has given rise to new dynamics. Resultantly, the rise of Beijing and New Delhi constitutes the key element in the changing global pattern.

Dr Guruswamy stated that both China and India focus as well as depend considerably on literature regarding each other coming in from the West.

Seminars like the one conducted by CLAWS are an excellent opportunity to exchange views directly by means of interactions between analysts and experts from each side. In addition to issues such as the border dispute, India is also concerned about the proliferation of small arms in its northeastern states between 2007-09, of which, nearly 50 percent were of Chinese origin.

India does not believe that these weapons had official sanction; however the situation still remains very worrisome.

Besides, there is also the issue of the huge pile up of trade imbalances. Chinese reserves invested in US treasury bonds amount to $1.6 trillion. Since this paper currency cannot be encashed, it seems to have generated immense debate.

Notwithstanding that in case of India, bilateral trade has crossed $52 billion; the trade deficit too has mounted. India should make collaborative efforts to bring down the trade deficit to manageable levels and pursue balanced trade. India and China are poised to be among the three major economic giants by 2030. The window of vulnerability as far as India is concerned, lies in the next 14-15 years.

A trilateral world order is emerging and thus both countries should place their relationship on an equal footing for the future.

Dr Monika Chansoria outlined the aim of her presentation by stating that by virtue of being the two most significant players in Asia, India and China display a peculiar mix of both competition and cooperation.

The complexities of Sino-Indian geopolitics display both a convergence of interests as well as strategic divergences including the territorial and boundary dispute. A strategic partnership was announced on April 11, 2005, which emphasised a shift from competition to cooperation. Indeed, India and China have demons t rated a coordinated approach in international affairs by cooperating in: the Doha round of talks in the World Trade Organisation (WTO); climate change negotiations; counter-terrorism cooperation; and mutual energy security.

Both nations could also collaborate towards stabilising collapsing global markets with their foreign exchange reserves. India had supported China’s entry into the UN and expects China also to support India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

She stressed upon the significance of the economic synergy between New Delhi and Beijing. According to China’s General Administration of Customs, Sino-Indian trade grew by 33% in 2008 to nearly $52 billion. Bilateral trade is tipped to reach $60 billion by 2010.

In the realm of counter-terrorism cooperation, the post-Mumbai terror attack period saw the firstever Sino-Indian military combat exercise on Indian soil to jointly counter terrorism and insurgency. A Chinese Army contingent from the 1st Company of the Infantry Battalion of the Chengdu Military Area Command and Indian Army troops from the 8 Maratha Light Infantry Battalion took part in a joint counter-terror exercise in December 2008 in Karnataka.

Dr Chansoria elaborated upon the existing strategic divergences that include the border dispute, Sino-Pak nuclear and missile collaboration, China’s quest for increasing influence in the Indian Ocean Region; and China’s pursuance of an “encirclement strategy” towards India to gain long-term strategic advantage in the region. China still does not recognise India’s status as a nuclear weapons state. It insists that India must abide by UNSC Resolution 1172 and give up its nuclear weapons and consequently sign the NPT.

In September 2008, China attempted to foil the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meet. This was in contrast to earlier assurances provided by the Chinese leadership that Beijing would not block the emergence of a consensus at the NSG. As part of an ‘encirclement strategy’ against India, China is attempting to make inroads into India’s neighbourhood. This is visible as China is developing ports and naval bases in Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It is likely that the PLA Navy will be able to operate and sustain itself in the northern Indian Ocean region by 2015.

She brought out that the territorial and boundary dispute constitutes the most complex and contentious issue between the two countries. China physically occupies large areas of Indian territory since the mid-1950s. In Ladakh (Aksai Chin), China occupies 38,000 sq kms of Indian territory.

Besides this, Shaksgam Valley (5,180 sq kms) was illegally ceded by Pakistan to China in March 1963. It should be noted that the Karakoram highway was built close to this tract. Beijing also continues to claim the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is more than 90,000 sq kms of Indian Territory.

Chinese Ambassador Sun Yuxi had reiterated this claim on the eve of President Hu Jintao’s visit to India in November 2006. Since 1962, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has not yet been physically demarcated/ delineated on ground and in military maps despite the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement (BPTA) of 1993, CBMs in Military Field of 1996 and numerous meetings of the Joint Working Group. China is also engaged in executing a “string of pearls” strategy in the Indian Ocean through the acquisition of port facilities in the region (particularly, Gwadar in Pakistan which is also being linked by rail/road with China).

Dr Chansoria concluded by stating that China has resolved its territorial and boundary dispute with the Central Asian Republics, Russia and Vietnam, but the border dispute with India appears to be becoming interminable. She suggested that demarcating the LAC could prove to be the best CBM between India and China. Indications are that otherwise the boundary dispute will eventually become a key impediment and play the role of a spoiler in Sino-Indian ties in future. Therefore there is a need to address the issue with utmost sincerity and urgency.

Maj General Zhao Pi appreciated Dr Chansoria’s frank views, and did also underline that China and India shared many common grounds of interests in the new emerging world order. In fact, the level of cooperation is much greater than mutual discord. China and India should closely work together towards strengthening bilateral ties and a better future collectively and should not look back to the past. Interestingly, Buddhism could be an example that both nations could identify with. The Chinese people have a very special feeling for India.

Maj Gen Zhao stated that only few issues are truly existent and the others don’t really exist.

The Chinese government does not take into consideration personal views of individual/individuals in order to resolve bilateral issues. The ‘string of pearls’ strategy that China is ‘accused of pursuing’ is not true at all. In fact, the team from the PLA Academy of Military Sciences has never heard of this term, he said.

Beijing has always taken a positive lead in world affairs. For example, China sent warships to protect ships that were under attack from the Somali pirates.

China does not threaten India in the Indian Ocean Region. There is strong belief that the elite leadership of both China and India is capable of guiding the future direction of policy vis-à-vis bilateral relations both in the economic sphere and elsewhere. We believe that the two nations share very good and cordial relations that are expected to get only stronger in the times to come, Maj Gen Zhao said.

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