Intricacies of India’s relations with China

Intricacies of India’s relations with China

At the very first Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit which it was attending as a full member, India stood out by being the only country in the eight member group, to refuse to endorse China’s prestigious global connectivity project – the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

But while rejecting the BRI in toto because it violated India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan-held Kashmir, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also said that his country is interested in promoting regional connectivity and is committed to making the SCO summit a success. Observers wonder how India plans to marry its total rejection of the BRI with its pledge to cooperate in SCO’s connectivity projects, points out P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor.

China will treat these projects as part of the BRI. China will also be the biggest contributor to the projects. On June 10, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a US$ 4.7 billion Special Lending Facility for SCO projects.

Observers wonder how India can combine an implacable hostility to the BRI with making the SCO a success, when the SCO is first and foremost a platform for pushing the BRI.

Though the SCO has other items on the agenda such as combating terrorism (which is close to India’s heart and is vital for its security), the economic aspect of SCO is centered on the BRI. This fact cannot be ignored by India if it is serious about being in the organization and contributing to its sustenance and growth.

However, China is unfazed by India’s stand. It has shown willingness to have India on board despite its undisguised hostility to the BRI. It wants to cultivate India for its market and the investment potentialities inherent in it. India is not only a huge market but it can give Chinese companies opportunities to invest in a wide variety of fields.

China also believes that, over time, India will participate in BRI projects in various countries sharing China’s burden. At least the Indian private sector might like to do so.

China has sensed that that the way to lead India up the right path is to attend to some of its immediate needs. This is why, Chinese President Xi agreed on June 9, to Modi’s demand that China import non-basmati rice and sugar. China would also allow high end pharmaceuticals. To facilitate trade, India would allow the Bank of China to set up a branch in Mumbai. China is now ready to narrow the trade gap which is now a yawning US$ 36.77 billion.

President Xi was so gung-ho about expanding trade with India that he said that efforts should be made to increase it from the present US$ 84.44 billion to US$ 100 billion by 2020.

While how this can be done is not clear, India may over time, think of ways of gaining from China by welcoming Chinese investments, including investments in mega infrastructure projects. Infrastructure in India is primitive as compared to China.

Xi pleased Modi also by agreeing to supply hydrological data on the river Brahmaputra to enable India to fight the scourge of floods in Assam.

China sees the SCO as a forum for discussing and resolving even bilateral differences by bringing antagonistic countries together under one roof.

Asked if India-Pakistan differences could derail SCO in the same way as they have derailed SAARC, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Chinese State owned TV CGTN: “ We know there are existing and historical unresolved conflicts between Pakistan and India. But I think after they have joined the SCO, may be we can provide a better platform and opportunities for the building of relations between them.”

Wang’s statement is significant because Prime Minister Narendra Modi had indicated on Sunday that Pakistan has been a major stumbling block in the improvement of relations between India and China.

Wang said all SCO members have taken a pledge about maintaining good relations with each other. He described the SCO as a “great vehicle” for improving ties between India and Pakistan.

India too is moving closer to China despite its “principled” objection to the BRI. One reason for this is that India’s relations with the US are not as they were earlier. India is unable to cooperate with the US on sanctions against Iran. Recently, the US had hinted to India that it would invite sanctions if it goes ahead with a US$ 6 billion deal with Russia to buy the latter’s S-400 air defense system.

Recently, India’s new ambassador in Russia, Pankaj Saran, told The Hindu that India does not consider the India-US-Japan-Australia “Quad” as being “central’ to its Indo-Pacific policy. He added that New Delhi is set to move closer to Russia. What the envoy did not say in so many words was that India would be mindful of China’s sensitivities because the Quad is basically an anti-China grouping.

India had resolved the potentially explosive dispute over Doklam in Bhutan without firing a shot right through the 72-day eye ball to eye ball standoff last year. New Delhi has held its hand vis-à-vis the Maldives where its pro-Chinese government has replaced India by China. India has not thrust its projects down the throats of Sri Lankans even though the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has been partial to China. India has been accommodative towards the K.P. Oli government in Nepal even though the latter has a history of being pro-China and anti-India.

Unresolved Issues

With India showing a tendency to “Look East”, accommodation with China appears imperative. But several issues still remain and these cannot be brushed under the carpet, if there is to be a genuine Sino-Indian rapprochement.

China does not see Kashmir as being part of India de jure. China views Kashmir as a disputed territory whose formal status remains to be settled by India and Pakistan through negotiations. China also disputes Indian sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh State in North Eastern India, saying that Arunachal Pradesh is but “Southern Tibet” and therefore, a part of Tibet which is a region of China. To press home its point, China issues “stapled visas” and not regular visas to Indians from Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.

China has been blocking India’s bid in the United Nations to list Pakistan-based Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, Hafeez Saeed and Masood Azhar, as global terrorists. To India’s chagrin, China says that India needs to give more evidence of their alleged involvement in deadly terror attacks.

China has also consistently blocked India’s attempts to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG), which regulates international nuclear trade. China objects to India’s membership on the grounds that countries which have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferating Treaty (NPT) should not be admitted in the absence of a new consensus-based policy on admissions to the NSG.