Both Asian Powers Are Fast Emerging As Two Major Poles In A Multi-Polar Global Order
By Rahul K Bhonsle@
India China relations are accepted as the most significant bilateral equation of consequence in the Indo Pacific or as the Chinese continue to call it Asia Pacific in the 21st Century.
In the larger strategic praxis of the global context these are subsumed by the United States (US) – China relations, however, in the decades ahead as India and China realises their full economic and political potential there is no doubt that Beijing and New Delhi are likely to emerge two major poles in a multi polar global order. Stable relations between the two nations with civilizational history that goes down many millenniums thus assumes importance for the world at large.
As two emerging powers in the same larger regional complex of the Indo Asia Pacific – a term that will fully embody the nuances of both India and China, competition is inevitable be it for economic, resources, political influence and the inevitable military one up manship.
When there are legacy issues such as boundary and territory, the relationship can become acrimonious particularly in the context of all-pervasive nationalism which is the hallmark of the current era.
When super imposed on the ongoing differences between the two countries such as India’s rejection of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) a Chinese “Marshal Plan,.” China’s stalling of Indian membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), trade imbalance and so on, there is possibility of differences gravitating into disputes.
Coming back to India-China relations trust is major challenge with both remaining wary of each other’s proximate partnership with the US and Pakistan respectively.
Against this backdrop, maintaining balance and maturity is important for which apart from formal summits – the format of informal summits has been evolved by leaders of India and China – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping. The first informal Summit was held in Wuhan, China on April 27-28, 2018.
The objective of the summit was primarily as an exchange of views on issues of national and global significance and understanding each other’s visions for their respective countries as well as, the regional and international environment.
The Wuhan Summit came against the backdrop of a long 73-day standoff between Indian and Chinese troops on the tri-junction of the India-Bhutan-China (Tibet) boundary in Doklam in mid-2017.
While no shot was fired by either side, proximate presence had raised concerns over possibility of a misstep leading to conflagration but this was avoided. As the two leaders met immediately after in September 2018 for the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) grouping, there was a reasonable degree of assurance of stability in the strategic engagement despite some transactional issues that had occurred in the recent past.
The Wuhan Informal summit was pathbreaking in the sense that this was a new format for strategic communication established at the highest level for providing guidance and ensuring that “differences are not converted into disputes.”
There have been major developments internally as well as, externally, as the Indian and Chinese leaders meet in the temple town of Mamallapuram near Chennai in Tamil Nadu (most likely on 11 and 12 October, 2019.
JAMMU & KASHMIR
Apart from the larger context of the US-China trade wars, bilaterally a major dispute over the status of Jammu and Kashmir (J and K)has emerged after repealing of Article 370 which granted special provisions to the state and bifurcation into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on 05 August 2019 by the Indian parliament.
China has reacted to this development raising sovereignty with the area of Aksai Chin (presently annexed by China being a part of Ladakh). Moreover, China’s support to Pakistan on the larger issue of J & K being a bilateral dispute between the two countries as opposed to the Indian view that this is only an internal matter has been observed adversely in New Delhi. While there are other issues of concern between the two sides, the principal one on which strategic communication if not understanding will have to be established by the top duo of Xi and Modi at Mamallapuram, will be on the status of J &K.
The signal that emerges from the temples of the holy town which is an idyllic surrounding for this all-important Summit will dictate the course of India China relations in the near term.
@Rahul K Bhonsle, Brigadier (Retired) Indian army veteran. MPhil in Security Studies. Expert on counter militancy and terrorism operations. Specializes in future scenarios, military capacity building and conflict trends in South Asia.