India-China relations are haunted with structural issues. For tangible gains in bilateral relations India must address these structural problems. Discuss

Published: October 11, 2019

India-China relations are going through a tough phase. The persistent structural problems that hobbled the India-China ties are:

Form above Substance

Time and again there is danger of putting form above substance and betting that the higher the level of engagement, the more significant the results. Mechanisms like informal summit dazzle the common people and media but they are proving to be inadequate to cope with the range of structural tensions that have enveloped the bilateral relationship from Kashmir to trade and multilateral challenges.

Emphasis on High-Level Meetings

There is no lack of contact at the highest levels. In the diplomacy 20th century it is not rare when leaders of India or China runoff into one other and often have talks on the margins of such regional and international settings as the East Asia Summit (EAS), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the Russia-India-China Forum, BRICS and the G-20. But the frequency of such talks has not improved the ability to resolve the problems faced by the India-China relationship.

Widening Gap

The tensions in the India-China relations are not due to lack of mutual understanding but are due to the widening gap in the comprehensive national power of the two Asian giants. This power imbalance is translating into an unpleasant fact on the diplomatic front.

China which has more might and clout in the international arena is under no pressure to please India or more precisely, it can afford to displease India, whether it is the question of blocking India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group or opposing India’s Kashmir move and taking it to the UNSC.

Flawed Beliefs

The persistent belief in Delhi is that the current tensions in US-China relations will pressurize Beijing to make nice to India. This has turned out to be wrong. The deepening crisis in US-China relations has made little difference to Beijing’s approach to Delhi rather the movement in relations are in the opposite direction.

India is overestimating of its leverage with Beijing in the triangular relationship with Washington. This, unfortunately, has resulted in India choosing to voluntarily limit its partnership with the US and its allies.

This voluntary limitation has not led to any strategic appreciation in Beijing of Delhi’s restraint or the need for neutrality in the disputes between India and Pakistan.

Mixing Global Issues with Local Challenges

India’s long-standing presumption that cooperation with China on global issues will create the conditions for ameliorating bilateral contentions. This turned out to be wrong.

India’s support to China on global issues has not led to Beijing’s reciprocation on multilateral issues, such as Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism, of interest to India, nor has it made it easier to resolve bilateral disputes. On the contrary, grand-standing on global issues with Beijing may have made India oblivious to China’s rapid regional advance in the Subcontinent and the Indian Ocean.

Way Forward

India must come into terms with power imbalance with Beijing and must liberate Delhi from the prolonged illusions about strategic parity with China and false hopes about building a new global order with it.

In the Chennai Summit India must focus towards small and pragmatic steps to narrow differences with China on bilateral issues — especially the boundary dispute, trade deficit and the development of regional infrastructure.

These small measures will result in a long-overdue correction to India’s diplomatic tradition of putting the China relationship in a grandiose framework.

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