As India and US move closer to each other, China is caught in Catch 22 trap First Post 18 Jul 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


As India and US move closer to each other, China is caught in Catch 22 trap First Post 18 Jul 2022

          The Indian foreign minister, S Jaishankar met top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) ministerial meet in Jakarta, last week. As per Jaishankar, they discussed outstanding issues related to peace and tranquillity in border areas. He tweeted, ‘our conversation also covered East Asia Summit/ARF agenda, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the Indo-Pacific.’

The Chinese handout read that Wang Yi mentioned to Jaishankar, ‘China and India’s common interests clearly outweigh their differences. The two sides should support each other, rather than suspect each other. It is hoped that the Indian side will meet China halfway and find a solution to the border issue that is acceptable to both sides.’ There was also a mention that the next round of military talks would be held soon.

Both sides have firmed in on their stand. India refuses to accept anything other than status quo of Apr 2020. China is displaying no inclination of further pulling back. Talks have only stabilized the current deployment. Hence, with bilateral ties remaining frozen, India is unwilling to accept any China backed proposal as was visible in the recently concluded SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) heads of state discussion.

India conducting the SCO event online displayed it considers Chinese influenced organizations secondary to its interests. India, as part of the joint statement, refused to endorse the Chinese Belt Road Initiative (BRI) and the Economic Development Strategy (EDS). While Delhi’s stand on the BRI remains steadfast, as it transits Indian claimed Gilgit Baltistan, its refusal to back the EDS was because New Delhi believed it pushed Chinese interests.

India also hit out at Chinese support to Pak terrorists when PM Modi stated, ‘There should not be any place for double-standards on such a serious issue (terrorism).’ Speaking on connectivity and hinting at China’s BRI, Modi mentioned that connectivity projects must respect sovereignty and territorial integrity’ of member states.

Within China that there were demands that the SCO must impose a removal clause and India should be axed from it. The Chinese mouthpiece, the Global Times, in an editorial stated, ‘India’s distinctive character, combined with its wariness, vanity, and desire to compete with China, has created an unusual sensitivity of rejection of China’s voice.’ It was discussing India’s refusal to endorse any Chinese proposals, despite them being acceptable to others.

In Ladakh, where the standoff continues since 2020, troop levels on both sides are near equal. To enhance its response time, India is speeding up infrastructure development. The PLA had constructed four tents in the buffer zone in Chushul, which were dismantled once threatened of forcible removal by Indian forces. An attempt at salami slicing in Arunachal Pradesh in Yangtse was blocked in Dec last year. While India continues with dialogue at the military and diplomatic levels, it refuses to yield to Chinese pressures. 

However, as Indo-China tensions continue to grow, India moves closer to the US. This strategic alignment impacts groupings where India and China share a common platform such as BRICS and RIC (Russia, India and China). India is unlikely to accept any China backed proposal in these groups too. Thus, Indian teaming with the US is a matter of concern for China.

It is this concern which compels Beijing to continue advising India, through its mouthpiece, The Global Times. It recently mentioned in an editorial, ‘India has intensified its suppression of Chinese companies operating in their country. Indian authorities reportedly seized USD 725 million from Chinese smartphone company Xiaomi in 2022, claiming that the company had broken India’s foreign exchange regulations.’ China was further irked when Delhi demanded Indian CEOs in China owned companies, operating on Indian soil.

On India’s microchip production plan, it published, ‘Instead of blindly following US strategy, India might as well improve its manufacturing foundation step by step along a path that suits its own conditions.’ China is aware that India intends to replace it as the global manufacturing hub.

On PM Modi’s visit to the US, the Global Times mentioned, ‘it is well known that the US is making overtures to India out of a geopolitical need to bring India in to deal with China.’ Hinting towards Indo-US proximity it stated, ‘becoming a pawn in US’ containment of China does not align with India’s interests and principles, nor does it preserve its dignity as a major power.’ China’s concern was evident by this statement, ‘If India joins, the US will have geographically completed its encirclement of China.’

China is caught between two options, Taiwan or India. In case it attempts to challenge India militarily and fails, it will take a long time before it can develop confidence and military power to attack Taiwan. If it invades Taiwan first and is stalled by support from the US and other allies, its intentions to challenge India militarily fade away.

There is little that Beijing can do. Withdrawing to pre-Apr 2020 positions would be a loss of face, unless it comes through in a Modi-Xi meeting. Continuing with the current deployment suits neither. Chinese Han troops are facing medical issues at Ladakh altitudes, compelling China to recruit local Tibetan youth for border security, whose loyalty is always suspect. For India it increases costs.

Letting relations deteriorate is not conducive for China as India draws closer to Washington. With India’s growing power, its ability to challenge Chinese influence increases. The west is working overtime to help India build its military power as a counter to China. Till Galwan, India avoided challenging China as the myth of Chinese superiority reigned. That is no longer the case. India knows it has the power to confront China and is doing so.   

PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are likely to be present at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg in Aug as also the G 20 Summit in Delhi in Sept. The question is whether the two leaders would meet and restore failing ties or like the Samarkand summit last year, even avoid eye contact, despite standing next to each other, forget meeting one another.

With elections around the corner, India cannot afford a bilateral without positive outcomes. Currently, India is unwilling to blink first, will China?