PM spells out India’s position on China The Statesman 16 Apr 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


PM spells out India’s position on China The Statesman 16 Apr 2024

          In a recent interview to Newsweek, PM Modi, discussing Indo-China relations, commented, ‘For India, relationship with China is important and significant. It is my belief that we need to urgently address the prolonged situation on our borders so that the abnormality in our bilateral interactions can be put behind us. I hope and believe that through positive and constructive bilateral engagement at the diplomatic and military levels, we will be able to restore and sustain peace and tranquillity on our borders.’

          These words coming from the PM, especially when electioneering is gaining steam, are profound. This is possibly the first time that the PM has hinted at reproachment with China. Till now central ministers took credit for the performance of the army in the ongoing standoff, while insisting on no loss of territory.

Jaishankar had repeatedly stated that bilateral ties cannot be normal unless the border situation reverts to pre-Apr 2020. PM Modi has adopted the same approach, while supporting dialogue. The PM had thus far maintained silence, while avoiding an embarrassing situation resulting from him and President Xi Jinping being present on a common platform.

The conduct of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) summit in an online mode as also the non-presence of Xi at the G 20 worked to his benefit. Modi even refused to meet the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, on his visits to India. India also rejected calls by China to rebuild relations placing the border issue at an ‘appropriate place’ while concentrating on other aspects of the relationship.    

Simultaneously, India is expending resources to boost its military capabilities and infrastructure to close the gap with China. The recent conduct of the Agni 5 test with MIRV technology, demonstrated that India is an equal and not a nation which could be pressured or bullied.

India’s military deployment along the LAC, matches China’s, confirming that India will not back down. The PM’s message was that while India is extending a hand of friendship it possesses the capability to respond in case of any misadventures.  

To assuage Chinese misconceptions, the PM also harped on the QUAD. He mentioned, ‘Quad is not aimed against any country. Like many other international groupings, SCO, BRICS and others, Quad is a group of like-minded countries working on a shared positive agenda.’ He added, ‘The Quad has established itself as an important platform for ensuring peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.’

The message was evident. Apart from countering China’s continuous rattle that the QUAD is a military alliance created to contain it, PM Modi confirmed that India will remain its member and be allied to the west, while balancing its ties with others. The message could not have been more subtle.   

These signals from the nation’s top leadership were assessed by the Chinese. Since India is in the midst of elections, there is unlikely to be any forward movement from Beijing. PM Modi’s statements for normalization of ties come at a time when relations between the two nations are sliding downhill. Further, tensions in the East and South China Seas as also the Taiwan strait are at an all-time high. China has, for the third time, issued its own list of names for places in Arunachal Pradesh, strongly condemned by India.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, stated ‘China noted PM Modi’s remarks.’ She added, ‘China and India are in close communication through diplomatic and military channels to address issues related to the border situation, and have achieved positive progress.’ She added China’s parroted line, ‘We hope that India will work with China to place the boundary question appropriately in bilateral relations and manage it properly, and put the relationship on a sound and steady track.’

The Global Times, Beijing’s mouthpiece, in an editorial termed PM Modi’s remarks as ‘rare,’ mentioning, ‘Modi’s direct statement, especially his clear position, is quite rare and carefully timed, hence receiving exceptional attention from the public.’ It added, ‘Modi’s interview has sent out quite positive signals regarding China-Indian relations.’ It further mentioned that China believes that the statement may not be too ‘pleasing’ to some in Washington. Beijing assumes that Washington desires Indo-China ties remain tense as it backs their Indo-Pacific strategy.

As per the Global Times, ‘being in conflict would squeeze resources needed for development (for India).’ Possibly the Chinese are hinting that the current deployment is the new normal and should be accepted. For China to pull back to pre-Apr 2020 positions, could be considered a setback.

Internally, the PM’s statement was criticized by the Congress. Its spokesperson, Jairam Ramesh, tweeted, ‘the Prime Minister’s reaction to the China issue is not only disgraceful but also disrespectful to our martyrs who made the supreme sacrifice in defending our borders.’    

PM Modi also clarified that India will compete with China in the economic field. He mentioned, ‘We believe that when a country with one-sixth of the world’s population adopts global standards, it will have a big positive impact on the world. We have major global manufacturing entities setting up shops in India. India is now globally considered most suited for manufacturing world-class goods at competitive cost. Apart from producing for the world, the vast Indian domestic market is an added attraction.’

Evidently, India is proving to be the destination, companies exiting China, wish to embrace. The forthcoming visit of Elon Musk and talks of a plant in India has China concerned.

Sending a message to Pakistan on non-interference, PM Modi mentioned, ‘I won’t comment on matters internal (incarceration of Imran Khan) to Pakistan.’ The Pak government reciprocating appears unlikely. There were no comments from Islamabad on PM Modi’s statement.

India is clear. While it seeks dialogue and desires normalization of ties, it will not bow down. Its capability development and trained armed forces sends a firm message that it is not a pushover. For China, facing tensions in the East and South China seas, as also the straits of Taiwan, alongside a receding economy, peace with India is to its advantage. PM Modi’s message has been received in Beijing.  It is now for them to respond. Unless they display positivity, tensions would remain. Further, India will compete with China by offering better sops to global manufacturers.