Schism between India and China widens The Statesman 30 May 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Schism between India and China widens The Statesman 30 May 2023

          China was expected to back Pakistan’s demand in objecting to the conduct of the 3rd Tourism Working Group (TWG) meeting in Srinagar, and it did not disappoint. The Chinese spokesperson stated on the event, ‘China firmly opposes holding G20 meetings in any form in disputed areas and will not attend such meetings.’ Only China objected while few other nations stayed away. There is a difference between protesting and not participating. Not all nations attend every meet, choice being theirs. Nations have their own reasons for missing an event which could also be due to displaying a neutral position. The Srinagar meet was best attended amongst earlier TWGs with 57 global delegates.

            China had also not attended the G20 process on science and innovation held in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, in the third week of March. However, there was no official statement from them, despite their negative commenting on every visit by a political or diplomatic dignitary to the state. China has claimed Arunachal as part of Southern Tibet. The Itanagar event was attended by over 100 delegates from India and abroad.

          The Y20 summit, under the aegis of the G20, was held in Ladakh in April this year, despite opposition from China and Pakistan. China had stated back in Jun 2022 on India’s announcement of conducting G20 preliminary events across the country, ‘relevant sides (India and Pakistan) should avoid unilateral moves that may complicate the situation (on Kashmir).’ The event had over 100 delegates representing 30 nations, excluding China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

          The Indian response to comments from China has been standard. The Indian spokesperson’s permanent response mentions, ‘G20 meetings are being organized in entire India, in all cities and parts of India. It is therefore natural to hold the meetings in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh because these are inalienable parts of India.’ China went a stage further in its attempts to derail the Y20 summit in Ladakh, converting it into a prestige issue.

          As per inputs, China invited participating members of the Y20 summit in Ladakh to Beijing in March, a month before the Ladakh event, where it sought to convey that they should boycott the event in Ladakh as it was disputed territory and would hurt Chinese sentiments. Indian Y20 organizations counter-lobbied, ensuring Chinese attempts backfired. Ultimately the Y20 meet was a resounding success and a victory for Indian diplomacy.

India also organized its first global Buddhist Summit on 20-21st Apr in New Delhi, just prior to the Y20 meet. The event, attended by 170 delegates representing 30 countries, was inaugurated by PM Modi and addressed by the Dalai Lama. Buddhist representatives from China and Tibet were invited, though none attended. For China, the timing of the event was suspect, though it avoided commenting on it. Y20 participants visiting monasteries in Ladakh and being introduced to Tibetan culture was not to Chinese liking.    

          The success of events conducted in locations objected to by China or Pakistan indicates that India gained in projecting its territorial claims. It also grabbed attention of global media to India’s benefit. China had assumed that its strong opposition would compel New Delhi to change location, but, on the contrary, it hardened India’s resolve.

Pakistan attempted to enhance terrorism levels seeking to convey that J and K is unsafe for visitors, but failed. Pakistan and China had also hoped that nations would join them in boycott. However, Indian diplomacy succeeded and numbers which missed events were miniscule. To display neutrality, Saudi Arabia and Turkey even sent members of their tourism agencies for the Srinagar meet.  

          India and China, apart from standoffs along the LAC and occasional fisticuffs, are also engaged in a diplomatic war for global acceptance. India is firmly aligned with the western anti-China lobby and hence has been harping on a free and open Indo-Pacific, something which China believes is direct interference. In the recently concluded G7 meet, India, though not a formal member of the G7, was party to the statement which criticized China on Taiwan, its maritime claims, economic coercion and human rights, compelling Beijing to summon the Japanese ambassador.

In every statement post any bilateral in New Delhi, freedom of navigation through the South and East China seas is mentioned. India’s growing proximity with western nations sends the message that India is part of every anti-China block. The growing influence of the QUAD only adds credence to this.

India recently conducted joint naval exercises with ASEAN nations in Vietnam’s territorial waters which are claimed by China, further displaying its anti-China stand. These exercises were monitored by Chinese spy vessels. India and China are also competing for influence in South Asian nations. It was India which took the initiative with the IMF, in support of Sri Lanka, compelling China to follow. Wherever India gains in strength, China is pushed back. A similar scenario is now being played out in Africa and Pacific Island nations, as was evident in the recent visit of the PM to Papua New Guinea.

All this is happening despite increased trade between the two. With a battle of diplomatic influence ongoing, any compromise on the border should not be expected, as India has insisted that resolution of the border is essential for normalization of bilateral ties. Thus, China placing terms and conditions unacceptable to India, should be considered as normal.

It is to display its displeasure with India that China suggested unreasonable conditions for resolution of the standoff in Ladakh. In the recently concluded border meeting, China offered two proposals. Firstly, it proposed that patrolling rights, suspended since the first agreement on Pangong Tso, be reinstated. The second was creating a 15-20km buffer zone in Indian territory to end the current standoff in Depsang. Both these conditions were rejected by India. China would have been aware of Indian reaction.

China will continue working to reduce India’s global South influence. It cannot accept any Asian nation challenging its hegemonistic approach. India, on the other hand, has to ensure that it keeps China at bay and continues to push forth its territorial integrity by conduct of events and enhancing tourism in border regions. The battle for global diplomatic acceptance is taking shape.