As defense and strategıc analyst ın Indıa and China begın to present theır post-crisis analysıs on the recent near-sımultaneous wıthdrawal of troops along the trı-junctıon between Indıa-Chına-Bhutan (Doklam), thıs presentation ıntends to present a synthesis wıth an objectıve to address the overall health of Sıno-Indıan relatıons. In addition to multiple categories used to classify China and India – Land neighbours, un-demarcated but tranquil borders, civilizational entities, great powers, and regional hegemons etc. – both these countries have had a varying approach towards their respective recent past. While China has committed itself to undo its past in order to seek its rightful place among the comity of nations, India has accepted its past despite the past being a resistance in its quest for a rightful place. In other words, China revolted and India healed its wound (partition). With both revolt and healing incomplete, India and China in their quest for a rightful place within the transforming world order must appreciate each other’s characters shaped by the forces of history and respect the fact that they both desire for peace.
The concept of China’s peaceful rise is a deliberate attempt on part of China’s grand strategist’s to circumvent both normative and structural resistance in manifesting China Dream. Having learned from past where the rise of Germany, Russia, United States and Japan within a British designed world order turned conflictual at the turn of last century, China seeks to avoid conflicts by choice. Furthermore, China claims its relations with others to be outside the realm of zero-sum and champions its strategic interaction as positive-sum. However, does China actually believe so? And do United States, Japan, and India believe so? The following presentation argues that – the recent manıfestatıon of border crısıs between Indıa and Chına ıs beıng caused due to strategıc dıscomfort between two cıvılızatıonal neighbouring states which are on the rıse wıthın a ınternatıonal order that ıs both post-western and non-western ın nature.
It is useful to be remınded that the 1962 border war between Indıa and Chına coıncıded wıth the Cuban mıssıle crısıs, hence factors beyond the bılateral relatıons between the two matters. Both durıng the recent crısıs and ın 1962, Indıa and Chına were reluctant to use force and consıdered other strategıc ıssues elsewhere more ımportant. Dokhlam crısıs ıs not about who blınked fırst, that would be shortsıghtedness, ıts about how Indıa and Chına adapt and adjust to each other’s rıse. Doklam crısıs has no relatıonshıp wıth the fact that the Chınese economy ıs 12 trıllıon compared with Indıa’s 2 trıllıon US dollar. India and China have been insensitive to each other’s strategic requirements in recent past and have lost confidence in each other’s strategic intent.
As New Delhi views China’s rise, it invokes a sense of urgency for India’s rise which is not intended to challenge China’s rise but to preserve the status quo of its strategic environment if not shape it to its advantage. China’s rise has necessitated an external orientation wherein it has increased its strategic presence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. It started with China’s renewed focus on the nuclear submarine project (093-SSN) in 1994 after the breakup of Soviet Union which withdrew its naval bases from the Middle East and Horn of Africa creating a strategic imbalance in the region. In 1993 China’s merchant naval shipping vessel Yin He was detained for inspection for more than 20 days in the Indian Ocean on inaccurate grounds of transshipping to Iran illicit cargo – thiodiglycol (mustard gas) and thionyl chloride (nerve gas) at Saudi port of Dammam causing a rupture in Sino-US bilateral. China’s rise hence requires its military footprint in the Indian Ocean which apart from India has been consequential to both Japan and United States given the maritime nature of the world order. However, the assumption that India will eventually end up in alliance detrimental to China’s peaceful rise is misplaced, though possible. India’s behavior depends on China’s relationship with its smaller neighbours in South Asia particularly Pakistan. According to Indian strategic thinkers, China attempts to contain India by increasing Pakistan’s near-peer status vis-a-vis India and thereby capping India as a sub-regional power. Perhaps this is misplaced as well!
If China expects India to be a contributing factor to its peaceful rise and maintain a perpetual confidence in India’s rise and its strategic relationship with maritime powers such as United States and Japan, then it must express itself and address India’s expectations and concerns regarding China’s rise as well. It is this lack of confidence which is all but natural within an international order that is rapidly readjusting, adapting and accommodating the rise of China and India along with a relative decline of the west at the strategic level that manifests as the recent border crisis at the tactical-operational level. Both India and China have appeared to each other as if deviating from agreed principles of the Panchsheel – Mutual Trust!
For India, China’s foray into India Ocean is of secondary importance, it is China’s foray into South Asia to the Indian Ocean that concerns it the most. While South Asia consists of multiple independent sovereign states, China’s relations with them are not mutually exclusive. The composition of South Asia as it emerged with the decline of British imperialism was strategic and not organic. The concept of India was altered both in geographical and political terms in 1947 and 1971, however as an organic unit South Asia maintains a unique strategic composition which includes Afghanistan. China’s view of South Asia as an organically separate unit is detrimental to its own interest and a cause of strategic discomfort in the region as this approach enhances the role of extra-regional powers (Japan and United States) in South Asia.
As a method of measurement, the extent of India’s participation in the efforts made by Japan and United States in shaping the security architecture will remain directly proportional to China’s approach towards South Asia as an organic whole. Inversely, the more China approaches South Asia as it is –divided, India’s strategic involvement with extra-regional powers will but deepen. The Asia-Africa Freedom Corridor envisaged by Japan and India in parallel to China’s Belt and Road initiative is a case in point. The division of Indian provinces of Punjab and Bengal into first East and West Pakistan and then Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1971 while having become a political reality is causing strategic discomfort in Sino-Indian bilateral with ample historical precedence. For example, in early 1960’s the US Central Intelligence Agency-led U-2 spying missions over Soviet Union (Russia) and air dropping of food, supplies, weapons and trained Tibetan insurgents (US Colorado) into Tibet occurred from these partitioned parts of India – Pakistan Air Force Base (Peshawar, Pakistan) and Pakistan Air Force Base (near Dacca, Bangladesh). Thereby, causing irreparable damage to India and China bilateral relations, which as civilizational states have more or less had no conflict for at least 3000 years of their existence as neighbours. India resisted the temptation to offer its ports in North Western to extra-regional powers prior to its independence (1947) which has direct bearings with its subsequent partition along the fault line of religion.
Given the historical and permanent nature of this phenomenon, both India and China have no choice but to negotiate the construction of an organic composite South Asia including Afghanistan. Such a reconstruction of the idea of South Asia will mitigate the role of extra-regional powers in the region or at least enhance mutual strategic confidence and trust between India and China.