India & China Territorial Dispute: The Growing Challenge
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Issue Vol. 31.2 Apr-Jun 2016 | Date : 04 Sep , 2016

China’s negotiating strategy on the territorial dispute is to stall resolution of the dispute till it is in a much stronger position in terms of comprehensive national strength so that it can then dictate terms. The rapidly blossoming strategic partnership between China and Pakistan is also a major cause for concern. During any future conflict with either China or Pakistan – even though the probability is low, India will have to contend with a two-front situation as each is likely to collude militarily with the other – a situation for which the Indian armed forces are as yet unprepared. Hence, it is in India’s interest to strive for the early resolution of the territorial dispute with China so that India has only one major military adversary to contend with.

China’s Rise: Fuelling Regional Instability

China’s unbridled military growth, its assertiveness in dealing with territorial disputes on land and at sea and its quest to acquire naval bases in the Northern Indian Ocean, are rapidly emerging as the primary causes of growing regional instability. China senses the emergence of a security vacuum in the Indo-Pacific and is rushing to fill it. China has discarded Deng Xiaoping’s 24-character strategy to, “Hide our capacity and bide our time.” It has dropped the phrase ‘peaceful rise’ while referring to its economic growth and increasing military power.

China and India, both Asian giants and emerging world powers, have begun to exercise immense influence in international political and economic affairs. As China’s GDP is much larger than that of India, it enjoys a correspondingly greater international clout at present. Relations between India and China have been fairly stable at the strategic level. Political and economic relations between India and China are much better now than these have ever been since the 1962 War between the two countries. Economic relations are much better now than these have been in the past. Mutual economic dependence is growing rapidly every year, with bilateral trade increasing at a brisk pace. Even though it is skewed in China’s favour, bilateral trade has crossed $50 billion and is expected to touch $60 billion soon. The two countries have been cooperating in international fora such as WTO talks and climate change negotiations. There has even been some cooperation in energy security.

Chinese and Indian oil and gas companies have often been in competition with each other to invest in overseas fields…

However, growth in the strategic and security relationship has not kept pace with the political and economic relationship. Despite prolonged negotiations at the political level to resolve the long-standing territorial and boundary dispute between the two countries, there has been little progress on this sensitive issue. China has a clandestine nuclear warheads-ballistic missiles-military hardware technology transfer relationship with Pakistan that causes apprehension in India.

Also, in recent years, China appears to have raised the ante by way of its shrill political rhetoric, frequent transgressions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and unprecedented cyber attacks on Indian networks. The security relationship has the potential to act as a spoiler in the larger relationship and will ultimately determine whether the two Asian giants will clash or cooperate for mutual gains. Arguably, while the India-China relationship is relatively stable at the strategic level, China’s political, diplomatic and military aggressiveness at the tactical level is acting as a dampener.

Strategic Relationship: Competition or Cooperation?

On April 11, 2005, China and India announced a new ‘strategic and cooperative partnership’ after a summit-level meeting between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao. International analysts were quick to note that the prospects of a more cooperative relationship between these two growing economies had significant global implications. A meaningful strategic partnership will lead to mutually beneficial synergies between Chinese and Indian economies. India is rapidly emerging as a leader in software development. Its knowledge-based industries are attracting the interest of major Information Technology (IT) enterprises from all over the world. China is now a leading base for the manufacture of IT hardware. Synergising India’s software capability and China’s hardware strength will produce an unbeatable combination.

The rapidly growing appetite of both the countries for energy and their high dependence on oil and gas imports is forcing both to secure oil equity abroad. Chinese and Indian oil and gas companies have often been in competition with each other to invest in overseas fields and have driven up prices by outbidding each other. A strategy based on cooperation rather than competition will help both the countries to secure better terms and will enable them to share their risks. They could follow a consortium or joint venture approach for bidding and invest in sharing infrastructure costs such as building joint pipelines. So far, cooperation in this field has been extremely limited.

A coordinated approach in the ongoing WTO negotiations and on environmental issues by both China and India in international negotiations is proving to be mutually beneficial to both. This was particularly evident during the 2009 World Climate Summit at Copenhagen. When two countries that represent more than a third of the global population speak in unison, the world has no option but to sit up and take note. China and India played a calming role in the 2008-2009 global financial meltdown that has now begun to peter out. They are likely to work together towards the long-pending reform of the international financial architecture. As both the countries hold substantial foreign exchange reserves, they will increasingly play a greater role in decision making in the existing Bretton Woods organisations.

Counter terrorism is another area in which China and India can cooperate for mutual benefit…

Reform of the UN Security Council (UNSC) is yet another area for cooperation. Just as India had played a very positive role in China’s membership of the UN and its subsequent inclusion in the UNSC, India expects China to support its aspiration for a seat in an expanded UNSC. This will quite naturally increase Asian clout in world affairs. However, so far such explicit support has not been forthcoming. In Asia, China and India should work together for peace and stability and broader regional economic integration to make the twenty-first century truly Asia’s.

Counter terrorism is another area in which China and India can cooperate for mutual benefit as both countries are victims of pan-Islamist fundamentalist terrorism emanating from across their borders. In this context, the Hand-in-Hand series of joint military exercises, conducted at Kunming in 2007, at Belgaum in 2008, and after a gap, again at Kunming in November 2013, were steps in the right direction. Both also need to work together to counter the menace of narcotics trafficking from the Golden Crescent on one side and the Golden Triangle on the other.

Areas of Concern

In the Indian perception, there are several major areas of concern that are limiting the growth of the bilateral relationship. The foremost among these is the ‘all-weather’ friendship between China and Pakistan that is, in Chinese President Hu Jintao’s words, “Higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans.” President Xi Jinping has added the words, “Stronger than steel and sweeter than honey.”

The Indian government and most Indian analysts are convinced that China has given nuclear warhead designs, fissile material and missile technology as well as fully assembled, crated M-9 and M-11 missiles to Pakistan, as has been widely reported in the international media. China also enabled North Korea’s transfer of Nodong and Taepo Dong nuclear-capable ballistic missiles to Pakistan. China and Pakistan are known to have a joint weapons and equipment development programme that includes Al Khalid tanks, F-22 frigates and FC-1/JF-17 fighter aircraft. China’s military aid has considerably strengthened Pakistan’s war waging potential and enabled it to launch and sustain a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and in other parts of India. By implication, therefore, it is also China’s proxy war.

Other contentious issues include China’s continuing opposition to India’s nuclear weapons programme and to its admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); its deep inroads into Myanmar and support to its military regime; its covert assistance to the now almost defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka; its increasing activities in the Bay of Bengal; its attempts to isolate India in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) while keeping India out of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and its relentless efforts to increase its influence in Nepal and Bangladesh.

China also wishes to reduce what it perceives as the steadily increasing influence of the US over New Delhi…

China’s efforts to develop port facilities in Myanmar (Hangyi), Chittagong (Bangladesh), Sri Lanka (Hambantota), Maldives and at Gwadar in Pakistan are seen by many Indian analysts as forming part of a ‘String of Pearls’ strategy to contain India and develop the capacity to dominate the Northern Indian Ocean Region around 2015-2020. Although at present, the Indian Navy dominates the Northern Indian Ocean, a maritime clash is possible in future as the PLA Navy begins operating in the Indian Ocean – ostensibly to safeguard its sea lanes and protect its merchant ship traffic. Hence, China’s moves are seen by Indian analysts to be part of a carefully orchestrated plan aimed at the strategic encirclement of India in the long term to counterbalance India’s growing power and influence in Asia, even as China engages India on the political and economic fronts in the short term.

As both China and India are nuclear-armed states, it is in the interest of both to ensure that strategic stability is maintained and that the risk of accidental or unauthorised nuclear exchange is minimised. This would be possible only if negotiators from both the sides sit down together and discuss nuclear Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures (NRRMs). However, China’s insistence that it cannot discuss nuclear CBMs and NRRMs with India as India is not a nuclear weapons state recognised by the NPT is proving to be a stumbling block.

China’s official position is that India should cap, roll back and eliminate its nuclear weapons in terms of UNSC Resolution No 1172. That is unlikely to happen. India has been recognised as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology and has been given a backdoor entry into the NPT through the NSG waiver and the IAEA safeguards agreement. India has also signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements with France, Russia and the United States (US). It would be in the interest of both the countries to discuss nuclear CBMs and NRRMs so as to enhance strategic stability in Southern Asia. It is also in China’s interest to enter into a nuclear trade agreement with India as India is rapidly emerging as a large market for nuclear fuel and nuclear technology.

India realises that its growing external relations with its new strategic partners are causing some concern in China who views with suspicion, India’s willingness to join Australia, Japan and the US in a ‘quadrilateral’ engagement to promote shared common interests in South East Asia. China also wishes to reduce what it perceives as the steadily increasing influence of the US over New Delhi. China knows that the US is several years ahead of Beijing in recognising India’s potential as a military and economic power and has greatly increased its cooperation with India in both spheres. China fears that the growing US-India strategic partnership is actually a loose alliance and that the two countries are ganging up against China.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig. Gurmeet Kanwal

Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.

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One thought on “India & China Territorial Dispute: The Growing Challenge

  1. With India committing predictable suicide with an anti-National Constitution and rusted Iron Frame Work, it is a wait and watch game for China. Just a question of delivering a coup de grace to an India that has brought itself to its knees with the religious preferences, reservations, corruption and civil war that are India’s most distinguishing features.

    China is pushing Pakistan to a limited war against India that is bigger and longer than Kargil but less than 1971. The following reasons are the casus belli: (1) China wants to demonstrate that China is the is super power and bully on the block. (2) A shot across the bows of India, USA, Iran that CPEC project must not be disturbed. (3)Warning to countries such as Vietnam, Japan, Philippines etc that china can go any extent.(4) crushing Pakistan economically (war burden) to depend on China for every thing.(5) Testing Pakistan’s China made arsenal including tactical nukes, fighters, strike aircraft, missiles and nuclear armed nuclear subs in actual war situation.

    And, inter alia, to render India more unattractive to foreign investors and destabilize India with galloping inflation,6329

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