India-China relationship rests on the bedrock made up of both partnership and rivalry. Partnership is pursued in the face of increasing trade relations and rivalry in China’s pursual of geostrategic interests in the South Asia and using Pakistan as a proxy to checkmate India’s ambitions of a multipolar Asia. Last week Foreign Secretary of India S. Jaishankar visited Beijing for the first Sino-Indian strategic dialogue since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over. The dialogue came in the wake of China’s veto (third-time) against a resolution of declaring Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) Chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist by the United Nations. China has also blocked India’s entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Moreover, it has ignored India’s objections to the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that impinges upon the territorial sovereignty claims of India over the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir territory. Although India and China have been strategic partners since 2005, the relationship has seen the ebb and flow in its routine journey. What does this strategic partnership mean – cooperation or competition, or both?
Discussions during the strategic dialogue –
Historically different researchs have shown time and again that two of the most disliked countries in China are Japan and India. Therefore, in the context of the ongoing strategic dialogue, India is not looking for a productive outcome which is driven by the realistic understanding of Chinese policies. Firstly, this strategic dialogue is not aimed to find a resolution to the border disputes between the two neighbours but it is aimed at ‘managing’ the border disputes to avoid further confrontation. Secondly, the talks also revolve around enhancing the trade relationship and exploring the huge market of China for Indian products which are otherwise being protected to favour a skewed trade between the two countries favouring China in particular. Thirdly, the dialogue also hosted the subject of democratisation of world order, especially strengthening BRICS-SCO and multilateral cooperation over Afghanistan’s peace solution.
Issue of NSG and Masood Azhar –
India blames China for blocking its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). China exclaims that it is not the only country to block India’s entry into the nuclear group (Austria, Brazil, Ireland, New Zealand and Turkey are opposed to India’s bid too).
While India has managed to address the ‘principle-based’ concerns of the other opposing countries and convinced them fairly to change their stance of opposition, it has failed to persuade China to come on board. The prime reason for such failure is that the Chinese have taken a political stance over India’s NSG membership. By ‘political’ stance, I tend to advance the logic of Chinese plan to circumscribe India’s global ambitions.
On the issue of blocking India’s attempts to declare JeM Chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist, the Chinese stance is outright geopolitical. China might be looking forward towards cashing in the opportunity to extract a significant favour from India in return for changing its stance over Masood Azhar. When four out of five United Nations Security Council members (permanent) strongly support India’s position against Masood Azhar, it is surprising for China to ask for fresh evidence against Masood Azhar from the Indian authorities. It should be noted that JeM is already under the list of banned terrorist organisation of the United Nations Security Council.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said that these issues with India are not bilateral, but multilateral. The issue of NSG could have been justified as multilateral if we throw some light over the technicalities forwarded by the Chinese. But how does China prepare to prove the latter dispute as a bilateral one?
Pakistan’s role in Sino-India relationship –
As long as China is pursuing close and enhanced economic and strategic ties with Pakistan, it will continue to block India’s international ambitions. China is shifting from an ‘elite’ political relationship towards a ‘complicated’ economic and geostrategic relationship with Pakistan to pursue its neo-colonial ambitions. But in this transitory phase of relationship building, China should not forget to clarify a definitive position on terrorism, in case it wants to assume the global leadership role. It should be noted that Chinese and Pakistani businessmen and economic analysts are under no illusion that CPEC can take off only through the runways of the vast Indian markets. Therefore, India should consider exploiting this opportunity in its favour.
India’s trade disputes with China –
This is India’s biggest issue of concern with China which needs to be addressed with utmost urgency. India’s trade deficit with China ($50-60 billion annually) has risen in the last two years with India’s exports falling by almost 16% between 2015-16. India is asking China to come out of protectionism and open its IT Sector and Agricultural commodities market to bridge the deficit gap in this trade relationship. India should pursue a quid pro quo policy in trade tariff matters as we have seen that multilateral trade disputes are resolved at a snail’s pace in WTO.
The issues obliterating India-China relationship such as India’s NSG bid and attempts to blacklist Masood Azhar in UNSC requires a realistic gaze upon China’s pursuance of geopolitical ambitions in the South Asia region. India should not fall into the trap of exchanging significant favours in return for such trivial concessions.