OPINION PIECE : Divergences In The India China Relationship. By Lt Gen S L Narasimhan (Retd)


By Lt Gen S L Narasimhan (Retd)



In the first of the four part series, the India China relations were traced and placed in context. In this part it is intended to discuss the divergences that dominate the narrative in the India – China Relationship.

Boundary Dispute is the single most important factor which is holding back India-China relations. It is strongly believed by many that once this is resolved, most of the other divergences will automatically fade away. It is this author’s belief that it may have been true in the past. With India and China vying for the strategic space to become leading and major powers respectively, even if the boundary issue is resolved the competition between them is likely to remain.

Sino-Pak Nexus has been an irritant in India-China relations and needs no explanation. In the late half of 90s, India took a conscious decision of progressing India – China Relations independent of the China – Pakistan Relations. This has augured well for both the countries. However, proliferation of nuclear technology, military hardware and China’s lack of support for India’s efforts to curb terrorism from Pakistan have been a thorn in the flesh of India – China Bilateral Relations.

The perception that India supports Tibet cause has been worrying China unduly. Even though India has been maintaining that Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of China and has been curbing the political activities of the Tibetan Government in Exile China harbours the suspicion that India is covertly supporting the Tibetan Cause.

China’s Competitive Interest in India’s neighbourhood includes almost all the countries, namely Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Afghanistan and CAR.

China is ready to step in to provide assistance to Nepal at any point in time. China’s assistance to Nepal in supplying fuel to ease out the perceived Indian blockade, is an example of competition in the neighbourhood. China and Nepal armies are carrying out a joint military exercise for the first time.

Media reports have indicated that the level of the exercise has been downgraded by Nepal under pressure from India. China is extending her railway line from Lhasa to Nepal. She has invested in hydropower projects, Buddhist shrine in Lumbini, a number of highway projects and established a number of China Study Centres.

China has made deeper in roads into Myanmar which can be measured by the number of Chinese found in Mandalay. She has constructed the Sittwe – Kunming pipeline and constructing hydroelectric projects.

ne is aware of the military assistance provided to Sri Lanka by China for Eelam IV Operations to defeat Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Similarly, the investments made and defence equipment supplied to Bangladesh have made that country dependent on China. Recently, Bangladesh received two Ming Class Submarines from China.

When India established Defence Attaché’s office in Maldives, China moved in to set up its embassy and Defence Attaché’s office as well.  She has acquired an island recently in Maldives. Moreover, Afghanistan is also becoming a platform for competition between India and China.

China sent the first tranche of military equipment to Afghanistan in July 2016. There have been reports of China and Afghanistan armies carrying out coordinated patrolling recently.

It is a well-known fact that both countries compete for resources like oil, minerals and also markets. Competitive bidding for Oil and Gas in Myanmar, China’s sensitivity to India’s Oil Exploration efforts off the coast of Vietnam are examples of this. Moreover, China’s unending appetite for minerals and rare earth materials is increasing the competition in Africa and elsewhere.

There is always a sense of competition and competing influence in all regional forums such as SAARC, ASEAN, and ASEAN (+). India has been trying to get a permanent membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

She is likely to get the membership in the near future with a caveat that Pakistan also will get the same. China has been keen on getting the membership in SAARC.  Her bid has been actively supported by Pakistan and Nepal. She is likely to get membership of SAARC very soon.

China was not keen on India becoming a member of East Asia Summit while India got in with the support of Singapore. She also opposed an Asian Development Bank loan for development of Arunachal Pradesh unsuccessfully.

India is concerned about Chinese submarines and naval vessels making foray into Indian Ocean in the recent past. Even though, it is not a cause for worry this activity has ruffled many feathers in the Indian establishment.

Moreover, China taking active part in the anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden has enabled the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy to increase her foot print in the Indian Ocean. India is sensitive to this development.

On 26 November 2015, China confirmed it was in talks with Djibouti to construct its first overseas military base. This aspect must be taken note of because so far China did not have any policy of establishing any military base abroad. The base in Djibouti is about to be completed.

This may be a precursor for China establishing more bases abroad. In addition, China is also developing port facilities at Chittagong, Sittwe,Hambantota, Colombo and Gwadar.

During the Tsunami in 2004, India was able to hold on its own and did not accept any aid from China. The neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan accepted the aid. Provision of relief during water crisis in Maldives and Nepal earthquake highlighted the competition between India and China.

Soon after the Indian aid landed in these countries, China also sent her aid to these countries. A competitive comparison was witnessed during these Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief Operations.

Of late, India does not mention that she supports the ‘One China Policy’ in any Joint Communiqué and insists that the same be not included. China, however, insists that it should be included.  Earlier, the press releases used to be already prepared and kept, and released to Chinese media irrespective of the stance of the visiting delegation.

Although, China has been making supporting statements in respect of India’s aspiration for permanent membership in UNSC, they are ambivalent. One of the reasons could be that, India enunciated her bid along with a group of four countries to include Japan, Brazil and Germany. Since Japan figures in this group, China is ambivalent in supporting India’s claim.

Freedom of Navigation in South and East China Sea is going to be a bone of the contention in future. Irrespective of US Navy’s Freedom of Navigation operations in South China Sea, China is likely to be sensitive to events in South China Sea. Many countries are apprehending that China may impose restriction on movement by ships in South and East China Seas.

India has called for resolving all disputes through international laws including United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

China believes in the policy of doing business with any regime that is in power, whereas India was avoiding the same on moralistic grounds. However, India is moving towards a foreign policy based on realpolitik.

There have been concerns with respect to construction of dams on Brahmaputra River (YarlongZangpo in China) by China and the likely restriction in flow of water into India.   However, it must be understood that Brahmaputra River gets almost 70% water after entering India.

Moreover, these are run of the river dams that does not involve storage of water. However, China has issues related to lower riparian states of Mekong River. China is not a signatory to international river water treaties. This raises suspicion in the minds of lower riparian states.

At present the trade imbalance is in favour of China. India-China bilateral trade for 2016 stood at US$ 70.73 billion. India’s exports to China were approximately US$ 9 billion whereas China’s exports were US$ 61.7 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of US$ 52.68 billion. This has been a bone of contention between both the countries.

83% of Indians feel that China is a threat, as concluded in a poll.

Though India has not consented to its participation in Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), surprisingly all the maps released by China show India as a part of this initiative (See Figure 1). Citing her concerns that China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a violation of her territorial integrity,

Figure1. Map Showing the Belt and Road Initiative

(Boundaries are India are shown incorrectly as the Map is from the MERICS Website)

and the fact that it is a unilateral announcement of the plans for BRI by China, India has conveyed her apprehensions on the initiative. Mr Modi, is unlikely to attend the Summit on BRI in Beijing on 14 May 2017.

This long list is by no means complete. There are other problems like the UN 1267 Committee issue on proscribing the terrorist leaders in Pakistan and the Nuclear Suppliers Group issues that also cast a shadow on the bilateral relationship.

In the third part of this four part series, we will continue the journey by looking at the convergences and the ongoing cooperation in the India – China Relationship. Au Revoir till then.

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One commentOn OPINION PIECE : Divergences In The India China Relationship. By Lt Gen S L Narasimhan (Retd)

  • A well analysed article on the Indo- China relations.However, one wonders if the Indian Govt is taking cognizance of all these and prioritising beating China in its own game by more aggressive diplomacy in pushing for better relations with its neighbours and countering the rapid in roads China is making with them.
    Our foreign policy vis a vis our neighbours needs a major push for improved relations which currently seems halfhearted and lacking effectiveness.Nepal, Myanmar and Srilanka definitely need more action.

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