China and India Relations: A collaborative and competitive bilaterelism 

Session of Ananta Aspen Centre New Delhi on the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs on India-China relations & Doklam Crisis. Image: @ShashiTharoor

The 22nd Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs on Sino-India Relations

China and India have been two neighbouring countries which were linked to each other by the silk route and Buddhism in history, have now emerged as two economic giants in the Asian region. It would be slightly a mistake to assume that the countries have maintained a direct peace, rather the countries have maintained a bilateral relation by ‘needling’ each other. The Chinese economy by and large claims over its strong ‘communist’ principles whereas the two countries could be considered as ‘capitalistic giants’ in disguise. Focusing much on the border disputes that have long been an issue of ‘war’ between the two countries, the possibility of avoiding such a circumstance is at question and pursuing a ‘collaborative and competitive’ relationship remains unanswered.

The 22nd Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs on Sino-India Relations have cumulatively summed up the bilateral relations between the two countries, with a special focus on the ‘Doklam Crisis’, 2017. The event was embraced by the Chairperson of the Standing Committee, Dr Shashi Tharoor, Mohammad Salim, Member of Parliament and Lt. General S L Narasimhan, a member of the National Security Advisory Board, held at the WWF Office, New Delhi on 4th February 2019. The discussion was followed by each panellist making remarks on how maturity on part of both the leadership has helped in maintaining peace, however, Dr Tharoor expressed his discontent on the Doklam Crisis. He opened the discussion by presenting a general overview of the report that has been unanimously adopted by both the houses of the Indian Legislature, and mentioned that the report has used “a strong language” pinpointing to the importance of the Doklam Crisis and the concerns it created for Indian territory.

According to Tharoor, the crisis had aggregated further due to China’s contrasting perception of the border area and it baffles him that the country was building a road to ‘nowhere’ in a disputed area. The report was produced with numerous visits to Tawang, Sikkim and Nathula. He stressed on the hostility on part of the Chinese for ‘needling’ India with her sensitive issues and the complacent attitude on part of the Indians, he fears, it may lead to a periodic crisis which stands sharply against the framework of Indian foreign policy. He also argued that strengthening border infrastructure which would make sure that no permanent settlements are made in areas like Arunachal Pradesh.

An interesting angle to the discussion was added by Lt. General S L Narasimhan, although he spoke from a very military perspective and stressed that defence deployment in the border areas should be more proactive which might be a step in curbing the border issues. He firmly believes that India has a very well-equipped border management system, but the implementation is what needs attention. No new addition to the system can help the border areas. However, he also stressed the recent developments in India-Taiwan relation and how this relationship could be used against China to ‘needle’ them. The report has given a much detailed description of the bilateralism between the two countries, but S L Narasimhan rightly pointed that very less focus was made on ‘leveraging’ soft power, which hold equal importance with respect to both the countries. Mr Salim remained firm on his notion of ‘war not a way out’.

Dr Tharoor in reply to the soft power perspective, mentioned of all the Land and Air connectivity taking place. “Accidental Collaboration” was used by the Parliamentarian to highlight how India and China are similar in dealing with issues and opportunities concerning the Gulf and East Africa. After much discussion on border infrastructure, the discussion was shifted towards trade and communication. The BRI which is still an ongoing plan extended to Pakistan by China will be very much transformative for western China, whereby the cost of transportation will be reduced by 17%. The transformation will be an advantage to Western China, but the BRI might be an indirect violation of the Indian territory. Even in terms of trade, the report highlighted that trade and investment on part of the Chinese are severely problematic and that China also shares a very interesting relationship with Taiwan. Tharoor also pointed that “India must exploit” certain opportunities which pose difficulties for China, such as Vietnam and maintain a very friendly relation in the South China Sea. Spiritually, the ‘Tibet card’ has been in fact playing a role of irritant between the two nations for a long time and this further might worsen the bilateral relation.

The report has covered a wide range of areas concerning India and China, very lucratively talked about border disputes and trade deficits. The two big giants in Asia definitely have a lot on the plate and must shed their differences to make a ‘direct peace.’ As Robert Frost rightly puts “good fences make good neighbours”, the priority on part of India is to proactively strengthen their border infrastructure and only then the relationship between these two economic giants can be nurtured.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Arijita Sinha Roy

Arijita Sinha Roy is a former Associate Editor at The Kootneeti.

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