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Confrontation between India and China can hurt both
By Dr Satish Misra
In the background of over a month long border standoff over the Dolam (or the Doklam as Chinese call it) on the tri-junction of India-Bhutan-China, meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in the German historic city of Hamburg to discuss "range of issues" cannot but be an attempt from both sides to moderate rising temperatures in tensions in bilateral relations.

China had, earlier, said that "the atmosphere is not right" for a formal or bilateral meeting between the two leaders and India had clarified that it was not seeking any meeting. China has been issuing a series of warnings to India - some through state-run newspapers - about the urgent need for New Delhi to withdraw its troops from an area that Beijing claims as its own near Sikkim.

Indian soldiers had arrived at the area early in June to stop the construction of a road that New Delhi holds as "a serious concern" and reiterates that it is Beijing's attempt to disturb the status-quo in the area. China says the Indian Army's actions violate an 1890 border agreement between Britain and China that previous Indian governments have pledged to uphold and that it will not move for any dialogue till Indian troops are pulled back.

According to the Chinese interpretation of events, Indian soldiers crossed into China's Doklam region early in June and obstructed work on a road on the plateau. But Bhutan which is militarily and diplomatically supported by India, says the area in question is Bhutanese territory.

It is very interesting to note that Beijing very selectively uses historical agreements and treaties to further its claims. In the present case, while China is referring to 1890 border agreement, it has been consistently refusing to accept McMohan line drawn up under the 1914 Shimla agreement on the ground that China had not accepted it, conveniently forgetting that the Chinese representative had indeed initialled it. There cannot be two standards as China has been doing it.

Real source of bilateral tension is not the border standoffs that Beijing is in a habit of provoking from time to time but it is in the nature of rise in stature of two countries in the international community on account of growing economic as well as strategic prowess of the two ancient civilisations that incidentally are neighbours also.

Skirmishes began on the tri-lateral junction on the eve of Modi's visit to the US for his first meeting with the American President Donald Trump.

China also did not allow Kailash Mansarovar yatra to proceed as it had been done in the recent years. Even after the meeting between Modi and Xi in Hamburg, China has opted to maintain tensions on the border as is evident in Beijing's safety advisory to its citizens in India on July 8.

Are these mere coincidences? No definitely not. They can't be particularly seen in the context of developments of last couple of years. China has been playing hot and cold ever since India started restructuring its world view. It all began when India and the US signed the nuclear deal in the Congress-led UPA government in 2005 and its final ratification in 2008.

Since then, Beijing has been hostile to Indian interests on all global platforms and relations between two countries have been undergoing ups and downs. Stress and strain between two countries, particularly, began to touch a critical threshold when the BJP-led NDA government assumed charge in May 2014. India's foreign policy began to acquire a muscular dimension as Modi began to woo Japan in Asia to balance the growing might of China. As a matter of fact, the Indian Prime Minister was not hesitant to drop diplomatic finesse in attacking China on the Japanese soil during his visit there.

But fact remains that root cause of bilateral tensions is not the change of the government in New Delhi but in the rising global ambitions of China and its belief that it is not if the sole power but is definitely the prime power in Asia. Imperial ambitions of China are creating apprehensions not only in India but among many Asian countries. There is a growing conviction among many Asian capitals that China's much-trumpeted claim of "peaceful rise" does not match with developments on ground. China has been using border disputes with its neighbours to coerce or bully them into submission.

China has also been making use of its financial clout to make countries of Asia and Africa to make them dependent on Beijing. Many South Asia countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka are already in China's debt trap. China's ambitious one belt one road (OBOR) project is a blueprint of its systematic rise as a world power because Asia is no more enough for realising its dream. China has to keep economically growing if it wants to emerge as the leading world power, Chinese strategic thinkers stress.

India's decision not to become part of the OBOR project has rattled China and has instilled confidence among many Asian and African countries. They have begun to see through the Chinese intentions and have begun to have doubts over the project. India, because of its size and growing economic-strategic clout, is the possibly only country in Asia that can stand up to China. Beijing knows this well and that is why it is indulging in arm-twisting not knowing that New Delhi is not a paper tiger to be shoved around.

Both India and China are growing economies and are thus sustaining the world economies. That is why both these countries are important to the world. China will have to decide whether its impression of bullying its neighbours including India is going to help it in its global ambitions or it would need to accommodate rightful ambitions of other powers also. Choices are not too many for China or for that matter for India. New Delhi would have to remain firm but polite avoiding verbal aggression.

News Updated at : Wednesday, July 12, 2017
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