Indo-China Relations: What Is The Future? [And What Was The Past?]

By Shraddha Sankhe:

The political relationship of India and China has been rather peculiar. The present and the future of the relationship cannot be determined unless the events of the past are brought into the mainstream river of consideration.

The nuclear test of Pokhran II saw the then Defense Minister George Fernandes calling China as India’s “enemy number one”. China’s reactions to the remarks and the nuclear test as a whole “led to expression of grave concern but still relatively muted” as Chinese scholar Li wrote in his Security Perception and China-India Relations. Then things took a dramatic turn. The Bill Clinton led US which was rallying the nuclear tests of India received a letter from the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The excerpt:

“I have been deeply concerned at the deteriorating security environment, especially the nuclear environment, faced by India for some years past. We have an overt nuclear weapon state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962. Although our relations with that country have improved in the last decade or so, an atmosphere of distrust persists mainly due to unsolved border problem”.

This letter was leaked in US on May 13, 1998 the day India conducted the second series of test and this apparently outraged China.

It was only after 1976 that the India-China relationship soured by the 1962 war- started moving on a cordial path. After this both the nations were rather busy in their own state of Affairs. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, having her own battles to fight. This included the great Indian railway strike organized by George Fernandes, the Jayprakash Narayan Movement and the Allahabad High Court judgement which unseated her as the PM. What followed was an internal Emergency which led to the Janata Party rule. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister who chose to mend fences with China. What’s peculiar is that China chose to snub him. China launched its war against Vietnam the very day Vajpayee landed in China for peace talks. The talks were far from peaceful.

Indira Gandhi returned to power as did China’s Deng Xioping. R. Prasanna effectively put it, “War, revolution and ideology gave way to engagement, transformation and pragmatism in China’s conduct of its domestic and foreign relations”. China was concerned with its industrialization and modernization which made it diplomatically ‘avoid’ issues concerning the borders.”

China apparently shares borders with Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, India, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Kyrgyztan, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam. Border issue was the biggest deterrent of the India-China relations and the latter was far from conspicuously ignoring it. The 1914 McMahon Line agreement which had effectively created a geographical Outer and Inner Tibet for peace was much in dispute. For instance, China claims Aksai Chin to be a territorial and ethno-cultural part of Tibet. The Arunachal Pradesh claim however is considered least negotiable as the locals have few things in common with the Tibetan Buddhists. As of today, the focus is on China-Pakistan border just as China has openly acknowledged Anrunachal Pradesh as part of India, albeit with some differences. This was in response to India’s acceptance that Tibet is a part of China.

Along the 1980s, India and China were on a modernization drive and their relations only got a boost with Rajiv Gandhi making a historic visit to China, after 34 years by an Indian Prime Minister. The Cold war ended, the Soviet Union disintegrated and it jolted the spheres of India-strategic and military. This was an opportunity for China to speed ahead and it did so embarking on a race to become a world power soon.

Back to the recent past-the Chinese who bided for the Olympic Games could not afford to mar their reputation with the border countries. New Delhi expected Beijing will return to its pre-Olympic strategic game-playing after the Beijing Olympic Games but was proved wrong. China did oppose the nuclear future of India but could do little to sabotage India’s nuclear dream, a silent accommodation to hold their ground.

The concern in strategic spheres of the sub-continent is about China’s fiery growth catapulting it as the second largest economy in the World. As authors Mohan Guruswamy and Zorawas D Singh of Chasing the Dragon put it, “India’s autonomous capabilities in manufacturing critical military technologies and weapon platforms remain far too short of an aspiring regional power”.

As for the Chinese, the dragon is aiming for the World Super Power. India needs leap, mammoth-like.

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