The China-India Dispute and its Geopolitical Implications

India and China are at the worst diplomatic relations as of now. The current Galwan border dispute is worse than the 72 days long Doklam stand-off in 1967. It has led to the first Indian death in the  last forty-five years on the border.[1] This has worsened the already deteriorating relationship between the two countries,proving that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aggressive policy is quite opposite to Deng Xiaoping’s ‘low profile’ approach to international affairs.[2] The Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China has not been demarcated making  border disputes in the region a common occurrence . These include  many incidents of face-offs and transgressions. In this episode, the dispute erupted simultaneously at the Galwan sector (not previously disputed), Demchok, Pangong lake and Nathu-La in Sikkim.[3] It is not clear as to which side started the fight, but it led to loss of lives on both . In January 2021, satellite images have elucidated  that China  constructed a new  village approximately  2 km into the Indian side of the LAC in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.[4] China has never given recognition to Arunachal Pradesh and claims the state to be a part of their territory.

There has been much speculation as  for why there is increase in Chinese aggression on the border:

(a) India’s abrogation of Article 370 which changed the status of Ladakh,

(b) an improvement in the relationship between the US and India, or

(c) the improvement in the relationship between India and Taiwan.[5]

China, a stronger military power, has thus tried to show India her place. Additionally, whenever there is a domestic issue , China shows ‘risk-taking behaviour’ at the border to distract people from their problems.[6] In this episode , Chinese officials were under attack for the handling of the coronavirus  pandemic.

While China has asked to separate boundary disputes  from the business, New Delhi has clearly stated that until the status quo ante is not restored at the boundary, there shall not be a return to normalcy between the two countries.[7] For example, in retaliation, India has banned fifty-nine Chinese apps like PubG, TikTok and Shein which were widely popular. Furthermore, the Indian government has tried to reduce the country’s  dependence on China by calling for ‘atmanirbharta’ (self-reliance). The Road Transport Highways and MSME Minister has also said that investment from China should be ‘discouraged’ to show that while India may be weak militarily, she can hurt China economically.[8] As a result of  the standoff, India has developed  stronger relationships with Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, France and the United Kingdom.[9]

To pressure India in return, China has developed a stronger relationship with India’s rivalPakistan. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of “Pakistan Administered Kashmir”. It has been a point of contention between the two nations since 1947. Pakistan recently gave ‘provincial status’ to the region  which legalises any CPEC activity undertaken by China. Furthermore, China is involved in Nepal’s diplomatic crisis at a time when the relationship between India and Nepal is at its worst and hasinvested billions of dollars in Nepal by means of  the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).[10] China has also loaned 1 billion dollars to Sri Lanka as a part of her ‘debt-trap diplomacy’.[11] These actions demonstrate how China is trying to appeal to  India’s neighbours to  pressure the Indian government.

There is optimism that India can use coercive diplomacy to reach a solution where it is defensive and yet reaches her desired outcome. The boundary crisis between the two most powerful nations of South Asia is a very serious issue and is being followed across the world. While China may have improved their geopolitical relevance in South Asia, India has developed new diplomatic relationships across the world as a result of the tension. Namely, India has been invited as a ‘guest country’ for the G-7 summit of which China is not a member. There is hope that a consensus between India and China can be reached diplomatically and such boundary disputes will not exist in the future.


References

[1] Soutik Biswas, “India-China clash: 20 Indian troops killed in Ladakh fighting”, BBC News, June 16, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-53061476.

[2] Tim Rühlig, “A “New” Chinese Foreign Policy Under Xi Jinping?”, Institute for Security & Development Policy, March 2, 2018, https://isdp.eu/publication/new-chinese-foreign-policy-xi-jinping-implications-european-policy-making/.

[3] Saif Khalid, “All-out combat’ feared as India, China engage in border standoff”, AlJazeera, May 28, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/5/28/all-out-combat-feared-as-india-china-engage-in-border-standoff.

[4] Ananth Krishnan, “China defends new village in Arunachal Pradesh amid border construction push”, The Hindu, January 21, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/china-defends-new-village-in-arunachal-amid-border-construction-push/article33627391.ece.

[5] Tanvi Madan, “Emerging global issues: The China-India boundary crisis and its implications”, BROOKINGS, September 9, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/emerging-global-issues-the-china-india-boundary-crisis-and-its-implications/.

[6] Sheela Bhatt, “Interview with Shivshankar Menon,” Rediff, June 30, 2020, https://bit.ly/3gWSYrg.

[7] Madan, “Emerging global issues”.

[8] “No Chinese Firms In Road Projects, Not Even Joint Ventures: Nitin Gadkari,” Press Trust of India, July 1, 2020, https://bit.ly/2F2sXJH.

[9] Antoine Levesques, “India-China tensions: what next for India?”, IISS, July 30, 2020, https://www.iiss.org/blogs/analysis/2020/07/sasia-india-china-tensions.

[10] Harsh V. Pant, “The Delhi-Beijing battle in South Asia”, Observer Research Foundation, January 6, 2021, https://www.orfonline.org/research/delhi-beijing-battle-south-asia/.

[11] Matt Ferchen and Anarkalee Perera, “Why Unsustainable Chinese Infrastructure Deals Are a Two-Way Street”, Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, July 2019, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/7-15-19_Ferchen_Debt_Trap.pdf.