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The Big Picture – Takeaways from India-China Strategic Dialogue

  • March 30, 2017
  • 1
The Big Picture- RSTV
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Takeaways from India-China strategic dialogue 

Archives

TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • India and its neighbourhood- relations.
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

The key takeaways from the dialogue:

Background

There were quite a few issues that were discussed including Afghanistan, nuclear issue but two differences overshadow other issues between a recently held India and China strategic dialogue to increase bilateral ties.

The differences were over China’s reluctance to support India’s inclusion in NSG as well as the UN ban (1267 resolution in the UNSC) on Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar. While the Chinese ambassador to India claimed that India should not rush into things and expect quick resolution to the differences, India turned down China’s request to provide more solid evidence against Azhar to get him banned. Indian Foreign Secretary said that though China was open to India’s application for membership in NSG, China is caught upon its view of procedures and processes which is unlike others in the group. Even the media on both the sides highlighted these issues predominantly.

Now it appears that other issues also came onto the table including the possibility that perhaps India and China could work toward some kind of a common objective. Over the last couple of years, the situations have become even more complicated. The differences and the outstanding disputes between two countries are very long-standing and they have defied solution over the years.

Afghanistan angle

Right now, India is already playing a more significant role in Afghanistan than China. Whatever China is doing in relation to Afghanistan is through the proxy of Pakistan and also has certain economic and financial weight that goes along with any Chinese initiative in the region. At one level, it is intriguing and also welcomed if India and China can indeed find a common objective in a regional context given the fact that Pakistan has led to high degree of dissonance as far as India and China are concerned.

OBOR has central Asia as focus and major connectivity with Pakistan. Hence at this stage, it is important for India to remain invested in Afghanistan. From 9/11 onwards, there is a strong case for India to remain invested in the development sector with Afghanistan and also see how it pans out as far as the politics and security are concerned.

But now, it is forming an intriguing pattern wherein Russia and China seem to be in a way consulting and coordinating their positions wrt Afghanistan. Russia is now willing to talk about the equivalent of bringing the Taliban onboard as it has its own reasons for making this particular position. So there is a kind of harmonisation of positions between Russia, China and Pakistan in relation to Afghanistan. In this context, it would be prudent for India to remain invested in developments within Afghanistan and see how things are going to play out over the next one year.

Pakistan angle

China is much more heavily invested in Pakistan than it ever was and therefore in terms of India’s foreign policy challenges vis a vis Pakistan, China is very determinedly ranged on Pakistani side with their huge investment which goes through Indian sovereign territory in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

The comment that India should not go rushing in and provide more solid evidence is hogwash. If 4 out of the P5 agree on Azhar and China alone puts a technical hold for the second time, the conclusion is that China is not willing to do it for political reasons and support Pakistan.

Strategy change needed?

The new dialogue is called restructure strategic dialogue, but at the end of it, same issues are discussed with same common grounds. There have been 30 dialogue mechanisms that have taken place in these years. India cannot change strategy without having a reason for it. India must remain engaged in Afghanistan for political, financial and security reasons.

Changing of the strategy will depend on circumstances. There needs to be flexibility within the parameters of core national interest policy to be able to adjust policies. Those are questions of nuances and tactics. So, nothing has been done wrong in the past which needs to be corrected now. It is not a question of right or wrong. It is about then and now.

The change will come intrinsically because foreign policy is dynamic. The situation does not say stay static.  The attitudes of different countries towards the Taliban or different factions of the Taliban keep on changing over the periods of time. There has to be central focus that we must be engaged with Pakistan because it is extremely important for India’s security and for all those reasons why India went into Afghanistan. As the situation evolves, India must be present to react, to protect India’s national interests effectively.

Increase platforms for discussion

The core issues still remain- the boundary dispute, the adverse trade balance. The dialogue is most welcome but the higher the level of dialogue, the better.  But they need more dialogue mechanisms as the forums for discussion of all outstanding issues are actually quite narrow..  For instance, there can be a high level difference dialogue and perhaps the only instruments that are present are the ‘peace and tranquillity agreement’ 1993 and 1996.

Instead of complaining about adverse trade balance, there should be a particular position and a trade representative so that two countries can have a new forum to discuss all outstanding issues related to trade.  This way the decision-making process is complemented by new facet which enters into the relationship. This doesn’t encroach upon the core issues where the countries differ with each other.

Reason for not having a formal defence dialogue between the two countries is that the politics is not very enabling at this point in time. India and China have not found any common ground on the core issues which have been points of both divergence, suspicion and mutual mistrust on both sides. There have been old issues like territorial and border dispute that hasn’t moved in any substantive way. If there has been any movement it has remained very cloistered and only between the senior officials.

Conclusion

Last year India went far away in dealing with China- it was a period of tension, where there were name callings, especially when India said that one country is responsible for stalling India’s entry into NSG and holding China responsible on Azhar issue. So, time and again, India is pushing China and trying to put pressure on it, not rush into things. It’s a relationship that has gone on for decades where both countries have had ups and downs. However the dialogue is crucial in trying to achieve anything as this is a step-by-step process. Though India has said that the dialogue was constructive and positive, it is difficult to conclude something after a single round of talks. The talks may have had some substantive content but optimistic conclusion is difficult to draw.

India must neither be hyper about its strengths or weakness unless there can be follow through with it. In few years, China is going to be the largest economy in the world. Its economy is five times larger than India and is highly militarized a very efficient military.  It has a very clear vision of what it wants to be in the world-  first dominate Asia and later on perhaps be a  superpower. In that context India has to see its strengths and see its national interest. There is no alternative to engaging with China.

Connecting the dots:

  • Will there be improvement in India- China relations with renewed dialogues? Comment.

 

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