APLN member C. Uday Bhaskar comments on India-China relations. He argues that China has challenged and bruised India’s core national interests since the 1950s, and he believes that this will continue to fester well after the curtains come down on the G20 summit. Read the original article here.
As India prepares for the G20 summit in a visibly enthusiastic and grand manner, Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to skip what has been billed as a politico-diplomatic extravaganza for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India is also basking in the success of the moon landing. For a brief period, the global spotlight is on India as a preferred partner for many nations; clearly, China is not in that cluster.
This possible no-show by President Xi is not unexpected, given the trajectory of discordant events that have punctuated the troubled bilateral relationship between the two Asian giants in recent years — more so after the June 2020 Galwan clash that led to the death of soldiers on both sides.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has already expressed his regrets, and with US President Joe Biden confirming his participation, the Delhi G20 summit is set to be a meeting of the principal leaders of the group sans China and Russia. The sub-text is indicative of the current global geopolitical flux with attendant regional implications.
With the UN Security Council having been rendered ineffective after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, multilateral summit-level meetings have acquired their own significance; the flurry of high-level political activity is testimony to that. While the US leads the western alliance under the NATO/G7 banner, the developing world has a range of disparate groupings. These include the G20 (of which India is the current rotational chair); the BRICS, which has just expanded its membership from five to 11; and the 18-member East Asia Summit (EAS) that has 10 ASEAN nations and eight dialogue partners.
The EAS event will be held in Indonesia before the G20 summit in Delhi. It is reported that President Biden will not be attending that event; this is a signal to ASEAN, which is grappling with a Chinese footprint that is steadily increasing. The BRICS summit hosted by South Africa was marked by Beijing’s primacy and India was in a way compelled to accept some initiatives that had Chinese fingerprints.
The G20 summit offers India a valuable platform to project itself as a voice of the Global South. PM Modi will receive considerable political buoyancy with the presence of the world’s major leaders, led by President Biden. With India preparing for the General Election in 2024, Modi’s image will be further burnished in the eyes of the domestic constituency and the BJP and its supporting ecosystem will magnify this in a manner that is familiar to India watchers.
However, the abiding challenge for India that goes beyond the electoral cycle and the fortunes of political parties and individual leaders is the China factor, which has challenged and bruised India’s core national interests since the 1950s. Unresolved territorial disputes continue to plague nations with a colonial past and both India and China have inherited this cross with its tangled thorns.
In the run-up to the G20 summit, China ‘coincidentally’ released its national map and showed parts of India as its own — and this cartographic aggression was not India-specific. Some ASEAN nations and Nepal in South Asia were similarly shorn of contested territory and most of them have rejected this claim by Beijing. Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar described the claim as ‘absurd’ and noted that this was an old habit of China. The tenor of the response reflects the brittleness in the bilateral relations.
Concurrently, Indian media reported new satellite imagery that showed the enhancement of military infrastructure by China in the Aksai Chin region that India claims Beijing has illegally occupied. It is evident that since the Galwan clash, the military build-up by both sides and the underlying tension are increasing.
The ground reality is that India has forfeited patrolling rights in 26 of the 65 patrolling points in eastern Ladakh, according to a senior police officer. While the government has chosen to remain non-committal about the details, there is now a new de facto LAC which is different from what existed before the Galwan clash.
This reality will exist and continue to fester well after the curtains come down on the G20 summit. The government that assumes responsibility for safeguarding India’s core security and strategic interests after the 2024 elections will have a daunting task on its hands.
The Indian military is undergoing complex structural changes, with belt-tightening due to a scarcity of funds becoming the norm. The shift to theatre commands has been set in motion, even though the roadmap is less than clear and the Agnipath scheme with its short-term induction of new recruits will alter the DNA of the Indian fauj.
In essence, the Indian military is being put through an unprecedented institutional transformation, wherein the apex and base of the pyramid are being rewired. It is a moot point whether the ultimate output, measured by way of the index of comprehensive combat efficacy, will be enhanced or degraded.
India’s ability to exhibit both resolve and capability in dealing with the China challenge will be predicated on its comprehensive military power, with the trans-border element being the more critical component. It is likely that the Nehru-Mao tussle for Asian leadership, which animated regional geopolitics in the 1950s, may play out as a Modi-Xi contest in 2024 and beyond.
Image: Standoff: An unresolved territorial dispute looms large over bilateral relations. AP file