Musings from afar

China’s openly hostile acts are forcing a recalibration in India

At a time of regional flux, New Delhi’s ties with Beijing have entered a phase where antagonistic posturing is the new norm.

 |  Musings from afar  |  5-minute read |   27-08-2016
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Chinese foreign minister’s visit to India this month has done little to bring a semblance of normalcy to Sino-Indian ties.

Just weeks after the Indian government cleared the deployment of a special version of the BrahMos cruise missile in Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese state media has warned that such a move would have “a negative influence” on stability along the border. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in China to attend the G-20 summit in Hangzhou next month.

Following the ruling by an international tribunal last month which rejected Beijing’s claims over much of the disputed South China Sea area, China is campaigning against the issue to be raised in G20 Summit saying it is a matter to be resolved between parties concerned and outsider has no role.

Chinese president Xi Jinping will also visit Goa for the coming BRICS summit scheduled for October.

Also read: Is Beijing asking India to choose between NSG and South China Sea?


Ahead of the Chinese foreign minister’s visit, Chinese state media had warned India to avoid "unnecessary entanglement with China over the South China Sea debate" if New Delhi "wishes to create a good atmosphere for economic cooperation." 

Terming that India and China are partners, not rivals, the state-run Xinhua news agency has also suggested that the door for India's admission into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)  is "not tightly" closed and New Delhi should "fully comprehend" Beijing’s concerns over the disputed South China Sea.

scsbd_082716022026.jpg Chinese state media has warned India to avoid "unnecessary entanglement with China over the South China Sea debate."

Wang Yi’s visit was the first high-level visit between the two countries after China blocked India’s NSG membership bid at the plenary meeting of the 48-nation grouping in June on the grounds that it was not a signatory to the NPT.  During his visit, Wang said it is up to India to decide what position it wishes to take vis-à-vis the ongoing issue.

Wang's visit also came just days after Chinese troops “transgressed” the border on land and by air in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand last month.

Also read: Wrong to criticise India over South China Sea stance

India-China bilateral trade which totalled around $70 billion in 2015 tilted heavily in favour of Beijing with over $46 billion trade deficit.  And then in his Independence Day address to the nation, PM Narendra Modi threw down a gauntlet not only to Pakistan but also to China with his reference to the people of Balochistan, the people of Gilgit, and the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

PoK is a key transit point in the ambitious $45 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that will give Beijing access to the Arabian Sea through the port of Gwadar. China’s plans to build infrastructure in POK and Gilgit, territory claimed by India, have irritated India and New Delhi has informed Beijing of its strong views.

Sino-Indian ties have entered a rough patch and this issue has not helped matters.

So Modi’s message to China too was categorical that without India’s support, CPEC would remain a pipe-dream as India too has levers it can pull to scuttle the project. Pakistan will be concerned as resource-rich Balochistan is the home of the Gwadar port being built with massive investment from China.

China is already concerned about the security of its investments traversing through this area and has pushed for the Pakistan Army to be given a leading role, over civilian authorities.

Meanwhile, tensions are rising in Asia as China takes steps to assert its control over the waters of South China Sea after its claims were rejected by an international tribunal at the Hague last month.

China’s defence minister Chang Wanquan has called for a "people’s war at sea" to push back against threats to Chinese claims.

In a speech last week, he warned of maritime security threats and called for increased preparations for what he termed a "people’s war at sea" in order to "safeguard sovereignty".

Also read: China must come clean on whether it considers Ladakh a 'disputed territory'


More significantly, China is also changing its laws to arrest and jail anyone caught fishing in waters Beijing considers its own, even though many of those waters are precisely the bits that are disputed among China’s neighbours in the South China Sea. Last week, China’s Supreme Court said people caught illegally fishing in Chinese waters could be jailed for up to a year, issuing a judicial interpretation defining those waters as including the country’s exclusive economic zones.

Over the past few weeks, all three Chinese naval fleets have taken to the sea to practice for a “sudden, cruel, and short” conflict. Beijing has also begun to fly bomber and fighter aircraft near disputed islands in the South China Sea.It has also announced that it would hold joint naval drills in the waters with Russia in September, terming the drills “routine” and not directed at any third party.

A group of new photographs have revealed the construction of several reinforced aircraft hangars at Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs, all land formations built up by China in recent months, on which the Chinese have also built runways.


China’s neighbours too aren’t keeping quiet. Reports have emerged of Vietnam secretly fortifying several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China’s runways and military installations across the vital trade route.

Also read: While Beijing builds in South China Sea, India dithers over its own

Japan filed a protest with Beijing over recently discovered radar equipment China secretly installed in a gas exploration platform close to disputed waters in the East China Sea. Japan is concerned that the radar could be a signal that China will begin using gas exploration platforms as military outposts.  The protest came on the same day an armada of 13 Chinese Coast Guard ships sailed into waters just outside what Japan considers its territorial waters in the East China Sea.

At this time of regional flux, India’s ties with China have entered a phase where antagonistic posturing is the new norm.

China’s openly hostile acts are forcing a recalibration in India.

India will have to work with other regional states as to make sure that China does not upend the regional balance of power to everyone’s disadvantage.


Harsh V Pant Harsh V Pant

The writer is Professor of International Relations at King's College London. His most recent book is India's Afghan Muddle (HarperCollins).

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