Time for India to drop its ‘border obsession’ and review its foreign policy
The most recent border clash between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army at the GalwanValley was unexpected news for the Chinese people and government. The standoff between the Sino-Indian troops has been on since May. In fact, both sides have agreed to establish a number of important mechanisms and norms to prevent the standoff from escalating into a full-on conflict. Thus China is very disappointed and frustrated that a number of Indian soldiers totally violated the agreement, intruded into the other side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and violently assaulted PLA soldiers.
Twenty Indian soldiers unfortunately died in this incident which could have been avoided. It is not the time for zealous ultra-nationalists in India to threaten with boycott of Chinese goods or even escalate the border conflict. In fact, it is the best time for India to reconsider its past foreign policy and the underlying misperceptions. That is the basis of this provocative and unnecessarily aggressive foreign policy centeringon ‘border obsession.’
After the incident occurred, a number of Indian and Western mainstream media, especially ones from the US, portrayed China as the troublemakerand a ‘revisionist’ power desiring expansions and invasions to achieve its goal. Such a biased presentation and consequent demonization of China’s international image, however, totally contradict the reality of its role.
Among the 14 neighboring countries that share land borders with China, there are only 2 countries still having territorial disputes with it. One is India and the other is Bhutan whose foreign relations have been dictated by India for decades. China and India have serious disagreements on the issue of territorial boundaries, but it is not China that seeks to create ground situations and use them as an excuse to change the status quo through military means.
China does think that territorialdispute is indeed a huge problem of China-India bilateral relationship. It is definitely not the most important aspect of this bilateral relationship and certainly not an obstacle to China-India friendship. China prefers to temporarily put off this ‘prolonged’ argument on the most sensitive topic for the moment. Instead it prefers to seek more common grounds, explore more development opportunities that both states can cooperate upon, and accumulate strategic mutualtrust between the two states. This will and can be the basis of solving the intractable border conflict.
India, on the other hand, believes that it can forcefully “solve” the territorial dispute to its best interests while largely dismissing China’s legitimate claims. This underlying obsession with border issues is the root of today’s clash. Attention must be paid to the larger trend of movement of India in South Asia regarding the border issue.
While Indian mainstream media portrays China as the “invader” which longs to expand, they have ignored the fact that India literally has severe border disputes and clashes with not only China but Pakistan and Nepal as well at this moment. The Modi administration is provoking China at Ladakh, provoking Pakistan at Kashmir, and provoking Nepal at Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura at the same time. There is nothing more ‘aggressive’ and ‘expansive’ than launching border conflicts against a country’s three neighbors at the same time. This odd ‘border obsession’ of India and its consequent objective to unilaterally change the status quo to its own interests through violent means are the most de-stabilizing factors in the region today.
India: Covid reality, border priority
The Chinese people have difficultyunderstanding India’s ‘border obsession’ at this moment. As of June 18, India’s number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has already reached 354,065. China has demonstrated its commitment to saving its peoplefrom the Covid-19 pandemic at any cost. Which is why it cannot understand why the Modi administration seems more obsessed with intruding into territories of other states. Saving its own people from the Covid-19 pandemic, locust plague, and heat waveisn’t India’s priority.
There are several misperceptions held by Indian policy makers which serve as the underlying logic of its aggressive border policy. The first is that India seemingly regards the current global Covid-19 crisis as its ‘opportunity’ to take advantage of other countries. Political use of natural disasters and crisis is certainly nothing new. It was frequently used by British colonialism to persecute the Indian people and later also frequently used by India to take advantage of its neighbors. In 2015, for example, an Indian economic blockade of Nepal took place after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.
India, however, must seriously reconsider this misperception. First, it will not help India to gain any advantage over China because China is a very strong country that will not be strangled simply by the current pandemic.
Second, the Covid-19 pandemic is a global issue and in fact it is more of a threat to India than to China at this moment.
Third, trying to distract Indian people’s attention from the government’s poor performance responding to the Covid-19 pandemic by provoking border conflict will only drag India to more intractable situations inviting both domestic and international pressure.
The second misconception
The second misperception which India holds is that China will not forcefully respond to its provocation because of pressure from the US. Indeed, China’s main strategic direction is on its eastern maritime border rather than in the Southwest, but this never means that China will not exercise its unalienable rights of defending its own sovereignty. If the current clash exacerbates, an enraged Chinese public opinion will demand that the Chinese government use all legitimate means to defend China’s sovereignty and dignity.
China sincerely wishes to cultivate friendship with India and does not want China-India friendship to be sabotaged by a mere border clash, but China’s goodwill has its limits. It is certainly not any sort of ‘cowardice’ that ‘hawks’ from other states can take advantage of. It takes two to tango and it takes both Chinese and India peace-loving people to actively defend peace and friendship between the two neighboring states.
The third misconception
The third misperception is based on the assumption of some Indian scholar’s unrealistic expectation that the US will actively support India in a conflict with China. Indeed, the US wishes to see the two giants from the East to fight each other so that it can take advantage of this conflict and eventually destroy those two emerging powers’ possibility of changing the hegemonic status of the US.
If India can rapidly rise as China has done in the past 40 years, then what the U.S. does to contain China today will be what it will do to contain India in the future. As a country with historical credit of co-founding the Non-aligned Movement, India should have better understanding about how unreliable the U.S. is as a possible ‘quasi-ally’.
From the Ngo DinhDiemregime at South Vietnam in the 1960s to the Kurds in 2019, countless ‘quasi-allies’ have been fooled by empty promises of the US and been betrayed by it during conflict. If India naively trusts the words of the US under the so-called Indo-Pacific Strategy, then it will be used only as a tool by the US for American agenda in the Indo-Pacific region and will regret when it is too late.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong from Singapore wrote an article this month saying that the U. is a hegemonic power constantly projecting power to Asia while China is a reality that cannot be moved. Our Indian friendsshould keep in mind the fact that history has clearly demonstrated that hegemons can never escape from their vicious cycle of rise and fall. No one knows whether the US will still be able to continue projecting influence in Asia after 50 years, but China, as the neighbor of India for thousands of years already, will continue to be India’s irrevocable neighbor forever and this fact can never be changed.
The olive branch
Today we are living at the crossroads between a shared peaceful and prosperous future of humanity and a dire state of conflict and violence driven by populist leaders’ desire to distract people’s attention from domestic difficulties by provoking conflicts with neighboring states. I pray that we the people from both states will not let the olive branch drop from our hands.
The writer is a Research Fellow of the Chengdu Institute of World Affairs.