Kung Fu Yoga- China and India on a Collison Course?

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When Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Ahmedabad, the state capital of Indian state Gujarat, in September 2014 there was expectation of newfound cooperation between the China and India. However in subsequent years, the two nations have quickly become bitter enemies.

There have been skirmishes at the border, notably at Doklam near the Bhutan border in 2017 and last year at Galwan Valley at Aksai Chin with reports of casualties on both sides. Aksai Chin is located by China’s strategic road National Highway 219 runs whereas the Doklam plateau overlooks the crucial Siliguri corridor, a thin strip of land that connects India’s North East Region, home of another disputed territory Arunachal Pradesh with rest of the country. These have been part of a general atmosphere of heightened tensions, with reports of China building more airstrips in Tibet region and settlements at the border regions and India too increasing infrastructure projects  and troops at the borderlands.

India’s government has been making big overtures to the US since the The UPA government led by Manmohan Singh’s 2008 Nuclear deal. Last years “2+2” summit between Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers from India and the US, signed the BECA Agreement which allows for bilateral exchanges of Geo-spatial and satellite data and high end military technologies between their militaries. This will involve data sharing on Chinese troop movements for example. In addition, India has also inked a deal to purchase 3.4 billion dollar worth of military hardware that includes Apache helicopters last year, as opposed to past decades when Russia and UK had been their traditional arms merchant.

All of this becomes crucial in light of the aftermath of 2017 ASEAN Summits in Manila where the US along with India, Japan and Australia revived the defunct QUAD – Quadrilateral Security Dialogue- as a strategic counterweight to China presence in the South China Sea. India has also taken part in military exercises under QUAD in 2020 and 2021, and a QUAD+ is developing with participation from Canada, New Zealand and Republic of Korea joining the original four. Notably for regional politics, there are also signs that Vietnam, which has its own claims on parts of the South China Sea, could be moving towards the Quad. Hanoi has received a modicum of Japanese military assistance and has recently conducted naval exercises with India in the Pacific. However Vietnam’s proximity to the QUAD may be wishful thinking on the part of Indian analysts.

Claims on the South China Sea.

Needless to say, China has expressed displeasure at this growing alliance and has warned Bangladesh, India’s neighbour, against joining. If QUAD is indeed an anti-China alliance, then India is a crucial member, being the only one to share a land border with China as well as a physical presence in the Indian Ocean, a key geostrategic site for China’s Belt and Road. Eastern uncertainty makes the China’s ‘iron’ bond with Pakistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor a valuable asset. The Pakistani port of Gwader allows China a reliable route to the Persian Gulf circumventing the Indian Ocean. Politically China could also exploit Pakistan’s dispute with India, especially regarding Kashmir, a region all three have a stake in.

The Indian establishment have developed the ‘string of pearls’ theory, to describe how China is seemingly building alliances through investments in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, The Maldives and Pakistan to encircle India. India’s Act East policy, an upgrade of its Look East Policy by the NDA government in 2014, an attempt to become more proactive in South East Asia by improving ties with ASEAN and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) can be seen in this light of the string of pearls.

In 2016 India made the ambitious bid to join the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). China managed to block India’s entry in the former whereas it successfully entered in the latter, something China itself hasn’t. Joining MTCR allows India to co-operate and transfer technologies on missile development, something that Beijing is probably not too happy about. Meanwhile, at the UN, India and China continue to lock their horns. Repeatedly, China has blocked India’s bid to gain permanent chair at United Nation Security Council (UNSC). At times China even blocked India’s proposal to designate Mazhood Azhar, who among other things, masterminded the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 and the 26/11 Mumbai attack in 2008, as a global terrorist at UN.

In terms of trade and investment, last year India began to scrutinise Chinese FDI inflows more stringently and even began to ban popular Chinese phone apps such as Tiktok and almost 60 others citing security reasons. Overall, India-China relations are certainly heightened and the volatile situation at Kashmir and other disputed borderlands may come to have broader geopolitical implications in the coming months and years.

AD is a College Student from India