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The conundrums of Indo-Chinese relations

Friday, February 02, 2018
By Ranajoy Sen

Indian foreign policy is usually guided by keen national interests, symbiotic relationships and prevention of undue interference in another country’s internal matters; it attests to a thoughtful, rational foreign policy instrument. Nevertheless, it is also an imperative for India to ensure that its borders are absolutely secured and its neighbourhood is frictionless.  

But, to that purpose, there has not been complete satisfaction. With Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, friction and broad cooperation have altered. But, with Pakistan and China there has been a saga of differences. With the former, it has been and is that of emotional and institutional antagonism toward India; with the latter, friction has risen because that country is more often than not tried to abrasively ride rough shod over India in diplomacy while sprinkling it with utterances of inter-state bonhomie.

It is a curious observation among earnest observers that as regards diplomacy, China appears to be more inclined toward an aggressive approach, given the slightest opportunity. It tirelessly speaks of self respect and dignity for countries; but, when practicing the art of inter-state relations, it leaves no scope for trying to force its way, even when that arouses resentment. What it has been doing in the South China Sea is glaringly discernible to all. China definitely has its own jurisdiction within a portion of the sea. But, it has sought to extend that jurisdiction much beyond what it should be. It makes a mockery of the international law on seas of which China is itself a signatory.

Categorically raising concerns
Other countries of the region have categorically raised their concerns; they see it as a clear infringement on established, feasible international rules. China has often stated that it is correcting past injustices. Correcting past injustices surely does not and need not mean that in the process of so doing, the purpose is eclipsed unduly and occasions create of new, unacceptable activities and practices. The Chinese project of “One Belt One Road (OBOR), of whose flagship project is the “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), apparently gives out a smell of that.

CPEC is essentially China’s way of trying to transport its products toward the Middle-east and Africa on a relatively lower cost. The distance covered by traversing through the Pakistani territory is much less than the circuitous route of crossing the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea to reach the shores of the region of Middle-East. Nevertheless, despite Chinese inconsideration and Pakistani pooh-poohs, there remains one dilemma-prone rub. The path of CPEC traverses through a portion of Kashmir – currently under the jurisdiction of Pakistan – which is viewed by India as disputed and claimed by it. Notwithstanding China’s full knowledge that passing through it would tantamount to glaring breach of norms of sovereignty and territorial respect. Nonetheless, movement of goods appear to have already begun to move from China’s Xinjiang region to the Arabian Sea ports of Southern Pakistan.

It is in Indian interests to raise the issue with China - which leaves to opportunity to state that it does not interfere or muddies issues of other nations’ mutual dilemmas. But, China appears to be doing exactly that by pretending to ignore Indian sensitivities. The bland declaration by China has been that CPEC is only a project for the economic uplift of Pakistan; it is not and never will be against India, in any way. It resembles, in a way, the bygone statements uttered by the countries of the Western World led by United States, when it would consistently dole out huge largesse to Pakistan, almost unconditionally, till even about a decade back. But, the maximum insistence on that had been when the “Cold War’ was at its height – till about 1989.   At that time, weapons and money had been given to Pakistan by the West liberally. It was supposedly for a prevention of the spread of the frontiers of Communism. But, inevitably Pakistan saw it as a facile way to bolster its defence sector for potential conflicts with India.

Indian protests to the United States were responded with statements, entailing that that they were not to be used for conflicts with India. But, that came to naught. In the 1965 Indo-Pakistan clash of arms, Pakistan used the same American weapons against India, which had been ostensibly given to it for protection against Communist aggression.  They were in use again by Pakistan in the 1971 war of liberation of Bangladesh.

Pak’s hatred of India continues
Subsequently, Pakistan has been continuing the nurture of an inherent, institutional hatred of India. Its posture of unremitting hostility toward India, continuous use of terrorists as foreign policy instrument against India, allowing for anything and everything which it perceives to be anti-Indian, and the gradual, yet steady deterioration with the United States-led Western block, has aroused Chinese intrigue. It has somewhat altered its position from an earnest onlooker to a gradual participant, to the extent feasible for it, in Pakistan’s anti-Indian phenomenon.

For China, CPEC is about enabling a greater reach of its products and also of transporting its acute internal debt problem to other countries by forcibly allowing Chinese companies contracts in so-called economic developmental activities in Pakistan. They would be paid through interest-incurring Chinese loans to the Pakistan government. While Pakistan would incur a pile of debts, it would be an outlet for China’s economy to necessitate some relief.

China has agreed to talk to India to impress upon it that CPEC is only an economic collaboration between Pakistan and China for the pressing economic development for the former. However, there are seemingly much unspoken phrases and aspects within it which calls for acute Indian circumspection.

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