Chinese President Xi Jinping sees Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a leader who is willing to stand up for Indian interests and to work together with other countries in the region that are looking to impose constraints on China, a top American Chinese expert has said. “I think that Xi Jinping sees Prime Minister Modi as a leader who is willing to stand up for Indian interests and to work together with other countries in the region that are looking to impose constraints on China, and particularly the US and Japan, and that’s something, I think Beijing is worried about,” Bonnie S Glaser from Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told PTI in an interview.
Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at CSIS, a top American think-tank, based in Washington DC, felt that China does not sees itself as benefitting from a tense relationship with India.
“Very early on Xi Jinping went to Delhi and tried to engage with Prime Minister Modi. I think he had hoped that India would have a policy that would not challenge Chinese interest. But I think it has really not worked out that way as he’s continued to be involved in the South China Sea,” she noted.
“There are obviously differences between the two countries, in the Indian Ocean and other maritime areas. China doesn’t see itself as benefiting from a tense relationship with India. After all, the two countries share a long border,” said Glaser, who is keeping a close watch on the developments in Doklam. India and China have been locked in a standoff in Doklam since June 16 after Chinese troops began constructing a road near the Bhutan trijunction.
Glaser, who has served as a member of the Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board China Panel in 1997, said China sees India as a major challenger to it in the long term. “China sees India as the biggest rising developing power that in the longer run, … could pose challenges. In the near term, China worries most about India’s cooperation with other countries, forging coalitions with other countries like Japan, Australia, and the US, to counter Chinese power influence in the region, so that is a negative set of developments,” she noted.
India, she said, is the only country in the world that opposes explicitly China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative. “China doesn’t see India as posing very much of a military threat. China hasn’t taken India’s nuclear arsenal, for example, as a major threat to its security, but increasingly sees India as a political threat to China, in part because it is cooperation with lots of other powers to constrain China,” she said. While Doklam standoff continues, India’s position and its end result could have large implication on other countries in the region, especially those who have border dispute with China, she noted.
“If China succeeds in having its way with other countries, and certainly with India, this could embolden China to be even more extrapolous, more unbending in dealing with countries with which it has territorial disputes,” Glaser said.
China, thinks that its economic power, growing political power and military power, is giving it enough clout to be able to turn these disputes and differences with countries in its own favor, she said.
“That’s worrisome to me because we’ve seen China over the last couple of years use economic coercion against countries, South Korea being the latest example of that. Its worrisome if China draws the lesson that it can use economic coercion, military power, political pressure in order to have its way,” she said.
“If China ends up winning, or in other words, if India pulls back its troops, China is able to go ahead and build this road and ultimately India and Bhutan are forced to accept it even though they believe it’s against their national interest, particularly India,” Glaser said. “That could embolden China further in dealing with territorial disputes with other neighbors,” she said in response to a question.
“China already had a bit of a win with the Philippines with the election of Duterte. There’s now discussion underway of joint development between China and the Philippines, and I think that has emboldened Beijing in dealing with Vietnam, basically forcing the Vietnamese to stop the drilling that has been underway off of Vietnam’s coast,” she observed.
Responding to another question, Glaser said US will avoid getting directly involved because any US involvement really would only make the crisis worse. “China would dig in its heels even more if the United States is seen as explicitly backing India. The strongest US interest is in de-escalation of the crisis,” she said. She, however, did not rule out further escalation of the border standoff.
“Clearly China and India do not have an interest in having a military conflict. But one cannot rule it out,” she said.
One possible outcome, she said, is that this standoff just continues through the winter when the weather deteriorates and then both sides have to pull out their troops and then there is a sort of gradual stand down.
“China probably cannot build this road during the winter so it would have to wait until next spring, and that might provide a breather, an opportunity for both sides to actually talk about it,” she said. “Another possibility is that Bhutan steps up, and not necessarily plays the role of mediator, but takes a position that enables China and India to move back their troops,” she added.
“For example, Bhutan could thank India very much for its assistance and say for the time being that India can pull back its forces and perhaps even replace some of those troops with its own troops. That’s another possible face-saving way out. But again I don’t rule out that there could be a military conflict,” Glaser said.