By Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)
Issue of normalisation of relations between China and India were comprehensively discussed between foreign ministers of India and China on 07 Jul 22 on the sidelines of G20 member nations foreign ministers meeting in Bali. While China appeared to be focussed on normalisation of bi-lateral relations and wanted to put the issue of LAC resolution on the back burner, India continued with its consistent view of pulling back to LAC positions as they existed in Apr-May 2020 to normalise bi-lateral relations. The other issues related to ensuring regular flights and issue of VISA to the students studying in China was also discussed.
It is believed that some kind of understanding had emerged during the 15th round of Corps Commander level meet held on 11 Mar 22 at least on the Hot Springs issue but the outcome is yet to come in public domain. Press statements at the end of the meeting also did not talk of any resolution and remained silent on any progress having been made.
When Chinese foreign minister Mr Wang Yi suddenly landed in New Delhi on 25 Mar 22 on his way back from Pakistan after attending an event, there were some murmurs about the resolution of the Hot Springs issue being announced during his visit. This did not happen as China was not ready to pull back on all the locations to pre Apr-May 2020positions and anything less than that did not give any leeway for India to make any concessions for China. The Indian foreign minister addressed the press immediately to brief on the progress of talks between him and Mr Wang Yi which was restating the Indian stance on the resolution of the LAC issue as a pre-condition for normalising the bi lateral relations.
But much has changed since Mar 22 for both the nations and therefore it will not be wrong to assume that there will be definite progress during the 16th round of Corps Commander level meet tentatively scheduled on 17 Jul 22. Since this meeting has been scheduled within 10 days of foreign ministers meeting on July 07 2022 in Bali, there are indicators of some understanding and it will result in some positive developments on July 17 2022.
All is not going well for China at the present moment. Its own as well as the Indian neighbourhood is burning which is having its impact on both China and India and will continue to have massive impact if corrective measures are not taken.
China has been facing numerous challenges in the recent past which have been further accentuated. Some of them are listed below:
There was a time when European countries who were part of NATO were thinking of their alternative security mechanism less the USA and some fault lines were emerging in NATO. The Russia-Ukraine war since Feb 22 has unleashed a new binding energy between all NATO members and the bond has become stronger than ever before. In fact, even the neutral states of Sweden and Finland are also in the process of joining the NATO block as being a member of NATO has become synonymous with their security. The latest NATO summit which concluded in Madrid on 30 Jun 22, for the first time articulated the strategic concept to address the challenges posed by China. Due to this, efforts of USA to checkmate China through QUAD, AUKUS, IPEF and other institutions has gotten a substantial boost and China stands not only isolated in a No of forums but it is also getting close to being strangulated which will not only hamper its growth but will also put a strong stumbling block to its prime dream of Taiwanese unification.
Majority of the nations believe that China is an expansionist nation. It debt traps even its friends as it has done to Sri Lanka and has brought this nation to its financial collapse and is in the process of doing the same to Pakistan as well. Not only the countries in the Indian neighbourhood, which include Pakistan , Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, China has also debt trapped multiple other nations in the world with whom it has close financial ties. The world is losing trust in China from all perspectives including economics.
Support for Taiwan is growing every passing day wherein besides the USA, Japan has also come forward to offer its support. Some setbacks were expected on the demise of MrShinjo Abe, ex Prime Minister of Japan but the current day Government of Japan is increasing its engagement with Taiwan. At this point of time, China cannot afford to be at war with India. It has to resolve the LAC stand off issue on priority if it wants its hope of the Taiwanese unification to become a reality. It is for this reason that there is an increased hope of China being more accommodative during the negotiations but it may not grant adequate concessions on the Depsang and Demchok issue.
China’s new found friendship with Russia will not aid it much. There is no end in sight when it comes to the Russia-Ukraine war and onslaughts from USA and NATO on Russia in the form of sanctions will impact Russia, notwithstanding the degree to which the same is effective. Russia will continue to be engaged in handling its own issues even if the war with Ukraine comes to an end and hence will not be able to offer any substantial support to China.
There are multiple challenges which India too is facing. Not only just China, India too needs an immediate resolution to the LAC standoff. It needs to be clearly understood that China’s loss does not necessarily signify a win for India. Some specific issues that are impacting India are covered as these should allow India to improve its relations with China after resolving the LAC issue. A deft and diplomatic approach will be needed. Some issues are as under:
Sri Lanka is burning, the Government has collapsed, the public has occupied the residences of the President, PM and Parliament. The president is absconding and the economy of the nation has collapsed. Though India has not intervened so far except for providing financial assistance and logistics, a large scale of migration is expected towards India if all party governments are not able to handle the chaos efficiently. To be capable of handling such an issue, India needs to be free from the immediate possibility of an external conflict on the LAC with China.
Pakistan’s economic fault lines as well as internal security fault lines are re-emerging. Situation in J&K as well as in Punjab is not very promising and ISI is deeply involved in disturbing both the states.
India has to deploy SU-30 and Rafale aircrafts in Ladakh due to heightened activity of China in Eastern Ladakh. With more than 50,000 troops deployed by both the countries, the situation is not conducive for peace. All this can be resolved if China shows statesmanship and agrees to go back to Apr-May 2020 position though it is less likely to happen in one go.
Situation in Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives and Myanmar is also not good. There are very close linkages of these countries with India.Widening of existing fault lines and emergence of new ones will not serve the Indian interests well.
The Asian neighbourhood is burning like never before. The LAC stand-off between India and China has the potential to switch off the progress button of Asia and it is therefore in the interests of both the nations that the LAC issue is resolved during the forthcoming 16Th round of Corps Commander level talks scheduled on 17 Jul 22. While the Indian stand is based on the bottomline and doesn’t have much flexibility/options, the ball is primarily in China’s court to resolve the issue finding out an honourable exit. In a realistic assessment, Hot Springs will get resolved and some approach to resolve Depsang and Demchokmay be announced unless there is some understanding which has already been reached on 07 Jul 22 at Bali to resolve the issue in totality but that is less likely if the statement of Indian foreign minister is critically analysed which he made in Bali. The outcome will indeed be very interesting to watch.
(The author is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and specializes in neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He tweets @chanakyaoracle Email: email@example.comViews expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).