Fathoming China: Is there an Opportunity For Peace in the Changed and Charged Relationship?

Highlights
Sharing of power is an alien concept to Chinese thinking. Though recent meeting of leaders has fired optimistic imaginations; it will be naive for China’s neighbours; not to be cautious.

Shailesh Kumar, National Defence
New Delhi, 05 June 2018
In the late 1990, India and China had a tacit understanding under which both the nations agreed to ‘image the relationship’. Such management involved placing the border disputes that have the potential to escalate rapidly, through protracted negotiations while trade and economic interactions were fast-tracked. Then China was pursuing the concept of strategic patience with an idea oriented to ‘lie low and bide your time’.

Doklam emerged as an ideal example of acting after prolonged wait and proverbial ‘bide the time’ which followed escalation at the given time and has sent the warning to be on guard.

The notion of strategic patience has always been advantageous to the adversary. It is now clear that under President Xi Jinping, China is projecting her power, underpinned by its growing military might. Initiatives that will entrench China as global economic and military power- the South China Sea disputes and the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiatives; are considered ‘core’ or fundamental and are not open to negotiations.

Beijing in any case doesn’t encourage public debate on her strategic choices which can’t deviate from centrally formulated orthodoxy.

India on the other hand continues to show strong will to resolve outstanding issues trough negotiations, given the current strong political and military leadership.

It can be well-concluded that China is long gone away from the concept of bidding time. Under the current president, China is a nation in a hurry. Xi Jinping has also articulated his vision of ‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’. He firmly believes that it is now time to commence the push to make China one of the world’s pre-eminent economic, military and political powers.

Toward this end, the President has moved in a focused manner to consolidate power in order to directly control all organs of the party, government and the military.

However, in this hurried move towards prominence, China seems to have forgotten, that with great power must come greater responsibility. China is not rising as a benign and all- encompassing power and her institutions are not oriented towards providing exemplary examples to the rest of the world. Great power status obtained by unrestrained use of coercion is bound to have a short life span. This idea is yet to be well-nestled into a Chinese mind.

China is determined to ‘contain’ India’s rising power, since it believes that two rising powers cannot be accommodated in the Asian context. Sharing of power is an alien concept to Chinese thinking. It has therefore initiated a number of actions to achieve this objective. It has established strategic links with Pakistan and some other nations such as Myanmar and Sri Lanka. It has also attempted to browbeat India into accepting unpalatable changes. However, to China’s surprise, India has been unusually unrelenting in its opposition to Chinese actions and has not budged from its stated position on the issue of CPEC and border issues. India’s boycott of the OBOR Forum in Beijing almost immediate led to yet another dispute border at the triangle of China- India-Bhutan border.

Recent informal visit and talks by Prime Minster and Foreign Minister has given hope in improving relations and stability in the region. But the jury is yet out. Without being cynical and contemptuous, let’s be sure that the Dragon continues to be unpredictable and may torment the Indian psyche anytime. So be ready, be cautious and hold your ground.

national defence editor and promoter

Shailesh Kumar is an independent journalist with over 15 years of experience in crime, political and defence reporting for leading media brands including Star News, India TV and NewsX. He is the founder editor of defence and security news portal and web channel, National Defence.

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