India- China Should Not Loose Historic Strategic Opportunity For Tactical Gains

Brig (Retd) Arun Sahgal, Senior Fellow, Delhi Policy Group
Brig (Retd) Arun Sahgal, Senior Fellow, Delhi Policy Group

Editorial By Brig. Arun Sahgal
National Defence, New Delhi, 22 December 2017

India and China are holding 20th round of Special Representative (SR) talks on 22nd December 2017 when Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and China’s State Councillor Yang Jeichi meet in Hyderabad House in New Delhi to discuss the lingering boundary dispute between the two Asian giants.

After the Russia-India-China (RIC) meeting, an impression emerged that whereas India, China and Russia remain concerned about global development, China it appeared ready to improve relations with India albeit without conceding ground on any bilateral issues or appearing to look weak, particularly post Doklam. This is largely on account of the fact that firm Indian stand over Doklam has put in question strategy of coercion and intimidation.

The border issue between India and China erupted in 1950 when China occupied Tibet. China remained silent from 1950 to 1954. It was in 1954, India – China signed trade agreement, when for the first time China claimed Tibet being part of Chinese territory. Since then border dispute deepened resulting in the war of 1962 between the two countries. This followed China pursuing a policy of coercion and arm twisting while adopting ‘Salami slicing’ tactics for gradual grabbing of Indian territory.

During these years Chinese, economic and military power increased substantially, with China emerging as a major Asian power. However, in the last few years the whole gamut of military scenario has begun to change quietly and quickly, with incremental and yet substantial increase in India’s military power as also political resolve, that both countries must respect each other’s core interests.

India- China Special Representatives talks 20th round 2017 in New Delhi_National_Defence
20th round of Special Representatives Talks to be held in New Delhi on 22 December 2017

Above as reflected in various media reports highlights that a critical phase in resolution of boundary issue is approaching and if the initiative is not seized now it could become counterproductive for China to leverage this as a coercive issue, simply because asymmetry of power would have reduced considerably. The rationale for this lies in increasing military capability and strong economic and political position of India.

There is also a perception within both academic and policy community within China that if they continue to adopt hardline attitude, it will simply not work as India too would have developed dissuasion posture through credible conventional power and regional security architecture such as ‘Quad’ as suggested in the recently released US National Security review.

Given the obtaining atmospherics and gradual shift in the balance of power and the prevailing climate of mutual cooperation and understanding, these talks provide historic opportunity towards amicable resolution at boundary dispute.

China’s hard stand or attempts at leveraging boundary dispute to coerce India is unlikely to work. As highlighted above with gradual buildup of India’s military power which over next 5-10 years will result in credible deterrence. So, the only answer is mutual cooperation between two big countries and bold steps to resolve a major irritant to bilateral relations.

Important to underscore that the issues are resolved by seizing strategic opportunity and not by maintaining old position or using coercion.

Under present circumstances, there is need for both countries to move forward on boundary dispute based on agreed principles accepted within the contours of bilateral relations.

Further the balance of conventional power along Sino-India border rapidly shifting in India’s favour as already improved/improving military infrastructure has led to substantial augmenting military capability. This will get further enhanced with planned railway connectivity to both Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.

China should refrain using coercion tactics to force India join OBOR or BRI and leverage it by linking with border dispute. OBOR is a sovereignty issue. As far as the OBOR is concerned, India has maintained that it should be transparent, follow rule based system and participating countries interest must be upheld while financial aspects must be aboveboard.

Therefore, lingering the border dispute to future generations for tactical benefits will have adverse strategic consequence; and therefore it’s a historic opportunity for both the interlocutors to take bold positive stand to push the boundary dispute to the next level of resolution.

Brigadier (Retd) Arun Sahgal is Senior Fellow with Delhi Policy Group and advises ‘National Defence’ on Defence and Strategic Issues. 

Also Read: Mo-Xi’s Border Dilemma

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