Chinese media’s anti-India rhetoric over the last few weeks – since the beginning of the India-China standoff at the Dokalam area of the China-India-Bhutan tri-junction, in Sikkim, on June 16 – is quite unprecedented.
Amid heated verbal exchanges, Indian media have warned too of the possibility of a conflict. However, New Delhi has made to two smart moves to cool tempers.
Firstly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had an informal meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7. While Xi hailed Modi for India’s economic growth and its fight against terrorism, Modi acknowledged the progress made by the BRICS bloc under the leadership of Xi.
Then, on July 11, Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar said in Singapore that although differences may crop up from time to time between India and China, such issues had been sorted out through diplomacy in the past. He hoped the present stand-off too could be resolved that way.
At a briefing late on Friday, the Indian government told opposition party leaders that the border standoff would be resolved through talks. Back-channel diplomacy has already begun. India’s National Security Adviser Ajith Doval will discuss border disputes at a BRICS national security advisers’ meeting in China from July 26-27.
A long standoff with India would be an unwanted headache for China, which is due to host the ninth BRICS summit, in Xiamen, in September. The likelihood of India and China agreeing to withdraw troops from the dispute area soon is growing.
Although India is confident in its position at Dokalam, China may also challenge it elsewhere, such as at Tawang, along the Arunachal border, which China considers as southern Tibet.
India’s move to ignore China’s requests and allow spiritual Tibetan leader Dalai Lama to visit Tawang in Arunachal in April this year angered Beijing. Further, India boycotted China’s Belt and Road summit in Beijing over sovereignty concerns. China was likely just waiting for an opportunity to flex its muscles.
While diplomacy may resolve the Sikkim border standoff, there is deep distrust between the two Asian giants.
From India’s standpoint, China is blocking its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and foiling its attempts to make the UN declare Masood Azhar, the chief of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor running through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is another matter of concern for India and one that influenced its decision to skip the BRI summit.
India sees China’s recent move to set up a military base in Djibouti, on the north-western edge of the Indian Ocean, as part of that country’s expansionist agenda. China has military alliances and assets in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
China, for its part, is watching with concern the joint naval drills involving India, the US and Japan in the Bay of Bengal, which began last week. It sees the ‘Malabar Exercise’ as a strategic message by the US not to mess with India and a ploy to drive a wedge between the two South Asian neighbors.
China says its base in Djibouti will be used to resupply navy ships taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia. Dismissing Indian fears, it says the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will not pose any threat to India’s integrity and sovereignty.
China recently expressed its willingness to mediate between Pakistan and India on Kashmir amid increased hostility along the border. By rejecting the offer, India has lost an opportunity to bring lasting peace in South Asia, according to Beijing. India wants the Kashmir issue to be resolved bilaterally.
Although China and India disagree on several issues, there is still reason to be hopeful that pragmatism will prevail in defusing the current standoff near the Sikkim border.