Beijing’s rhetoric and action are far removed and change seems unlikely


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If Beijing wants a greater sense of security, it must act to facilitate such an environment that also addresses the security concerns of others.

Representative image. AFP

The events of the past month point to a deepening disconnect between India and China. Developments in Afghanistan, the Quad summit, and sustained tensions along the LAC in eastern Ladakh indicate that bilateral relations will remain difficult for the foreseeable future. This is what emerges from recent comments by the Indian Ambassador to China and the Chinese Ambassador to India during a Track II dialogue last week. The speeches of the two diplomats underlined that all was not going well in bilateral relations. However, the two had a very different assessment of the root causes of the issues and how these should be addressed.

For Ambassador Sun Weidong, the problems were the product of a deepening “strategic miscalculation” on the part of India, viewing China as a “major threat” and a “strategic rival”. He blamed this on India based on “outdated Western thinking” and viewing the links “through the prism of so-called realism in theories of international relations in the West.” Moreover, for Sun, Indian politics “increasingly lost sight of the forest for the trees”, focusing mainly on the issue of borders. Sun argued that “peace and quiet in border areas is important, but that is not the whole story of bilateral relations.” He called on the two sides to “place the border issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations” and to shift the current situation from “urgent dispute settlement to regular management and control”.

It should be noted here that the same week Sun’s colleague Qin Gang, Chinese Ambassador to the United States, speaking at an event on Sino-US relations, emphatically stated that “he There is no example in the history of international relations where the political relationship between two countries is in competition or even in confrontation but the other spheres remain safe and sound. One wonders why Beijing seems to believe that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

The next part of Sun’s diagnosis was that both sides should focus on ensuring “strategic autonomy” and “development and rejuvenation.” Therefore, what the Ambassador wants from New Delhi is to move away from “ideological prejudices and cold war mentality” and engagement with “small, closed and exclusive cliques” or an “alliance or quasi-alliance” targeting China. These comments reflect Beijing’s growing unease with India’s relations with the United States and more specifically the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

Sun, of course, ignores the efforts of the Chinese leadership to engage in their own minilateral dialogues, which exclude India. The latest example is the China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan quartet to coordinate policies related to Afghanistan. The group met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Dushanbe earlier this month. One wonders why such a regrouping was necessary when all the parties are members of the SCO.

Finally, Sun criticized the economic measures taken by India in response to the stalemate in eastern Ladakh and called for “a fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies.” For him, this is an issue that must be dealt with separately from border tensions. Of course, this view does not correspond to Beijing’s own diplomatic practice. China’s economic coercion on Australia is a case in point. For example, in July this year, when asked about the loss of market share of Australian agricultural products in China, Zhao Lijian of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that “mutual respect is the foundation and safeguard of practical cooperation between the countries. We will not allow any country to reap profits by doing business with China while baselessly accusing and slandering China and undermining China’s core interests on the basis of ideology.

Unlike Sun, Ambassador Vikram Misri argued that although there are a number of issues that make the Indo-Chinese dynamic important “not only for our two countries but also for regional peace, prosperity and stability and global “,” the most pressing problem “between the two sides today is the situation in eastern Ladakh. Acknowledging “significant progress” on the ground in terms of disengagement along the northern and southern shores of Lake Pangong and Gogra, he expressed hope that “disengagement on the remaining areas of friction will allow us to reach a point. where we can pick up the threads of bilateral cooperation. This was an unambiguous reiteration of the view that Beijing cannot expect normalcy in the broader relationship as long as the tensions along the border persist.

In addition, the ambassador criticized the attempts to change the targets regarding the current problem in eastern Ladakh. In a clear indictment of the PLA’s efforts to force a new status quo using force, Misri argued that “any attempt to confuse border affairs with the border issue is a disservice to the work of those who are involved in the search for solutions … the Indian side has repeatedly said that the current problem is to restore peace and tranquility in the border areas and not to resolve the broader border issue, on which our position has not changed, despite what happened last year. ”

Reiterating the “three mutuals” – mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests – that Foreign Minister S Jaishankar described in January 2021, Misri argued that bilateral engagement must be on an equal footing. “It cannot be that only one party’s concerns are relevant while the other’s case is not being heard,” he said. At this point, it is also worth noting the comments of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in July ahead of the visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Prior to his arrival, Wang said that “if the United States has not learned to treat other countries equally now, then China and the international community as a whole have a responsibility to teach people a lesson. United States “. Clearly, there is a gulf between the rhetoric and Beijing’s actions.

The final point that Misri highlighted was the challenge of “viewing bilateral relations through the prism of relations with other countries”, and cautioned against “imaginary third-party factors complicating” bilateral relations. This underscored New Delhi’s efforts to allay Beijing’s concerns about Indo-American relations. Earlier this month, during a meeting between Jaishankar and Wang Yi in Dushanbe, the Indian foreign minister reiterated that “it is necessary for China to avoid viewing our bilateral relations from the point of view of its relations. with third countries “.

Beijing will likely remain skeptical of such assurances. His reaction to the results of the Quad Summit underscores this even further. The fact that the summit results did not address military ties is also unlikely to change the perception of Beijing. Having said that, however, there is little that India can do to help the Chinese leadership in this regard. If Beijing wants a greater sense of security, it must act to facilitate such an environment that also addresses the security concerns of others. This will require soul-searching and a significant shift in the current direction of Chinese policy. However, for now, this seems highly unlikely, given the current state of Sino-US relations, the growing sense of ideological confrontation with the West among the Chinese elite, and the potential for domestic political churn ahead of the 20th Congress. of the Party in October 2022.

The author is a researcher in Chinese studies at Takshashila Institution. The opinions expressed are personal.

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