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Sino-Indian relations: an update

By MR Josse
MR josseKATHMANDU: Yu Ning of Global Times suggested that “India should have an open mind” towards the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative which purportedly provides an important opportunity “not only for the potential economic benefits it brings to China and Pakistan, but also because it allows greater cooperation among nations of the region.”
He took up visiting Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishakar’s accusation, during talks in Beijing, that CPEC violated India’s sovereignty, as it runs through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and described India as merely “an influential regional economic power.”
For a country that has longed to be acknowledged as a Great Power – and be awarded a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council – that none-too-subtle affront must have been galling. Not merely does that imply a rejection of claims that India is close to acquiring Super Power status, but it negates any notion that India is a major military power, even regionally! To fully understand the implications of the “influential regional economic power” moniker, one must note, too, that China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is a major military and global economic power – and widely acknowledged as such, including in the West.
Indeed, it is described as the second Super Power, after the United States whose economy it is poised to overtake soon enough. With the international system on an emergent tripolar US-China-Russia trajectory, as described here last week, it is important that the humungous power/influence differential between Nepal’s two immediate neighbours be factored into all our relevant public policy dispositions.
Incidentally, that would seem to be confirmed even by the fact that at the recent Nepal Investment Summit in Kathmandu, while Nepal drew Letters of Intent commitment worth $ 317 million from Indian investors, she received FDI commitment from Chinese investors to the tune of $8.3 billion.
Besides, it may not be out of place to mention that at the first India-China strategic dialogue since Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister, it was pointed out by Chinese officials that though India blames China for blocking it from membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, NSG members including Brazil, Austria, New Zealand, Ireland and Turkey are also opposed to India’s membership bid citing the fact that India has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Ahmedabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves along with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he welcomes him upon his arrival at a hotel in Ahmadabad on Wednesday. PTI Photo (PTI9_17_2014_000127B)

As Xinhua reported it, quoting Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, frictions between China and India “are not bilateral but multilateral.” What is also instructive, in the context of a rounded understanding of the current status of Sino-India relations, is this comment by Chinese academic Lin Miwang in the Global Times: “India always wants to portray Pakistan as a ‘supporter of terrorism’ in the international community, which makes it easier for the country to link the counter-terrorism issue to Sino-Pakistani relationship and blame China’s support to Pakistan for some issues.”
Another useful guide to the zigs and zags of the China-India bilateral relationship is provided by the ‘America test’. For all the hype that India and America are strategic partners – especially during the halcyon days of the Obama presidency – far more is happening in the America-China arena than in the Indo-American sphere.
Notwithstanding the Indian hoopla about US President Donald Trump’s invitation to Modi to visit the United States, no specific dates for the same have yet emerged. Though it is also true that nothing either has been reported about a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, there was a much publicised telephonic exchange between the two, a month ago, wherein, among other things, the former confirmed support for Beijing’s One China policy.
Moreover, not long ago, China’s top diplomat – State Counselor Yang Jiechi, who outranks Foreign Minister Wang Yi – made a trip to Washington where he met with senior members of the Trump administration, possibly discussing a passel of crucial issues including a an apex meeting between the two presidents at some future point.
It is also worth noting that while US Secretary of Defence James Mattis has already paid formal visits to South Korea and Japan, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will soon undertake his maiden trip abroad by visiting China – in addition to South Korea and Japan. As news reports have it, once again, a key issue for discussion will be North Korea. Obviously, on that hot-button issue, Modi’s India does not possess the same strategic value for Trump’s United States as China.
Which is why it is enormously intriguing that India has chosen to poke China in the eye by giving the green light for a visit soon by the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh, which is a disputed area along the still-unsettled Sino-Indian border. It remains to be seen what impact, if any, China’s warning of “severe damage” to relations with India and increased regional instability will have.
Yet, keeping in mind that, of late, India has been providing visibly greater space and opportunity for Lobsang Sangey, prime minister of the so-called Tibetan government-in-exile, to project systematically himself politically at assorted international fora in India, it would appear that South Block bureaucracy seem confident that India need not fear any retaliatory response from Beijing, whose military and economic power overwhelmingly dwarf India’s.
Is it because it is sanguine that the appropriate level, depth and diversity of support to tackle China head-on, including in Tibet, will be forthcoming from the Trump administration? To me, that seems a huge stretch in wishful thinking. Quite apart from the fact that it will be months before the new American administration whips its foreign/security policy fully into shape, present indicators – as briefly sketched above – hardly support such a thesis, or hope.
In any case, for a Nepal that is geopolitically sandwiched between India and China, it makes perfect sense for her to keep close tabs on  the twists and turns of India-China relations – including reading the smoke signals billowing from Washington across the US-China-India skies.

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