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Formalise the India-China border

August 29, 2017 09:02 IST

Until Delhi and Beijing resolve outstanding border issues within an accelerated time frame, standoffs like Doklam will be repeated across various peaks along the Himalayas, says Mathew Maavak.

Indian and Chinese soldiers mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China at the India-China border in Arunachal

While the media is abuzz with various analyses on the India-China military stand-off in the Doklam bowl, they generally miss the larger issue at stake, namely the need for a permanent border resolution between both nations.

Any temporary resolution over the 89-square kilometre yak-grazing ground claimed by China and Bhutan would be complicated by the lack of a general border consensus between all three nations in the area.

 

Doklam represents only a dot along the thousands of square kilometres of contested lands straddling the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China.

Even if the Doklam standoff is resolved, another sore spot along the LAC may flare up tomorrow.

Under these circumstances, it would be pointless for India to make any concessions to China unless Delhi and Beijing agree to resolve all outstanding border issues within an accelerated time frame.

Until then, the staring war between Indian and Chinese troops that we saw in the Doklam bowl will be repeated across various peaks along the Himalayas.

Despite China's military superiority, India knows it is digging in from a position of strength.

The Chinese economy is maxing out, primarily due to debts incurred by its numerous State-owned enterprises (SOE), which amounted to 65 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, the total outstanding debt incurred by China's government, corporate and household sectors amounted to $26.6 trillion in 2015, representing a staggering 255 per cent of its GDP.

China, therefore, can ill-afford a major war with India whose long-overdue infrastructural boom has only begun to rev up.

Beijing also urgently needs alternative export markets before various debt bubbles, worth tens of trillions of dollars in the United States alone, implode à la the Great Recession of 2008.

The global stabilising role played by China from 2008 onwards may even be replicated by India in 2018 if both nations can move beyond their singed borders to synergise their economies.

So far, little has been studied or published about the economic potential unleashed by a hypothetical border treaty between India and China.

With a collective market of 2.7 billion potential consumers, backed by a historic stranglehold over 50 per cent of the global GDP from 1000 AD to 1600 AD, there is no reason why both nations cannot return to their rightful places under the sun.

In the light of the West's gradual decline, China's export-oriented industries need Indian consumers for the next few decades.

Incidents like the Doklam standoff, however, resulted in strident calls for the boycott of Chinese products in India and the substitution of Chinese raw materials through an accelerated industrial programme.

It is an open question as to who will benefit more from a final border resolution between China and India.

China's primary Belt and Road arteries have been laid across territories that may be prone to Islamic fundamentalist disruptions and geopolitical blackmail in the near future.

A trans-Himalayan economic corridor into India, post-border treaty, may, however, provide a secure and enduring economic corridor for China in a way the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in Pakistan cannot.

It also creates a formidable geostrategic continuum between the RIC nations of Russia, India and China.

Such a game-changing development may also neutralise jihadi secessionist movements from Xinjiang to Kashmir to southern Thailand. Turkey, aware of its ability to stoke pan-Turkic discombobulation across Central Asia, is already eyeing a military base along the Strait of Malacca through which 80 per cent of China's maritime oil imports and 60 per cent of Japan's total oil imports flow.

While the proposed Melaka Gateway joint development project by a Chinese-Malaysian consortium may help secure the Strait of Malacca for Beijing, there is no guarantee that Turkey will not establish a wild card presence in the region.

With a growing military presence in the Strait of Hormuz, courtesy the ongoing Qatar-Saudi Arabia rift, Ankara may be tempted to encircle the B&R in order to extract trade and geopolitical concessions out of China.

And this is just one short-term geopolitical risk facing China.

It is, therefore, in Beijing's long-term interest to seek a permanent border resolution with Delhi.

India is already benefitting from the fallouts of China's unresolved territorial disputes with 18-odd nations -- one that may even involve the Jiandao region in a future unified Korea.

Nations feeling the brunt of China's revanchist policies are rapidly boosting trade and military ties with India.

A final India-China border treaty should be future-proof.

It should securitise the Tibetan fonts of India's downstream water lifelines and cut out Pakistan from being used as a spoiler in future India-China bilateral equations.

At the of the day, it may take a Himalayan effort for both nations to sign a secure and lasting treaty, but once both nations stop bickering and start cooperating, it is their destiny to move mountains beyond their current redoubts.

Mathew Maavak is a doctoral researcher in risk foresight at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.

IMAGE: Indian and Chinese soldiers attend celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China at the India-China border, about 41 km from Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh, October 1, 2009. Photograph: Utpal Baruah/Reuters

Mathew Maavak
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