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India-China Tensions Move To Global Arena

By Harsh V Pant
August 23, 2023 10:24 IST
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'The future of BRICS is under stress as Chinese attempts to expand the platform are being resisted by India and Brazil.'
'Beijing is focused on a quick expansion with the aim of giving the platform a distinctly anti-Western orientation, which New Delhi and Brasilia seem to have no interest in,' notes Harsh V Pant.

IMAGE: L-70 air defence guns deployed along the Line of Actual Control in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: ANI Photo

Since the Galwan clashes of 2020, India's bilateral relationship with China has entered one of its worst phases.

While acknowledging that China is an important neighbouring country, Indian policymakers have been underscoring the importance of mutual respect and adherence to agreements to maintain a positive and constructive relationship.

New Delhi has been categorical in emphasising that the present downturn in bilateral relations was created by China and not by India, placing the responsibility of bringing the ties back on track squarely on Beijing.

While India continues to underline the importance of peace on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as a prerequisite for normalcy in the broader relationship, pressing China to take forward disengagement in remaining friction areas, China continues to go back to the old rule book, suggesting that 'specific issues' shouldn't 'define the overall relationship'.

For Beijing, it is important that India and China continue to work together on global and bilateral economic concerns, even as the border issue is dealt with by officials on both sides.

This old paradigm has been the guiding principle in shaping the trajectory of Sino-Indian relationship over the past few decades.

However, today there are few takers for this in India as New Delhi sharpens its policy response vis-a-vis China.

In the past, there was a sense that India and China, despite serious bilateral divergences, had significant convergences at the global level that could be explored to build a partnership benefiting the two nations.

However, today, the divergences between India and China on global platforms are becoming equally evident.

Recently, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told the Parliamentary Consultative Committee for External Affairs that China is the only country among five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council that is opposing India's entry into the powerful body.

It was always clear that China won't allow India into the Security Council, but for India to articulate it openly makes it evident that New Delhi has no faith in the Security Council reforming anytime soon.

As a result, India is signalling that it will work with other platforms to pursue its global interests and contribute to the global order.

The Sino-Indian contestation is also intensifying across various platforms.

At last month's virtual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that India hosted, Prime Minister Narendra D Modi not only took on Pakistan directly but also the duplicitous attitude of nations like China, when he remarked, 'Some countries use cross-border terrorism as an instrument of their policies and provide shelter to terrorists. The SCO should not hesitate to criticise such nations. There should be no place for double standards on such serious matters.'

With his comments, Mr Modi was making it clear that sanctimonious statements from the SCO on terrorism have no meaning if Pakistan is not made to feel the heat of regional states.

He was underlining New Delhi's concerns about the effectiveness of the SCO on a matter as important as this.

Mr Modi also addressed issues related to territorial sovereignty and connectivity, underlining that strong and better connectivity 'not only enhances mutual trade but also fosters mutual trust'.

He, however, cautioned that 'in these efforts, it is essential to uphold the basic principles of the SCO charter, particularly respecting the sovereignty and regional integrity of the member States'.

In line with its longstanding and consistent approach on China's Belt and Road Initiative, India refused to sign the paragraph supporting BRI in the New Delhi declaration and stayed out of a joint statement on SCO Economic Development Strategy 2030.

The future of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is also under stress as Chinese attempts to expand the platform are being resisted by India and Brazil.

Beijing is focused on a quick expansion with the aim of giving the platform a distinctly anti-Western orientation, which New Delhi and Brasilia seem to have no interest in.

While the five members expressed an interest in the expansion of the grouping last year, India is keen that the principles defining the process of expansion are articulated clearly.

As the platform works through consensus, it will be difficult for China to push its agenda unilaterally.

India's presidency of the G20 has allowed New Delhi to set the agenda of the grouping and it has rightfully focused on the concerns of the Global South.

But the China-Russia combine on the one hand and the West on the other are likely to be the most important fault-lines in defining the legacy of this G20.

Beijing has no real interest in ensuring a successful G20 in India.

From the SCO and BRICS to the United Nations and the Indo-Pacific, the Sino-Indian contestation is moving from the bilateral to the global arena.

As a consequence, New Delhi will have to work more closely with like-minded nations in creating and sustaining new institutional frameworks that not only respond to today's geostrategic realities but also serve Indian interests that are increasingly becoming more global.

Harsh V Pant is vice-president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Harsh V Pant
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