CHINESE Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived unannounced on a short visit to New Delhi last week to gauge any convergence in India’s views towards China on the new global alignments taking shape amid the Russia-Ukraine war. Prior to visiting New Delhi, Wang went to Islamabad to attend the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Foreign Ministers’ meeting, to Kabul to meet the Taliban leadership and then to Kathmandu, giving an impression that China was not working behind New Delhi’s back, though actually consolidating its influence in these countries.
Wang endorsed the views of the Islamic countries on the Kashmir issue. His visit to India started on an unpleasant note as the External Affairs Ministry rejected his ‘uncalled-for’ references to Kashmir and reminded him that India had refrained from “the public judgement of China’s internal issues” (and expected the same standard from him).
The discussions between the two sides were wide-ranging with India’s focus on restoration of peace and stability on the borders and return of normalcy in the relationship. Doval and Jaishankar made three important points: China should follow an independent policy in respect of India and not allow itself to be influenced by other countries (read Pakistan); disengagement and withdrawal of the Chinese troops from the remaining areas such as Depsang, Demchok and PP-15 had to be completed swiftly. Peace and tranquillity in the border areas were the basis for stable and cooperative ties. Third, high-level visits from India to China could take place only after the above issue is resolved.
There has been some discussion in China’s state-controlled media about China and India taking similar positions on the Ukrainian conflict, both abstaining on certain resolutions in the UN Security Council and avoiding to criticise Russia by name. This view is at best superficial and not shared by the Indian official circles. EAM Jaishankar did not refer to any common positions on the Ukraine conflict in his media briefing. He said, “We discussed our respective approaches and perspectives” but agreed that diplomacy and dialogue must be the priority.
A Xinhua (Chinese official news agency) report of March 25 makes it clear that China’s perceptions of its relationship with India are very different. Sidestepping the resolution of the border issue and projecting the current situation as the new normal, China wants India’s cooperation in “safeguarding peace and stability in the region and the world (read resisting the US military presence in East Asia and Europe). China and India should not be a threat to each other (read India should leave the Quad and distance itself from the USA). China is ready to explore the “China-India plus” cooperation in South Asia (thus legitimising China’s expanding links in South Asia, in many cases, hostile to India). “Both countries should take part in the multilateral process “with a cooperative posture” (read Indian participation in China-led BRICS, RIC, SCO) whereas China has tried its best to exclude India from various multilateral processes (e.g., India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council, March 31 meeting on Afghanistan convened by China).
China’s support to Pakistan at the OIC meeting in Islamabad is not an isolated event. Its aggressive and hostile anti-India activities have rapidly expanded since its unprovoked aggression in the Indian territories at Ladakh since April, 2020. China has recently supplied six J-10CE fighter jets to Pakistan to reduce India’s advantage with the acquisition of Rafale aircraft. This is an all-weather multi-role 4.5-generation aircraft, which can hit an adversary’s high value targets from beyond the visual range and launch precision attacks on ground targets.
Similarly, China is strengthening Pakistan’s navy with provision of Type 054 frigate, which has anti-surface, anti-air and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Three more similar warships and eight submarines will be delivered by China to Pakistan as per the Chinese official media reports. These weapons will significantly boost Pakistan’s combat capabilities and help its military in meeting China’s shared security interests in the region.
China is building a direct rail link to Kathmandu to divert Nepal’s communication and transport links away from India. It has set up dual-purpose ports at Hambantota and Gwadar. China has reached an agreement with Bangladesh to set up a hub for maintenance of surface-to-air missiles and has supplied warships, naval guns, anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missile systems to her to reduce India’s influence. In disregard of India’s sensitivities, China had at the Winter Olympics in February 2022 chosen Qi Fabao, a PLA regiment commander who was involved in the Galwan valley clash, as the torch-bearer.
Thus, China has shown no accommodation of India’s core interests while expecting her to do its bidding in the East Asia and the world. Some analysts have raised an expectation that China may withdraw its troops from the remaining friction points in Ladakh before the next BRICS summit to ensure the participation of PM Modi in a repeat of its 2017 withdrawal from Doklam.
Given that Xi Jinping is seeking an unprecedented third term as President at the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party later this year and has called China’s occupation of these territories one of his singular achievements, it is unlikely that he would agree to such a step. Given that several cities in China are still being ravaged by Covid-19, it is quite possible that the BRICS summit may be held online, obviating the physical presence of leaders. All the available evidence at present suggests that Chinese hostility towards India would continue unabated in the near future and any hopes of rapprochement with her are surreal.
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