Biden-Xi summit aftermath

India, China should prioritise military balance on LAC

Biden-Xi summit aftermath

Photo for representaion only. - File photo

FOR the past couple of years, Indian foreign policy has given the impression of a near-complete alignment with Washington’s world view, particularly and especially on matters concerning China. Whether it is the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s forays in the South China Sea or aggression against India on the borders, India has moved in sync with the US since Barack Obama and PM Modi signed the Joint Strategic Vision statement in 2015 which specifically mentioned the South China Sea. Has the Joe Biden-Xi Jinping virtual summit then turned all these calculations on their head? This is unlikely considering that Biden also told Xi that there was no change in Washington’s position on an open and free Indo-Pacific, Tibet and Xinjiang. On the same day, US diplomats were in East Asia bolstering security ties to counter China.

But the standout Biden observation was that ‘competition between our countries should not veer into conflict’. If the two countries established ‘common-sense guardrails’, there will be just ‘simple, straightforward competition’, Biden told Xi. This was an acknowledgement that hostility had reached its limits and a top-level engagement was necessary to prevent an unintended flashpoint. Biden, as it is, has his hands full with domestic issues: deepening inflation, a Democratic washout at the 2022 election cycle and implementing the $1.75 trillion social spending plan. As is the case with the US, India has kept open communications channels with China. This has maintained optimism despite border negotiations appearing to be a tad overstretched.

By next year, India’s S-400 systems will counter similar Chinese deployment in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. With T-90 tanks, cruise missiles and other military hardware, the Indian position on the borders will be further boosted. Taking a leaf from the Biden-Xi playbook, both sides can then ponder over where they want to take the bilateral relationship. China has provided some signals. It is amenable to finally permitting imports of Indian critical care drugs. Also, Sino-Indian concerns are similar on Afghanistan, climate change and western financial institutions. A military balance on the border should lead to conversations on managing its risks and more.

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