Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Image Credits: CNN
China is a word in British English informally used as a "friend" and Jinping is a Chinese term meaning "peace is near", however, the literal connotation of these two terms does not hold true as China, in spite of several attempts, fails to be a friend and Xi Jinping is seemingly not bringing peace to his country.
In nearly 20 months since the skirmishes at the border in Ladakh, China has come up with belligerent diplomatic and military gestures against India. Beijing recently renamed 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh. This comes after the Dalai Lama visited Tawang, China has justified the renaming as being done on the basis of its historical, cultural, and administrative jurisdiction over the area, claiming that these old names existed since ancient times, which had been changed by India with its "illegal occupation".
The External Affairs Ministry said that the move by Beijing does not change the fact that Arunachal Pradesh, a Sanskritic term which was given to the North-East Frontier Agency in 1971 on being made a Union Territory, was and will always remain an integral part of India. India gave a strong message to China as governors of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh celebrated the new year at Kaho-the easternmost village in India's Arunachal Pradesh. This is not the first time the Chinese have given these "invented names", similar was done back in 2017. This brings us to the question,"Does renaming really change the status?". The answer to this is quite obvious, and that is that it does not. However, it seems to be different for the fanatic Chinese. If we renamed Beijing as Beijingpur or Shanghai as Shanigarh, that would not mean that these places are part of India.
Image Credits: SCMP
China’s renaming drive is a part of its plan to assert its territorial claims in disputed border areas. In the new year, Beijing's new land border law came into force, which provides the People's Liberation Army (PLA) with full liberty to take action against "invasion, encroachment, infiltration, provocation" and to safeguard Chinese territory. The Chinese have been wise in constructing 2 of its 628 Xiaokang border villages on the Indian side of the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh. These villages will turn out to be useful for Beijing when the principle of 'settled areas' will come into play to resolve the border dispute in the future.
The recent aggressive retaliation by the Chinese diplomat in the form of a letter to the Indian members of Parliament including two union ministers for attending a meeting organised by the Tibetan government-in-exile has earned no reproach from the Indian government. The reason for such submissiveness towards the Chinese is that Delhi has run out of bold options against Beijing that will force the Chinese leadership to change course on its India policy.
Tibet and the Dalai Lama were often projected as a trump card but evidently are not. Beijing does not care about its dwindling popularity among Indians. The two countries have an increasingly uneven trade relationship driven by Indian dependency on Chinese goods, a situation further worsened by the mayhem caused by the Covid crisis. Delhi has little political or economic hold over Beijing to boast about. The best Delhi can do is to ensure its territorial sovereignty with an extensive military deployment on the LAC, while hoping that Beijing, with Moscow's urging, will find an honourable diplomatic exit from this crisis.
To restore the former status on the LAC as of April 2020, India undertook internal balancing of its military along the borders and diplomatic rebalancing through a closer partnership with the United States in the Indo-Pacific. The Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.) has, however, remained a non-military grouping. The signing of the AUKUS (a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.) and the humiliating American exit from Afghanistan made it crystal clear that for all the intelligence sharing and logistics support from the U.S., India will have to deal with the Chinese upheaval on the border on its own.
Though the military is capable of everything when it comes to national security, India’s dwindling economy is incapable of supporting such an endeavour. The Modi government is optimistic about Moscow’s ability to act as a mediator between India and China. Russia has offered a Foreign Ministers meeting of the Russia-India-China grouping, but Delhi is anticipating some steps from China towards resolving the border crisis.
With a dominant China as its neighbour and a more self-centred U.S. - which is uncomfortable with India's increasing bilateral ties with Russia even as the two conclude the S-400 missile defence system, Delhi continues to face difficult choices. Though the U.S. is currently looking away even as India mistreats its minorities and its democracy is diminished, the US knows for a fact that India is the only democratic counter in Asia to the rise of a one-party authoritarian state like China, one that is now offering its own governance and growth model to the world. This is the possible reason why India is being considered to be exempted from the CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) Sanctions of the US.
In the future, the choices made by countries will be dictated by as many domestic factors as there will be in the domain of foreign policy. A cooperative and deliberative model of decision-making would work best, but is unlikely to be followed if the current dispensation is a litmus test. Pushing a domestic narrative through manipulated media is one thing, but dealing with the geopolitical realities at a difficult time is a different game altogether. India's tough diplomatic and military engagement is going to leave it more dependent on U.S. support. The immediate challenge, however, remains China. It cannot be washed away and must be tackled, though finding a more long-lasting solution to ensure peace along the LAC will continue to present a taller challenge.
BY SHANTANU AGARWAL