Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 Summit at Nusa Dua in Bali, Indonesia, November 15, 2022 (Photo: AP)
The precise reasons for China’s aggressive move against the Thang La post in Tawang on December 9 remain subject of speculation but a commentary in Beijing mouthpiece Global Times reminds India that it will need China’s “help” to make its presidency of the G 20 a success.
An article published recently under the “observer” column, GT notes India will assume the presidency of the G20 next year and this will be a good opportunity to showcase its international status and influence. “Diplomacy of India in 2023 will all be carried out surrounding the G20 summit, to which it needs China’s support. At this point, it is believed that the Modi government also wishes to stablise bilateral relationship, even better if there is certain rebound,” a researcher from the Shanghai Institute of International studies is quoted to have told the publication.
The hint is clear enough, even as the comment states that the common interests of India and China outweigh differences. The suggestion is that apart from considerations such as negotiating a complex regional and international situation, India needs to consider the possibility of repeated clashes along the line of actual control diminishing its G20 presidency.
Interestingly, the commentary draws attention to former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale’s Carnegie paper that has said that China’s assumption that there will be no Indian backlash to the People’s Liberation Army’s “low-level coercion” along the LAC may not longer be valid. The column places this assertion in the context of the recent India-US joint military exercise in Uttarakhand and suggests India’s reactions to intrusions have to do with its growing proximity to Washington.
“By taking advantage of the China-US competition, India moves closer to the US. By containing China with the US, India intends to promote the transfer of the global industrial chain and supply chain to India, realize India’s rise as a great power and achieve its own strategic goals,” the column states. This is precisely in line with Gokhale’s paper where he says that China has always seen India through the balance of power lens and almost never in bilateral terms. Here too, China’s communist leaders seem incapable of considering that India might have its own view of the border dispute rather than acting at the behest of the US.
The commentary warns the US statement post the Tawang clash that it will fully support India may encourage New Delhi to make a strategic miscalculation and “ramp up its efforts to provoke China.” India’s fresh efforts to “provoke” China on the border issue have a lot to do with Washington, the article says.
Gokhale’s analysis – which takes into account the Modi government’s decision to contest border incursions by China – is seen as a bid to whip up nationalism against Beijing. The Indian military is said to have repeatedly hyped border frictions – an allusion to the video of Indian soldiers pushing PLA troops back across the LAC.
Admitting there are “quite some problems” between the two nations, the opinion piece argues “The two sides need to cooperate at the strategic level and improve the external environment for border areas, in order to realize long-term stability and create condition for eventually solving the border issue.” GT suggests that foreign minister S Jaishankar is fully aware that India and China need to cooperate to bring about an Asian century.
The call for a resumption of a high-level, possibly political dialogue, is however subject to both sides realizing the need to focus on the “big picture”. In the past this has meant that India should be sensitive to China’s strategic interests and not make border tensions central to bilateral ties. It remains to be see if China is willing to consider India’s concerns on their own right rather than a byplay of great power competition.
As things stand, a failure to do so will lead to more border incidents as India has decided to contest any PLA move to push into areas where claims are not settled and where there are overlapping interpretations of the LAC.