Resolve The Standoff Peacefully
Hira Bahadur Thapa
For almost two months, China and India have been locked in border standoff and there are little signs that it would be resolved soon. Such confrontation between the two neighbors, whose economic relations are deepened following economic liberalisation policies embraced by them since 1980s, becomes a matter of deep concern. While the erosion of trust between the countries, which are also world’s some of the fastest growing economies, impedes global economic growth, more painfully it threatens the regional security. Asia has been considered the region of remarkable economic progress as some of the countries like China and India with impressive economic growth are in this geographic area.
Economists have rightly predicted that this region is going to be dominant in the twenty-first century and given the recent years’ spectacular economic growth rates achieved by some of the Asian countries, one can see enough logic behind such optimistic prediction. Until recently, China was one of the rarest countries, which had registered two digit economic growth rates for years but the situation is different now because of some structural hindrances. Export-led economic growth model, which brought fast progress in China lifting millions of its countrymen out of poverty within a short span of time, has been exhausted prompting the leadership to seek an alternative policy.
Sustainable economic development requires consumption-led model in which the country does not remain over dependent on exports and thus acts a valve in case of economic downturn. The Chinese leaders are aware of this and focusing on new approach applying which their economy can thwart the global shock, should there be one when many countries are constrained to achieve moderate annual economic growth rates. Even India is not immune from the falling economic growth rates as seen in the last few years and is struggling hard to enhance the living standards of its people. In a globalized world, no country can remain unaffected economically, if there is economic downturn in any part of the world. It is under pressure to accelerate the economic growth. It is more so under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been in power since 2014 and has presented himself as the champion of economic progress to drastically change the face of India.
The current border standoff between India and China is likely affect the booming trade relationship. But in the opinion of Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, (Project-Syndicate), China may be reluctant to use trade as a weapon against India because it has five times more exports going to India than it receives in imports. Professor Chellaney, however, has presented China’s example of trading relations with South Korea, in which case it has been sanctioning the trade partner economically in order that South Korea abandons the deployment of anti-missile system widely known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). One may recall the ongoing tension between the US and North Korea following latter’s successful test launch of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles capable of hitting continental US.
The US has feared that North Korea may be provoked to strike against South Korea with missiles and hence undertaken preventive measures for securing its strategic and close ally, where it has stationed around 28,000 troops. The deployment of THAAD is indeed supposed to provide security umbrella to South Korea, the most vulnerable in the area as North Korea and the US exchange fiery rhetoric in the wake of July 28 launch of ICBM by Pyongyang.
China has been protesting the installation of American anti-missile system in South Korea for years. It has expressed alarm that with the operation of such advanced anti-missile system in its neighbourhood may jeopardize its national security. The powerful radar being a part of THAAD may be a tool to conduct espionage activities against China and therefore the decision of South Korean government has invited the ire of Beijing. The recent sanctioning of South Korea by restricting the flow of Chinese tourists to that country, among other things, is to be seen as a punitive measure to pressure them to shirk from the responsibility of hosting the installation of US anti-missile system.
The standoff between the US and North Korea has negatively impacted the bilateral relationship between China and South Korea. Political tensions do have adverse impact on the economies and against this background concerns are on the rise that lingering border standoff between China and India may damage their flourishing trade relations. China may not be interested to weaponize trade as a tactic to coerce the other partner (India) under the present circumstances as argued by Chellaney through his Project-Syndicate piece. India’s insistence that her trade relations with China may not be as usual unless they withdraw their troops from Doklam indicate that present border standoff may negatively impact the booming trade. Sino-Indian trade has ballooned and China enjoys the trade surplus to the tune of $60 billion with India. It has happened within a short span of time.
As quoted by professor Chellaney in his Project-Syndicate opinion piece “Calling the Chinese Bully’s Bluff” (August 8) Indian’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has given a warning that India may apply sanctions on trade with China if the latter disturbs the Himalayan border peace. This is serious in the sense that Chinese exports to India may be badly affected causing more losses to the exporter because in bilateral trade China has more leverage having enjoyed trade surplus in billion dollars.
China has been insisting from the very beginning that to create a congenial environment for negotiations to resolve the two-month long border standoff, India must withdraw its troops which it has deployed at the Chinese Bhutanese border. Suffice it to say that Indo-Bhutanese bilateral treaty makes India the guarantor of security of Bhutan and hence it claims that its troop movement is required for providing security to its treaty partner.
With diminishing prospects for talks between China and India to seek a peaceful settlement of the border dispute, the world at large and the neighbouring countries in particular are more worried lest the continuing standoff may escalate further endangering the regional peace. Therefore, Nepal was reasonably appealing to both China and India to seek to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner for which bilateral negotiations is a prerequisite. Let us hope that both the countries engaged in their exchange of preconditions for sitting to talk to each other so far would become flexible to end the dispute peacefully.