Building Mutual Trust In China-India Ties
Hira Bahadur Thapa
One of the positive outcomes of multilateral forums like BRICS summit held in Xiamen, China that, among other things, provided an opportunity of holding bilateral consultations, was the removal of distrust between China and India. Although the Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met before several times, the Xiamen sidelines meeting was the first after the 73-day long border standoff between the two countries.
Some observers are of the view that had there been no BRICS summit in China, which concluded last week, both China and India would have continued at loggerheads due to border dispute. One sees logic in this observation because both China and India felt the indirect pressure of disengaging their troops before the multilateral forum that comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, was convened and especially China as a host would be eager to remove the impediment that could impact the important meeting.
But it should not be interpreted that it was China which was more interested to disengage troops, which had been firm in its position during the standoff. It insisted that to resolve the border dispute at Doklam plateau, India must withdraw its troops before talks could be arranged. India had deployed its troops at the above point to obstruct China’s road construction in the said area. The standoff between China and India on that border point which started in mid-June and lasted until August 23 has made them realize that they should vie for harmonious relationship and win-win cooperation.
It is against this background that Wang Yi, the Chinese top diplomat, has made positive statements following the BRICS sidelines bilateral meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Modi in China. As quoted by the Indian Express, Wang has stated that though the Himalayan border standoff between China and India has damaged their countries ties but it has not derailed it.
The India Today has also quoted the Chinese foreign minister Wang as saying that he looks forward to developing harmonious relationship between China and India. Reiterating commitment of both the countries to the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, he has emphasized that considering the vibrancy of their economies, China and India play major roles in the regional development.
Some Western analysts have too observed that the future of Asia, the region with a lot of potentialities to bring positive economic change in the global economic spot, depends very much on how emerging economic powers like China and India cooperate with each other realizing the advantages of complementary and eschewing confrontation. In their opinion, the lowering of tensions between Asia’s giants both economically and technologically is a good omen in the region when simmering threat of North Korea’s nuclear advancement worries the world community not seen before.
During the period of continued border standoff between the rising powers, which have been collaborating with each other using the same forum like RRICS, it was feared that those countries might resort to the use of military option, recalling the bitter incident of border dispute that had led them to go to war in 1962. Their failure to lower the tensions at the border point would have worsened the security situation of Asia at a time when North Korean nuclear crisis continues posing a serious challenge to the regional peace and stability.
Although as a neighbor Nepal was playing a neutral role in the border dispute of China and India, at times it felt the pressure of supporting one against the other. The increased visits of foreign delegations from both the countries were implicitly sending messages that Nepal take a particular position in their support but prudent diplomacy pursued by Nepal helped handle the situation satisfactorily, which otherwise ,would have exposed her as supporting one neighbor against the other.
The position taken by Nepal in the recent border standoff between her two immediate neighbors is akin to her stand she took in the 1962 war between China and India. This is quite in tune with her policy of remaining at a distance when two neighbors clash on certain issues. It is what we have been noticing in Nepal’s position widely known as her policy of equidistance vis-à-vis her bilateral relations with China and India. She has the geographical compulsion to maintain a delicate balance in her relations with the immediate neighbors.
No more beneficial stand of Nepal would be to endeavor to maintain cordial relations with the both neighbours, whose spectacular economic progress can be an indirect boon to her in this age of rising globalisation and interdependence. Combined together both China and India possess an important chunk of global GDP, maintaining almost one fifth of world’s standing army besides being the two largest and fastest-growing economies, while global economy hasn’t fully recovered from 2008 recession.
Against this background the recent high-level visits from Nepal to India and China assume higher significance to earn goodwill from both the neighbours, which have peacefully resolved the border dispute. Avoidance of military clash due to that dispute at Doklam is in itself an achievement and it will likely create congenial environment for them to concentrate on their mutual economic cooperation. They have been pursuing policy of economic interdependence since the 1988 breakthrough visit of former Indian prime minister to China. Interestingly, bilateral trade between China and India has been on the rise with their long border dispute remaining unresolved nevertheless.
As quoted in the Indian press, however, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson has expressed alarm at the remarks made by General Bipin Rawat, the Indian Army Chief. The General has said that China is slowly encroaching upon the territory of her neighbour. The said spokesperson has also asked whether those remarks from the Army Chief are official. Notwithstanding the fact that India has not responded to it, such incident does not conform to the policy of building mutual trust between the immediate neighbours, which share a very long border with each other and have long-standing disagreement at certain areas in the eastern and the western sectors.
Seen from the perspectives of Nepal, the cultivation of mutual trust between her immediate neighbours, both of whose vibrant economies can offer added opportunities to her economic advancement, the present disengagement of the Chinese and the Indian troops from the disputed border area at Doklam is a welcome step.