Deep Mistrust that Afflicts India-China Relations

Claudia Chia
Deep Mistrust that Afflicts India-China Relations

Deep Mistrust that Afflicts India-China Relations

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On December 9, 2022, armed forces from India and China clashed near Tawang in the eastern sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), resulting in injuries on both sides. After the two sides disengaged, local commanders held a flag meeting two days later.

Only on December 13 were official statements released, in which Beijing indicated that the border situation remained "generally stable" and New Delhi stated that the issue had been taken up “through diplomatic channels.”

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, both sides gave different accounts of what caused the incident: China’s Western Theatre Command claimed that its soldiers came across Indian troops "illegally crossing" the border during a routine patrol, whereas the Indian Army claimed that it was Chinese troops that had “tried to transgress the LAC…and unilaterally change the status quo."

Considering the longstanding disagreement over the alignment of the LAC and the deep mistrust that afflicts India-China relations, the latest border clash in December hardly comes as a surprise to observers. Notably, the LAC, albeit known as the de facto border between India and China, has not been delineated or mapped. Bilateral discussions in the early 2000s came close to an exchange of maps, but the talks were abruptly halted.

In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed resuming the process of LAC clarification during a lecture to students at Tsinghua University, but this was not accepted by China. Both countries continue to harbour different perceptions of the LAC’s position in thirteen locations along the border. The absence of a formal agreement on the exact location of the line has naturally led security patrols on both sides to come into frequent contact in grey areas.

Further, there has been an upsurge in the level of military activity and tensions along the LAC ever since the lethal Galwan Valley crisis in June 2020, which saw fatal casualties on both sides.

Reportedly, there has been sporadic minor border troubles, occurring on an average two to three times per month. In the western sector, there are still ongoing talks on troop disengagements post Galwan. The most recent round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting—its 17th edition—took place after the Tawang clash on December 22 and failed to produce any breakthroughs. In other words, the disengagement negotiations have not been followed by a de-escalation of border tensions.

In addition, both India and China have continuously strengthened their infrastructure-building activities in the border areas. China’s border infrastructure development can be traced back to the 1990s in Tibet. More recently, satellite images, echoed by US intelligence reports, continue to occasionally reveal Chinese construction of new roads and villages, as well as upgrading of existent infrastructures in disputed areas.

In order to catch up, India has begun to accelerate its own border infrastructure construction. India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently inaugurated the new Siyom bridge in Arunachal Pradesh as part of a series of infrastructure projects by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Of the 6,000 km of roads built across India over the past five years, 2,100 km have been along the country’s northern borders. India has also increased its number of troops along the LAC and deployed US-made weaponry to boost its defence capabilities.

Concurrently, China has stepped up its recruiting efforts for personnel to join local militias and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) stationed along the border. Fortunately, despite the volatile situation, both parties have continued to adhere to the prohibition of guns and explosives within 2 km of the LAC as stipulated in their 1996 agreement. Any fighting that has taken place has been hand-to-hand, occasionally accompanied by clubs, sticks and rocks.

In Indian and Western media, several analysts have suggested the recent clash was triggered by the India-US military exercise in the nearby northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, about 100 km from the LAC, in late November. The joint exercise was condemned by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for being inconducive to mutual trust between the two countries and violating the "spirit" of India-China bilateral agreements. China’s state-owned English-language newspaper, Global Times, labelled it as an American effort to “strengthen military cooperation with India to embolden India to provoke China in a more aggressive manner.” In a similar vein, Chinese analysts cautioned India of being bamboozled by the US.

There is relatively scant attention on the December border clash in China’s media. Global Times published only two brief articles directly addressing the incident. It did feature an op-ed by Qian Feng, Director of the Research Department at the National Strategy Institute in Tsinghua University, who wrote that India has perpetuated the “victim mentality” despite being the perpetuator of the border tensions. Other Chinese news outlets also framed the December incident as an Indian provocation, urged India to restrain its front-line troops and stressed China’s call for peace.

Within the Indian media landscape, there are ubiquitous reports highlighting "Chinese aggression" and India’s efforts to bolster security along the LAC. Interestingly, there appears to be internal divisions within the India’s policy circles and political class regarding India-China dynamics and how to deal with China. The opposition criticised the Modi administration for being a "mute spectator" to increased Chinese pressures, and staged several walkouts in the parliament to protest the government's refusal to discuss India-China boundary issues in the Indian legislature.

Another potential irritant could be the maiden visit of Penpa Tsering, President of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, to Tawang in early November. He interacted with the Tibetan community as well as Arunachal Pradesh officials, where he spoke of Tibetan grievances under Beijing. Following the December clash, he publicly criticised Chinese actions and stated his recognition of Tawang (and the entire Arunachal Pradesh) as an integral part of India.

The Tawang region is of particular geographical significance and political salience to Beijing. It is the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama and home to Tawang Monastery, the second largest monastery in the world, built by the fifth Dalai Lama and where the current Dalai Lama sought shelter after fleeing Tibet in 1959.

According to official Chinese rhetoric, Tawang is a part of South Tibet, also known as Zangnan; it is an inherently Chinese territory and under the Chinese Communist Party’s governance. From China’s standpoint, India has long been providing sanctuary to Tibetan troublemakers and threatening Chinese national security on its southwestern frontier. Dai Bingguo, former State Councillor and China’s Special Representative for the boundary talks with India in the early 2000s, once highlighted that the "disputed territory in the eastern sector of the China-India boundary, including Tawang, is inalienable from China's Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction.” The visit to the region by US ambassadors in 2016 and 2019, and by the Dalai Lama in 2017, had been met with strong objections from China. Since Beijing does not accept the term "Arunachal Pradesh," it has made efforts in 2017 and 2021 to “standardise” the names of localities in Zangnan.

In parallel, Indian counterparts also engage in the act of “restoring” names to places within Tawang. Over the last decade, New Delhi has come to regard Beijing as a serious security threat in its neighbourhood. Due to the repeated border skirmishes, India’s initial assumption that trust-building through robust confidence building measures along the border and closer economic cooperation with China would help resolve bilateral differences have fallen through.

From the Chinese perspective, the underlying boundary dispute is only a minor part of the overall India-China relationship and should not harm the development of bilateral ties. During his visit to New Delhi in March 2022, then-Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi posited that "China and India pose no threat but offer development opportunities to each other" and urged India to put border differences “in a proper place.”

This approach is unacceptable to India, which believes that only when the border situation is stable and peaceful can bilateral relations normalise and improve. In a recent interview with Austrian state broadcaster ORF, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar claimed that China had violated bilateral agreements not to mass forces in border areas.

It is abundantly clear that China and India have fundamentally different approaches to their bilateral ties. Unless and until there is a reconciliation of the two approaches, as well as an easing of the infrastructure race, their bilateral relationship will remain tense, and the LAC will continue to slip deeper into the cyclical pattern of clash-disengage-talk.

Aside from the boundary dispute, both China and India have challenged each other in the maritime realm. The curious case of the first China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation, held in Kunming on November 21, 2022, saw the conspicuous absence of India, which is a prominent player in the Indian Ocean.

According to its official statement, Beijing invited over nineteen countries, fourteen of which, were members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). India was not apparently invited. Given that China is an IORA dialogue partner—not a member—this initiative highlights China’s efforts to further strengthen its position in the Indian Ocean, by consolidating friends and partnerships in the region to counter the influence of the Quad and the US-led Indo-Pacific framework.

The increasing participation of India in the Quad initiatives and growing strategic convergence between India and the US have stemmed largely from concerns about the rise of China. India’s drive to forge deeper relations with like-minded Indo-Pacific powers who are equally concerned with Chinese assertiveness could constitute an ‘external-balancing-for-security strategy.’ Additionally, over the last few years, India has devoted substantial resources to develop its indigenous defence industry to build self-reliance. On dealings with China, Jaishankar noted that he hoped India occupied more of China’s foreign policy “mind space” and asked Beijing to recognise India’s aspirations and equivalent status as a rising power.

Both Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi made initial efforts to improve relations as evidenced by the two informal summits in April 2018 and October 2019, the latter being the last bilateral summit-level meeting. Post-Galwan however, there has not been any meaningful interaction between the two leaders. In 2022, their encounters at various international summits like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in September 2022, the G20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in November 2022, have witnessed either zero or minimal interactions. At the G20 and APEC summits, Xi spoke separately with each of the Quad leaders (Australia, the US and Japan) except Modi. Moving forward in 2023, with India serving the presidencies of the G20 and the SCO, officials from both sides are bound to have opportunities to meet, but minimal interaction is expected. In its presidential role, India would certainly have the chance to shape the global agenda; it remains to be seen what New Delhi will make of this opportunity. The new year also marks the tenth anniversary of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, a timely opportunity to take stock of how far China has come in its grand foreign policy endeavours.

Let's keep G20 non-political, India suggests ahead of meet

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India on Thursday said that the world was facing several challenges, including dealing with climate change, poverty and development, and sought the support of G20 members to keep the grouping "non-political." India's sherpa Amitabh Kant said Delhi is working with all members to ensure challenges around global debt and recession, in several parts of the world, are addressed, and "one issue can't hold back other things", in what was seen as a reference to the Ukraine war.

Sherpas from G20 nations are meeting in Kumarakom for the second meet of the key representative of world leaders and will discuss ways to deal with challenges. The sherpas will begin discussions on drafting the communique for the leaders' summit in September.


 India on Thursday said that the world was facing several challenges - including dealing with climate change, poverty and development - and sought the support of G20 members to keep the grouping "non-political".

India's sherpa Amitabh Kant said New Delhi is working with all members to ensure that challenges around global debt and recession, in several parts of the world, are addressed, and "one issue can't hold back other things", in what was seen as a reference to the Russia-Ukraine war.

Sherpas from G20 countries are meeting in the backwaters of Kumarakom for the second meeting of the key representative of world leaders and will discuss ways to deal with the challenges. "Kumarakom will provide peace and serenity to all the delegates. Kumarakom backwaters will enable us in the coming days to take the challenges of the world forward," Kant told a news conference.

With several meetings out of the way, the sherpas will begin discussions on drafting the communique for the leader's summit in September. Officials said unlike earlier, in India, all G20 countries are part of the deliberations, indicating a willingness to engage.

The Russia-Ukraine war has emerged as a sticking point for the developed world, led by the G7, while India has maintained that the G20 should remain an economic and development forum. India's stand found support from the Troika (which includes Indonesia and Brazil with South Africa as a special invitee). Sources said all emerging countries have said that issues such as global debt overhang, slowing global growth, inflation and climate action are key for them and need to be deliberated at the forum extensively for possible resolution.

During the day, Kant also held wide ranging discussion with his Russian counterpart as well as South Africa.

"We discussed everything under the sun with Russia. We are very positive and optimistic," said Kant. He said there was strong support for the development issues at the bilaterals that he had with sherpas of several countries, including Italy.


Ladakh Lessons–India Must Learn To Decipher China’s ‘Unpredictable & Secretive’ Foreign Policy

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China’s official foreign policy doctrine says that Beijing “does not participate in the arms race, nor does it seek military expansion. China resolutely opposes hegemonism, power politics, aggression and expansion in whatever form, as well as encroachments perpetrated by one country on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another, or interference in the internal affairs of another nation under the pretext of ethnic, religious or human rights issues”.

That such an announcement looks good only on paper has been proven by the Ladakh, Doklam and Sumdorong Chu standoffs. And unfortunately, India has not learned much all these years, and perhaps it would learn to see things from a different perspective if the bloody Galwan Valley skirmishes were anything to go by.

It’s true that China maintains an independent foreign policy. “We are principled in international affairs, determining our own position and policies in accordance with the merits of each case and never yielding to pressure from major powers, nor entering into an alliance with any major power or power bloc,” reads Beijing’s foreign policy document, published on its Washington embassy website.

China does not have any permanent friend or foe; it keeps calibrating and recalibrating its foreign policy according to global situations. For instance, China sees India not as an enemy but as a military or potential business adversary and hence, the communist nation’s continued aggression along the disputed border in the Himalayas.

Beijing knows very well that border skirmishes are the best way to divert ‘nationalist’ India’s attention from its pressing domestic issues.

However, Beijing’s formula did not work very effectively this time thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The world has been a different place since the novel Coronavirus struck humanity early last year. The pandemic blurred the boundaries between the nations, turned the mighty militaries into helpless creatures, made the richest the most-lonely people on the planet. When the world took a pause, the worldview changed.

China must have looked at these changes and fine-tuned its foreign policy according to the new circumstances. However, it would be foolish to expect a major transformation in what China has been pursuing all along – military maneuvers through territorial disputes. And it has stretched its arms already — from the heights of the Himalayas to the great expanse of the Indian Ocean.

New Delhi’s Dilemma

With India and China completing the disengagement process in eastern Ladakh, there is speculation whether New Delhi would join the US-led anti-China Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as QUAD.

Japan Times reported recently that the QUAD members – Washington, Tokyo, Canberra, and New Delhi – were planning a meeting of their leaders. However, there is apprehension with regard to India’s position.

There is a reason to believe that New Delhi might be reluctant to join an overtly anti-China bloc at a time when it just struck a deal with Beijing to lower the temperatures at the de facto border in Ladakh.

After all, both India and China suffered immensely on the trade and business front owing to the nine-month-long border standoff. India, which had imposed some sort of sanctions on China and blocked over 100 Chinese mobile apps in the wake of the Galwan Valley incident, is looking to relax some of these measures.

According to news agency Reuters, India is likely to clear some investment proposals from China in the next few days. It quoted an Indian official as saying: “We’ll start giving approvals to some greenfield investment proposals, but we will only clear those sectors which are not sensitive to national security.”

This obviously does not indicate a sudden change of heart on India’s part – it’s a pure business necessity. The pandemic-battered Indian economy is in need of urgent repair and the immediate succor can come from China, the Asian giant, and India’s next-door neighbor. It works both ways – even China needs India’s help to bring its businesses back on track.

Given these circumstances, New Delhi may not be forthcoming about joining the US-led QUAD despite pressure from Washington although it’s more of a strategic alliance rather than an overtly military coalition like NATO.

Nonetheless, India must not lose sight of its long-term interest in the Asia-Pacific or what the US now calls the Indo-Pacific region. And for this, it has to do the difficult balancing act between dealing with an unpredictable neighbor and staying in touch with a strategic alliance. Although only time will tell if New Delhi is doing the right thing or not.


China’s growing influence threatens to undermine global human rights, new research finds

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China’s growing global influence poses a serious threat to international human rights, according to a new report, which suggests that the United Nations Human Rights Council — the body established to safeguard such international protections — is failing to counter the risks.

The UNHRC is an inter-governmental body made up of 47 U.N. member states, which are elected on a three-year rotational basis with the stated aim of strengthening the “promotion and protection of human rights” globally.

Yet research released Thursday by risk and strategic consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft suggests that it has instead become a “battleground for competing standards,” with China and allied member states showing signs of “watering down international action” and pushing their “own brand of human rights.”

Of particular note, it said that China was pushing a “statist ‘development first’ view of human rights” on council members and undermining individual freedoms by “emphasizing economic development above all other rights.”

China’s ministry of foreign affairs did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment on the findings.

The research, part of the firm’s wider annual Human Rights Outlook, is based on quantitative data from sources including the U.N., the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch, as well as Verisk Maplecroft’s internal qualitative analysis.

It also found that China is using its economic power to sway council votes, with grantees of China’s “Belt & Road Initiative” most susceptible to influence.

At least 35 of the 47 UNHRC member states belong to the BRI — China’s global infrastructure development project — many of which are Asian or African countries with similar, or worse, scores on the company’s human rights indices, the study noted.

UNHRC acting spokesperson, Pascal Sim, rejected the claims, stating that “no one state runs the council or dominates the agenda.”

“All states, big and small, have an equal voice and immense potential to inform and influence the action of this intergovernmental body charged with promoting and protecting human rights around the world,” Sim added in emailed comments to CNBC.

Political maneuvering

Among its criticism, the report highlighted China’s approach to civil and political rights — and chiefly freedom of speech and expression — as particularly concerning.

Such behavior was being echoed by other UNHRC states, it said, with almost three-quarters (70%) of current members ranking as high or extreme risks for such rights. Those include Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Spokespersons for the respective governments did not immediately respond to CNBC requests for comment.

More than half of members also ranked similarly poorly across the three other metrics the research deemed essential for upholding humanitarian protections: labor rights, human security and human development.

Of the 30 members that rated as extreme or high risk for labor rights, 18 recorded a drop in their score from 2017, 15 of which were BRI signatories.

The report also found that China was using increasingly sophisticated maneuvering of key UNHRC mechanisms to contain criticism, with states increasingly partaking in the whitewash of Beijing’s rights record.

It said the most “astounding diplomatic victory” came with the rejection of a U.S.-proposed draft resolution on holding a debate on Xinjiang in October 2022, which was backed by Muslim-majority states and BRI signatories including Indonesia, the UAE and Qatar.

Human rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority group indigenous to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. The U.S. has accused China of committing genocide. Beijing has vigorously denied it carries out any abuses.

The findings come at a time of heightened Western skepticism toward China, with U.S. and European allies raising various concerns ranging from the potential national security threats posed by Chinese technology to Beijing’s alliance with Moscow.

“Beijing’s increasingly active role in the international human rights system comes at a precarious period of global democratic deterioration, economic slowdown and severe geopolitical polarization — all with knock-on effects on human rights,” Sofia Nazalya, senior human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft and the report’s author, said.

“The upshot is that international human rights norms may weaken at the expense of vulnerable populations, while businesses will have to navigate and decode competing, and often conflicting, views on what constitutes an abuse and what doesn’t from the Council itself.”

Separate analysis released Tuesday found that China has significantly increased its bailout lending for distressed nations over recent years, loaning $185 billion to BRI debtors in the past five years alone.

The report, which was co-authored by the World Bank, said the uptick marked a shift toward a more “opaque and uncoordinated” global system for cross-border rescue lending, which threatens to undermine existing monetary architecture and the role of traditional institutions like the International Monetary Fund.

On Monday, Amnesty International released its latest “the state of the world’s human rights” report, in which it said that the world had experienced increased war crimes, crimes against humanity, repression of universal freedoms, economic crises and rising inequality over the past year.


China Again Accused of Meddling in Canada's Elections

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Allegations are piling up against China for interloping in Canada's most recent federal elections to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party. A Conservative candidate, who ran close to Vancouver, said his defeat in 2021 was caused by a systematic misinformation campaign.

In 2019, a member of Conservative Party of Canada, Kenny Chui, got elected as a member of Parliament for Steveston Richmond-East. Well over 50 per cent of the people in his Vancouver suburb are of Chinese descent. Nevertheless, he was defeated by a Liberal Party candidate, who is now the constituency's MP, in the subsequent election held 22 months later.

The Liberal Party gained almost 1,800 votes in the district in the 2021 election over the previous year. Contrarily, Chiu saw a decrease in support of over 4,400 votes from the previous election.

Beyond the figures, Chiu observed a change in the way people responded to him during the 2021 election. According to him, in 2019 people were kind and engaged him in discussion but not so in 2021.

Chiu recalled, "Some of them were obviously disturbed, frustrated, and yet some of them are even showing signs of being angry," adding, "And at the time, I was quite puzzled. What was that all about? Because, I mean, again, it's only been 22 months and it's during a pandemic."

Chiu, who was born in Hong Kong and moved to Canada, said he later learned using Disinfo Watch, McGill University in Quebec, and the Atlantic Council that he had been the target of a disinformation campaign intended to sway Chinese voters.

He claimed that false allegations about the Conservative Party and Chiu himself planning to ban the Chinese instant messaging app WeChat in Canada.

Many members of the Chinese community in Canada can only contact friends and family in China using WeChat. Remembering some of the specific rumours, Chiu said, "He is anti-Chinese. He hates Chinese. He's a traitor."

Chiu added, "And all these labels are levelled on me personally. There have also been articles written saying that the Conservatives leader back then, is going to ban WeChat." Not everyone sees it as a conspiracy. Veteran Liberal Party worker Mark Marissen said the 2021 Conservative campaign and then leader Erin O'Toole did, in fact, take a stronger stance against China.

Marissen has handled numerous campaigns at the federal, provincial, and local levels.

Mariseen told VOA, "There was a real opposition amongst many people within the community to the way that O'Toole was campaigning about China." In the future, organisations like CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, should be more vigilant in their examination of potential foreign interference in elections, said Kareem Allam, who has managed multiple campaigns for Conservative candidates.

Allam said, "But if I have a concern about a candidate, potentially with regards to foreign interference related matters, CSIS is legally bound to not report on any Canadian nations," adding, "And if you're running for Canadian office, you have to be a Canadian citizen. So there's no way for me to clarify whether this person - who could end up being a member of parliament who could end up being a cabinet minister."

Earlier also, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had revealed the ways in which the Chinese government has attempted to tamper with Canadian elections.

This gives support to a number of allegations regarding the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) behaviour that has been circulating for years.

This includes the Conservative Party of Canada's claim that the interference cost it seats in the 2021 federal election, along with allegations about the operation of illegal "police stations" used by China to gather information on the Chinese diaspora in Canada, Asian Times reported.

Prime Minister Trudeau had announced that his government will appoint a "special rapporteur", who will work with two national security committees to probe the details of the controversy, Asian Times reported.

The allegations not only raise questions about the integrity of Canadian democracy itself but also the complicity of the government in not properly addressing it and the appearance that the Liberals deliberately underplayed, denied or buried allegations of interference because they benefited from it, Asian Times reported.

The recent leaks not only prove this is happening in Canada but, more seriously, demonstrate that Canadian security organisations are struggling to find ways to manage it as Chinese interference strategies continue to develop. The leaks damaged the organization's international credibility and will likely make it more difficult for CSIS to acquire sensitive information.