India trying to put cart before horse

By Dr Ghulam Ali —The current China-India border row shows that the Indian leadership has once again invoked the so-called border incursion issue under the “China threat” theory to appease its domestic and international audience. It is an old tactic which successive Indian leaders have used.

The issue came up first in the late 1950s and the early 1960s when the unmarked China-India border issue first surfaced. India used the “China threat” to curry favor with both the capitalist and the communist blocs. Two big powers of the time, the US and the USSR, out of their hostility toward China, provided large-scale military and economic assistance to India to be used against China.

The issue flared again before the nuclear tests in May 1998. Then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee used the issue to cover India’s hegemonic design and ambitions for nuclear weapons.

It is a fact that borders between China and the Indian subcontinent were created by imperial powers during the 18th and 19th centuries when both sides were weaker or under direct foreign occupation. As local people gained independence, it was natural to settle the borders for peace and tranquility.

China’s boundaries with some of its neighbors were undefined. But China amicably resolved them with all countries except India, and Indian satellite Bhutan. None of China’s neighbors (except these two) has ever complained about mistreatment by China while negotiating agreements.

One cannot put a lot of blame on Bhutan for being the only country in South Asia without diplomatic ties to China and an unresolved border dispute. Given its small size and the fact that it is encircled by India, Bhutan is sovereign in name only. Its policies are totally controlled by New Delhi.

The current tension started along China’s borders with Sikkim and Bhutan. Sikkim had its own status until 1975 when India unilaterally merged it into Indian territory.

Bhutan is a sovereign country, at least under UN Charter. Should India start military actions on behalf of other countries and even issue threatening statements? It appears from these incidents that India is not fully satisfied and intends to further expand its borders.

It is important to note that New Delhi is the only hurdle in the way of diplomatic relations between China and Bhutan.

The Chinese leadership continues to look at Sino-Indian relations from a long-term perspective. Amid India’s hard stance, the Chinese side has showed great vision and tried its best to bring Indian delegates to the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing this May.

Certainly, being a neighbor and the second most populous country in the world, India’s participation could have enhanced the importance of the event. But it did not mean that without New Delhi the forum was meaningless. The forum brought 30 heads of state or of governments and hundreds of delegates including head of UN, World Bank, IMF and so on. India thoroughly misread China’s courtesy.

The Modi government will undergo elections in 2019. Analysts with an eye on Indian politics know that for many Indian leaders the China card is the most convenient tool to whip up the public and provide cannon fodder to India’s unbridled media. For a right-wing, hardliner government such as this, the China threat theory is even more significant.

It is India’s right to grow its powers and attain major power status. In fact, India has the potential to achieve that goal. However, the path the Indian leadership has adopted is opposite to the lessons of history. Those nations which achieved great power status devoted resources for their people while maintaining good relations with neighbors.

China is the nearest example. The Indian government is trying to put the cart before the horse.

(This article was originally published in the Global Times on July 9, 2017. The author teaches International Relations at the School of Marxism, Sichuan University of Science & Engineering, Zigong, China. [email protected])

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