Beijing-Delhi ties need better planning and restructuring

By Zhang Jiadong Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/8 20:43:40

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The recent China-India border clash in the Galwan Valley reveals that the existing border control mechanisms between China and India no longer meet the actual needs of the two emerging powers. In the larger picture, it illuminates the reality that China-India relations should be improved and updated.

The recent border conflict is a manifestation of strategic tensions. If the two sides fail to upgrade and transform their bilateral relations, similar incidents may continue to occur with the potential for more extreme outcomes. Future development and strategic layouts for both countries are likely to be affected. Hence, it has become a strategic mission that the two sides must seriously deal with.

China and India are facing three major changes that are challenging the existing framework of China-India relations. 

First, changes in national strength. Over the past three decades, both countries have been developing rapidly, and have significantly enhanced their national strength. With China and India simultaneously growing stronger, they have become increasingly engaged in areas of overlapping or even competing interests.

Second, changes in the international landscape. Such changes have brought both opportunities and challenges to the two countries. Both China and India are experiencing a shift in roles: from third world followers to regional, and even global, leaders. Since the beginning of the 21st century, China has been enhancing its influence in East Asia, and India in South Asia. Increased national strength has also brought new requirements for the two countries in terms of bilateral and global relations. 

Third, changes in domestic society. With both their countries' national strength and international status rising, people from the two countries are also intensifying their sense of national honor. For one thing, this promotes national confidence, including political, economic, and cultural pride. For another, it has also led to the rise of nationalism within the two countries. Therefore, the diplomats and frontier officers of the two countries are confronted with both higher expectations and more pressure. In the meantime, the decision-making of the two countries is influenced by ever-changing domestic public opinion.

In this context, China and India should actively take precautionary measures to prevent conflicts. The two countries had fewer chances to encounter each other on the border or the high seas when they were weak countries. As powerful countries now, they are increasing activities in these areas with greater risks.

The recent Galwan Valley clash is one example. It is time for Beijing and New Delhi to really sit down and plan how to settle these disputes peacefully. 

On the whole, China and India should construct a new forward-looking bilateral strategic framework for their encounters in a broader strategic space. The following three critical elements should be included. 

First, China and India should reconsider the position of their bilateral relations in their overall foreign relations. In the past, China-India relations were of limited significance. The two countries didn't attach much importance to bilateral ties. They merely focused on preventing China-India relations from disrupting the diplomatic situations with other countries. But now, the China-India relationship is of great importance as the two share mutual interdependence on many fronts. In this case, bilateral ties should develop from the periphery of their foreign relations to the core. 

Second, China and India should clarify to each other their relations with other major countries. They should address matters of importance of the other side. These include India's concerns about China-Pakistan relations, and China's concerns about India-US relations. 

Third, the two countries should establish new rules of interaction in specific fields. This extends beyond border control to maritime encounters, as well as their increasingly frequent strategic and tactical interactions.

The author is a professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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