Why India and China need to move past tensions?

  Apr 17, 2017

Why India and China need to move past tensions?

The ritual bickering between India and China has once again been brought to the fore, this time over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. This is symptomatic of the contradictions in the way India and China practice diplomacy. This accentuates the way each perceives the divergences in the other’s strategic thinking and how they respond to it.
Not surprisingly, the first Strategic Dialogue between the two countries held recently aimed at forging an understanding over a variety of issues failed. To take the example of India’s application to list Masood Azhar under the 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council, China has refused to vote in favour of this measure despite India conveying its concerns about terrorism.

India’s dialogue with China on counter-terrorism is filled with disproportionate expectations and preconceptions. For instance, India’s expectation that China will be more than willing to support its counter-terror initiatives because China too is a victim of terrorism is a wrong assumption.
However, there are encouraging signs that India and China still can cooperate on this difficult issue. Given that the Chinese public and intelligentsia are concerned about terrorism in Xinjiang, India has numerous opportunities to influence opinion in China.
This requires sustained engagement with various stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies, the military apparatus, legal experts, and academic communities to help bridge the gap in understanding.

Dangerous Trends
While opportunities exist for India and China to build trust, certain factors exacerbate the mistrust.
Continued Economic Cooperation
Nevertheless, in spite of political tensions, economic cooperation has continued to expand.
Undoing economic cooperation is neither desirable nor proportionate. Both countries have far too much to lose from a downward spiral in bilateral relations.

Need for Clear Signalling
Finally, India should aim for a strategic dialogue that focuses on the fundamentals of shared beliefs and political culture, and is supported by widespread engagement at the provincial, governmental and academic levels. In the case of counter-terrorism, cultivating a relationship with provinces and associated agencies directly affected by terrorism is imperative. India’s responses should be proportionate, i.e., not treat all issues of contention as of equal importance. Unless India and China’s ability to differentiate the nature of disagreements in the bilateral relationship improves, foreign policy decision-making would be swayed by disproportionate expectations.