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Can India Take on a Growing and Rich China Despite a Border Dispute?

Washington has made an enormous bet in the Indo-Pacific—that treating India as a key partner will help the United States in its geopolitical rivalry with China.

8 mins read
Prime Minister Modi with President Biden during the PM's official visit to White House (Photo: Agencies)

Political analyst Ashley J Tellis in a recent article in Foreign Affairs magazine (India as It Is Washington and New Delhi Share Interests, Not Values By Daniel Markey July/August 2023 Published on June 16, 2023) has commented that America has made a bad bet on India. For the past two decades, Ashley Tellis adds

AMERICA’S BAD BET ON INDIA IN GEOPOLITICAL RIVALRY WITH CHINA

Washington has made an enormous bet in the Indo-Pacific—that treating India as a key partner will help the United States in its geopolitical rivalry with China. From George W. Bush onward, successive U.S. presidents have bolstered India’s capabilities on the assumption that doing so automatically strengthens the forces that favor freedom in Asia. The administration of President Joe Biden has enthusiastically embraced this playbook. In fact, it has taken it one step further: the administration has launched an ambitious new initiative to expand India’s access to cutting-edge technologies, further deepened defense cooperation, and made the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), which includes Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, a pillar of its regional strategy. It has also overlooked India’s democratic erosion and its unhelpful foreign policy choices, such as its refusal to condemn Moscow’s Tellis adds despite these disappointments, the Biden administration has continued to push for closer ties with India, leaning hard into the two states’ supposedly common values as it makes its case.

WILL PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN’S INVITATION TO NARENDRA MODI TO THE DEMOCRACY SUMMIT BE USEFUL?

President Joe Biden invited Modi to Washington’s two democracy summits, and the prime minister delivered remarks at each. In a May 2022 meeting with Modi, Biden said that cooperation between India and the United States is built on their shared “commitment to representative democracy.” When Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited India in July 2021, he said, “The relationship between our two countries is so important and so strong because it is a relationship between our democracies.” And on a March 2023 trip to New Delhi, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo praised Modi as an “unbelievable visionary” and declared that the two states were united by democratic principles. But yet again, New Delhi has frustrated the White House on policies related to liberal values. It has, for instance, maintained ties with and sold weapons to the military junta that ousted Myanmar’s democratic government in 2021. New Delhi plays an active role in multilateral groups critical of the United States and the West, such as the BRICS, which also includes Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa. And it has continued to stand by Moscow. Shortly before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, India purchased Russian S-400 air defense systems, despite the threat of U.S. sanctions. Since the invasion, India has abstained from every decisive UN vote. It has refused to entertain any economic restrictions against Russia. It even began purchasing more Russian energy after the invasion began. India’s behavior regarding the war in Ukraine, in particular, has angered many of New Delhi’s biggest supporters in the U.S. Congress.

BACKGROUND OF INDO-RUSSIAN FRIENDSHIP

Before putting India to the gallows one has to delve into the depth and breadth of Indo-Russian ties. But for the repeated vetoes by the Soviet Union on Western country’s attempts to bring about a political solution to the genocidal regime of Pakistan the liberation of Bangladesh could have been delayed indefinitely. Added were the untiring efforts of then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to bring the Soviet Union into India’s orbit which helped the Bangladesh liberation war to a quick end. One must also remind oneself of the Non-Alignment Movement spearheaded by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru along with Indonesia’s Sukarno, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, and United Arab Republic’s Gamal Abdul Nasser. India’s policy has been followed in essence from 1947( when India became independent from British rule) by successive governments despite sea changes in the global political order. Ashley J Tellis warns the US that U.S. officials must understand that, deep down, India is not an ally. Its relationship to the United States is fundamentally unlike that of, say, a NATO member. And India will never aspire to that sort of alliance. For this reason, U.S. officials should not frame their agreements with India as the building blocks of a deeper relationship. The country is not a candidate for initiatives such as the AUKUS deal among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (which will help Australia develop nuclear submarine technologies) because such deals entail sharing important security vulnerabilities that only sturdy liberal democracies—ones with broadly shared values and aspirations—can safely exchange. India’s uncertain commitment to democratic principles is also why Washington will never be able to share intelligence with New Delhi in the way that it does with its so-called Five Eyes partners: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

 CHINA IS FAR AHEAD OF INDIA

Despite border skirmishes between India and China in the Himalayas region one may wish to delve into the possibilities of Indian capabilities to fight a rising China. ( CHINA IS FAR AHEAD OF INDIA QUORA SQUIRTLE MARCH 6TH 2023) provides statistics to demonstrate why India is not in the same league with rising China despite China’s muscle flexing in the region. Even the poorest state in China (Gansu ) is two times richer than the richest state in India (Karnataka). This is not the sprawling metropolis of Beijing, Shanghai, or Hong Kong , this is Zhuzhou a tier-three city in China!! with a population of just 1.2 million similar to that of Aligarh. This is what you call development where you can access most of the services in a tier one city in a tier three city. Is it possible in India? Nope. Not at all. Exports India- $679.68B China -$3,553.51B FDI India- 83.5bn China – 180 bn Steel Production China – 1,032.8 million tons India – 118.2 million tons GFCF (Capital Formation) India – 29% of the GDP China – 42% of the GDP Trade Surplus/Deficit India – $-79.19B China – $462.25B bn External debt to GDP ratio India – 19.2% China – 14.3% Labor Force India – 476,670,190 China – 812,081,113 Internal debt to GDP ratio India- 84% China – 295% Population that lives below $6.85 a day (548 rs) India – 83.83% China – 25%. With these statistics, one can see that where India is now, China achieved it 20 years ago. In 2004 China exported goods worth 607.36B similar to India today.

Many people compare China of 2007 to that of India today but that is simply not the case. In 2007 – 3.55 tr was 6% of the world’s GDP (India’s share in the world GDP is just 3.5%) China had a trade surplus of $300 bn dollars Exports were $1,258.06Bn or 35% of the GDP R & D was 1.3% of the GDP (Compared to 0.9% in India) For India to be that China of 2007 it needs to have almost 5.7 trillion GDP. The USA in 2003 with inflation-adjusted values was 19 tr similar to China in 2023 but it still cannot be considered equal since the US controlled a much larger share of the global economy in 2003 than China does today. The world is now faced with “ limitless” friendship between Russia and China which reportedly wants to demonstrate, particularly to developing countries, the superiority of the socialist system to the Western democratic system by showing that the socialists can reach faster to the needy the essential commodities that the Western system can. China’s Road and Belt Initiative is a glaring example of attracting developing countries’ need for infrastructure development which these countries cannot afford to finance but they need the infrastructure badly. The immediacy of the need shrouds the possibility of a ‘debt Trap” as publicly stated by Donald Trump’s Vice-President Mike Pence and glaringly exemplified by the Sri Lankan case where the people of Sri Lanka need visas to go to Hambantota Port which is within the sovereign territory of Sri Lanka. Equally one may wish to remember then-Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed’s refusal to accept a Chinese loan at a concessionary rate for a place in Malaysia that Mahathir Mohammed described as a new form of “colonialism” by China.

CHINA-INDIA TUSSLE IN DISPUTED BORDER IN LADAKH

An article from March 2023 in the newspaper The Diplomat reported on the latest standoff in the disputed territory. Over the past months, China and India have continued the slow process of disengaging along sections of their disputed border in Ladakh. Yet the two sides continue to disagree about who is responsible for the standoff of 2020-21, which culminated in a deadly clash in Galwan Valley in June 2020. A savage brawl between Indian and Chinese forces in the Galwan River valley in Ladakh, a disputed Himalayan border region, has left many Indian soldiers dead. The world’s two most populous nations – with two of the planet’s biggest military forces – have been at loggerheads for weeks along their long and contested high-altitude frontier. But the crisis escalated, reports BBC, when the number of Indians killed in an extraordinary confrontation soared to 20 – they had died without a single shot being fired. India said both sides suffered casualties. China is yet to confirm the number of dead or injured. The site of the clash was on the de facto border – the Line of Actual Control or LAC – between the two countries. India and China share a border that is more than 3,440km (2,100 miles) long and has overlapping territorial claims. The Galwan River valley, with its harsh climate and high-altitude terrain, lies along the western sector of the LAC and close to Aksai Chin, a disputed area claimed by India but controlled by China. The Galwan River valley in Ladakh, with its harsh climate and high-altitude terrain, is close to Aksai Chin, a disputed area claimed by India but controlled by China. This is not the first time the two nuclear-armed neighbors have fought without conventional firearms on the border. India and China have a history of face-offs and overlapping territorial claims along the more than 3,440km (2,100 miles), poorly drawn LAC separating the two sides. At the root of this is a 1996 bilateral agreement that says “neither side shall open fire… conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometers of the Line of Actual Control”. India has accused China of sending thousands of troops into Ladakh’s Galwan Valley and says China occupies 38,000 sq km (14,700 sq miles) of its territory. Several rounds of talks in the last three decades have failed to resolve the boundary disputes.

REPAIRING US-CHINA RELATIONS

 Attempts are underway to repair tense relations between the US and China. The US and China have pledged to stabilize their tense relationship following US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s two-day visit to Beijing. Blinken met China’s President Xi- Jinping for talks restarting high-level communications between the rival superpowers. Xi-Jinping said they had made progress, while Blinken indicated that both sides were open to further talks. Blinken, was, however, “clear-eyed” about China and was aware that there were “many issues on which the two countries vehemently – disagree”. Relations between Beijing and Washington have plummeted in the wake of a Trump-era trade war, Beijing’s assertive claims over Taiwan, and the shooting down of an alleged Chinese spy balloon over the US earlier this year. At the recently held Shangrila Dialogue in Singapore, the newly appointed Chinese Defense Minister expressed the view that “some countries” were intensifying an arms race in Asia. But he said the world was big enough for both China and the US, and the two superpowers should seek common ground. In his speech, the Chinese Defense Minister accused the US of a “Cold War mentality” and said this was “greatly increasing security risks”. He said China would not allow naval patrols by the US and its allies to be “a pretext to exercise hegemony of navigation”. Asked about the incident in the Taiwan Strait, he said that countries from outside the region were raising tensions.

Antony Blinken’s meeting with Xi-Jinping and the Chinese Defense Minister’s statement in Singapore appears that China is prepared to reach common ground with the US. Getting back to India-China territorial dispute the statistics given earlier show that India is no match for China either militarily or economically. China is now in a different league fighting for its seat at the table setting the rules by which the world will be run. China now considers the US as its adversary amply demonstrated in the latest Shangrila Dialogue held in Singapore. It would be advisable for India to pursue its course for politico-economic development while keeping its option open for its strategic policy.

Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany

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