An Indian-Chinese rapprochement will weaken U.S. ambitions to contain China.
Written by Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
India and China are close to reaching an agreement on the disarmament of troops in the Ladakh region. Following the 12th round of China-India border talks, it was agreed that dialogue on de-escalating the de facto Line of Control will continue. Discussions took place on July 30, lasting nine hours, but the final statement from the two sides was published days later on August 2.
The delay between the meeting and the final statement could indicate persistent disagreements over specific areas and methods of disarming troops along the Line of Control. However, it is recalled that the previous round of talks held on April 9 could not even lead to the two sides agreeing on a joint statement.
The root cause of the dispute is the 3,440km-long border, especially around Ladakh and Kashmir. For New Delhi, controlling this territory is about securing water sources and halting Pakistani-backed terrorists from destabilizing the region. For Beijing, controlling the region secures the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, perhaps one of the most important projects of the Belt and Road Initiative as it links Pakistan’s Port of Gwadar with China’s western provinces.
Agreements for border talks between high-level military officials was made by the Foreign Ministers of China and India, Wang Yi and Subramaniyam Jaishankar respectively. The two ministers agreed on this on July 14 in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation ministerial meeting. On July 25, Indian and Chinese military and diplomatic officials held a regular meeting on the “Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border.”
Global Times believes this is a sign that the border issue is not just a military one, but a strategic one at the political and diplomatic level. Business Standard reported that this was also supported by India’s Deputy Foreign Minister for East Asia, Naveen Srivastava, during a meeting of senior military personnel on Saturday. At the same time, The Indian Express, citing unnamed sources, noted that the two sides had agreed to demarcate the Gogra area. This is one of the key patrols on the actual Line of Control. As for another region, Hot Springs, there is currently no consensus. Proposals are being made by the government and details of how to withdraw are being discussed. The source did not rule out possible movements in the coming days.
With India beginning to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic that especially ripped through the country in April and May, the government can finally take normal steps to resolve the situation with China. This will also be seemingly more straightforward since the wave of chauvinism and nationalism in Indian and Chinese media has subsided, suggesting that the two countries are indeed prepared to resolve the dispute.
Maintaining good relations with China is also important for the development of the Indian economy. The Modi government currently maintains a high approval rating – around 70 percent. It is likely that attempting to find peace with China will lead to attacks from the Indian opposition against the ruling government, with arguments that reconciliation with the East Asian country is betraying the memories of Indian martyrs who died fighting Chinese soldiers in the mountainous border region.
None-the-less, at Saturday’s meeting, the Chinese and Indian militaries agreed to quickly resolve outstanding issues on the Line of Control, maintaining the momentum of dialogue and negotiations. Washington will be watching this development, hoping that a rapprochement between New Delhi and Beijing will not be achieved as it could undermine the QUAD (U.S., India, Japan and Australia) anti-China coalition that has been formed. QUAD was established to contain China in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly at sea. If the two Asian Giants were to resolve their issues, it would bring to question the purpose of India’s participation in such a formation, and thus weaken Washington’s capabilities to challenge China.
There is a long way to go for China and India to resolve their issues, but both understand they have a lot to gain from strong economic relations. Continued dialogue over the border dispute has reversed intense suspicion and turned it into mild optimism, but Washington will be watching these developments, and perhaps even try to undermine them.
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