From the Viewsroom

Seeing China as a ‘frenemy’

Venky Vembu | Updated on July 07, 2020

Despite the Galwan pullback, Sino-Indian ties are complex

Going by the triumphalist hysteria on Indian television screens following the announcement of a disengagement of Chinese and Indian forces along the Line of Actual Control, it is easy to fall into the error of imagining that all is, and will continue to be, quiet on India’s North-Eastern front. However, Indian Generals and strategic thinkers, who have a history of playing hardball with Chinese interlocutors, are clearer in their assessments that while the disengagement is welcome — and the two nuclear-armed military giants have pulled back from the brink — the road to continuing peace and tranquillity is paved with many perils.

Still, there are important takeaways for India from the weeks-long bloody stand-off in the Ladakh frontier. One of these relates to the realisation in the Army and the political establishment that even given the asymmetry of power, and of economic clout, between the two countries, India still has command of critical levers with which to blunt China’s unbridled aggression.

Strikingly, India’s strategic and diplomatic communities spoke in virtually one voice and acknowledged the reality that a reassessment of India’s civilisational relationship is in order. The two countries may never be able to recreate the ‘Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai’ bonhomie of the 1950s; and while greater trade integration yielded a peace dividend for a while, excessive economic dependence on Chinese supply chains is self-defeating in an era when trade relations can be weaponised.

In such a context, some analysts reckon that India and China are fated to remain “frenemies” — entities that share the characteristics of both friends and enemies. For reasons that have puzzled observers around the world, China has in recent years been demonstrating a dark side of its admirable economic rise. And as a country that shares a 4,000-km border (much of it disputed) with China, India is rather more susceptible to Chinese muscle-flexing. For sure, India should always be open to avenues that advance good neighbourly relations; but romanticism must never override the need for clear-headed pragmatism of the sort we now see.

Published on July 07, 2020

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