G Parthasarathy

India on right track in curtailing China

G Parthasarathy | Updated on July 27, 2020

We have been ratcheting up economic sanctions and screening Chinese investments. Also, closer ties with Taiwan will help

India and China have returned to the path of negotiations, after the recent tensions and violence in Ladakh. Twenty Indian soldiers lost their lives during the stand-off in Ladakh. According to American media estimates, 43 Chinese soldiers were killed in the hand-to-hand combat in Ladakh. China has acknowledged that it did face casualties. But it has refused to spell out the names and numbers of those killed.

It is now clear that the Chinese intrusion was carefully planned, well in advance, with troops participating in a military exercise in Tibet moving into Ladakh. The Chinese were determined to respond to measures being taken by India to improve road and air connectivity in Ladakh, along the borders with China. The aim was clearly to disrupt road connections to the strategic Indian airport in Daulat Beg Oldi, which is located very close to the border with Aksai Chin.

Aksai Chin links China’s Buddhist dominated Tibet Province with the country’s alienated and restive population in the Muslim dominated Xinjiang Province. China stands accused of horrendous human rights violations on its Muslim population, in Xinjiang.

It is now clear that China has no intention of honouring its commitment any time soon to withdraw its forces from the Pangong Tso and Hot Springs areas, though it has abided by its commitment to withdraw from specified areas in the Galwan Valley. There have unfortunately been shortcomings in our intelligence gathering, about the massive movement of an estimated 40,000 Chinese troops and tanks into Ladakh.

The negotiations ahead are going to be prolonged. It is time India firmed up its position and insisted that border talks are meaningless unless China clearly spells out in its maps, where its version of the “Line of Control,” emerging from the 1962 conflict, lies. By remaining vague on where exactly their borders lie, the Chinese reserve the right to move their troops into any area they claim is “disputed”. This prevents any possibility of resolving differences on the border.

Diplomatic developments

China’s massive aggression in Ladakh and its inability to achieve what it can claim is strategic success, has triggered diplomatic developments that Beijing will not find gratifying. China received an unexpected jolt to its policies of coercively violating the maritime boundaries of all its neighbours, including Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Leaders of the 10 Asean countries demanded on June 27 that territorial and other differences in the South China Sea should be settled in accordance with the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). China, however, remains defiant and refuses to implement the verdict of a UN Tribunal rejecting its arbitrary maritime boundary claims. China, thus, has disputed borders all across the Indo-Pacific region, which makes its claims of being a peace-loving country, questionable

China has crudely used its maritime military power to enforce its illegal claims against countries like Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. The maritime space China claims contains 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. China, now faces ten Asean countries, which have collectively objected to its bullying and territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. Moreover, there is seething anger in the US over the fact that the coronavirus emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The US has, meanwhile, resorted to a display of military power. It has deployed two aircraft-carriers in the South China Sea, directly challenging China’s coercive policies. Adding to China’s woes are the pressures from the US and others for its actions in curbing democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, in violation of China’s 1997 agreement with the UK on Hong Kong. The US and Japan are also considering moves to dilute their existing economic relationships with China, even as Beijing seeks to build a new relationship with Iran, involving an investment of $400 billion in that country.

India is ratcheting up economic sanctions and conditionalities on China, in a calibrated manner. Chinese investments are being carefully screened and restricted. Huawei has now been excluded from consideration for 5G services. Action is on to exclude Chinese companies from participation in all government-run services and projects. It would also be useful to insist on a progressively increasing the Indian input in Chinese projects in areas like solar energy. India’s policies on project imports from China should be based on getting a progressively increasing and time-bound indigenous content.

But China has innovative ways of getting around these bottlenecks, by routing its exports through Asean countries, which enjoy duty-free entry to India.

Much greater scrutiny is required on such issues. It is fortuitous that India declined to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which would have given Chinese goods duty-free access into India.

India must now pay increasing attention to the development of its electronics industry, which is vital in areas ranging from space and defence to computers and machinery. India can never be a leader in industrial activity without a robust electronics industry. Sadly, not enough has been done in this sphere in our country.

The one country we need to cultivate, and have not done so because of misguided political reasons, is Taiwan. Taiwan has a dominant global role in the production semiconductors, which are described as the “brains of electronics, from mobile phones to cars and fighter jets”. Faced with threats from Xi Jinping’s China, Taiwan has built a formidable air force, complemented by a modern navy and army. Both China and the US are heavily dependent on Taiwan for its semiconductors.

Taiwan recently signed a $12-billion deal with the US on building a semiconductor manufacturing plant in the US. The time has surely come for India to imaginatively finalise an investment and technology partnership with Taiwan, particularly in the development of its electronics industry.

Published on July 27, 2020

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