Beyond the sabre-rattling

| Updated on June 17, 2020

India and China must focus on the challenges posed by Covid. It's time for diplomacy to take over

The army’s baying for blood and the public’s incensed after the most serious violence in decades between India and China. But the government’s moved swiftly to make any battlefield option less likely. Soon after the Galwan Valley clash, diplomatic machinery whirred into action, leading to a telephone conversation between Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and his counterpart, Wang Yi. The fact the politicians now are talking may mean some hope for de-escalation in coming days despite the terrible death toll. Both sides must hope for a peaceful resolution. particularly because we’re already fighting a massive battle against Covid-19. Certainly, from our side, this Covid-19 struggle is already threatening to stretch our finances beyond repair.

It’s also to be hoped the brutal Galwan Valley encounter won’t prove to be a watershed that puts bilateral relations on an ever-downward slope. There’s always been a suspicious undercurrent in India’s dealings with China, a holdover from the 1962 war. Unless both sides undertake strong confidence-building measures to rescue the “spirit of Wuhan”, that legacy will loom ever larger, an unfortunate development because India-China economic engagement has started attaining meaningful levels. Indian pharma companies are making strides into China’s lucrative drug market, the second-largest globally. Chinese electronics firms like Xiaomi and Oppo hold top spots in India’s mobile-phone sector and are looking to expand, supplying crucial jobs. Other Chinese giants like Tencent and Alibaba have invested in star start-ups like Paytm, Ola and Swiggy. Chinese auto company Shanghai Motor Corp has come to India using the MG badge. In remarkably unfortunate timing, China’s Great Wall Motors signed a $1-billion MOU with Maharashtra on the day of the skirmish.

India now must make its diplomatic moves very cautiously at a global level. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s been moving ever closer to the US and getting more deeply involved in the Quad, which China sees as aimed at containing its ambitions. Modi’s attempted to balance this with one-to-one meetings with Xi Jinping, at Wuhan and most recently, at Mamallapuram. Of late, India’s withdrawn the welcome mat to some extent by laying down new investment rules intended to make it tougher for Chinese companies to invest here. The Chinese are also said to be annoyed by Modi’s recent virtual summit with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom the Chinese regard as a Beijing-baiter. Even though China sees itself as a global superpower, it’s extremely insecure about its global position, partly because it’s hemmed in by 14 land-based neighbours, three of which — Russia, India and Vietnam — have powerful armies. In addition, China has disputes with almost all countries in the South China Sea. An unsure China is one that has a tendency to lash out. We can’t afford to forget we share a nearly 4,000-km border with China. We must navigate ties carefully between it and the US.

Published on June 17, 2020

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