China has once again blocked India’s application for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). At the 27th plenary session of the NSG, held at Bern on 22-23 June 2017, China continued to insist that the group should formulate the criteria for the admission of new members first, before making exceptions for any country.
China holds the view that NSG membership should be given to Pakistan as well along with India, despite latter’s abysmal record as the world’s worst proliferator.
It is also expected that China’s ‘technical hold’ on Masood Azhar, head of the Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), being designated an international terrorist by the United Nations sanctions committee, will continue.
Although India was finally admitted as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at the Astana summit on 9 June 2017, China made sure that Pakistan was given the same status simultaneously.
In the past, China has objected to India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) prospecting for oil off the coast of Vietnam after winning a contract from its government, even though the area was within Vietnam’s territorial waters.
China, of course, claims the complete South China Sea as its territorial waters in complete disregard of the Law of the Sea treaty.
China’s leadership hardly misses an opportunity to express its discomfiture with India over inconsequential issues. For example, in March 2017, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it was “strongly dissatisfied” with India for inviting the Dalai Lama to open an international Buddhist conference in Nalanda, Bihar.
Beijing protested even more loudly when the Dalai Lama visited Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh a few weeks later.
Dealing With the Dragon
- China continues to stick to its stand at NSG meet that the group formulates criteria before inducting new members.
- Last year China had refused to back India’s demand of declaring Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a UN-designated terrorist.
- China has used state media to express its uneasiness over issues like ONGC bagging contract in Vietnam or Modi’s visit to US.
- China’s mouthpiece, The Global Times, had warned India of consequences after Delhi decided not to attend One-Belt-One-Road summit.
- Apart from the US, India should reach out to strategic partners like Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam to counter China.
Waging War Through Media
The Chinese state-controlled media have made it a habit to periodically warn India of dire consequences on one pretext or another. A few examples from the Global Times, a Communist Party-controlled English language newspaper, should suffice to show China’s efforts to raise the ante through media.
A commentary in the paper earlier this year warned India not to ‘meddle’ as China’s defence minister visited Nepal and Sri Lanka. A recent editorial threatened to engage India in a ‘geopolitical game’.
With a GDP several times higher than that of India, military capabilities that can reach the Indian Ocean and having good relations with India’s peripheral nations, coupled with the fact that India’s turbulent northern state borders China, if China engages in a geopolitical game with India, will Beijing lose to New Delhi?The Global Times editorial
The ‘turbulent northern state’ clearly refers to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
India’s refusal to participate in President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Forum – a summit-level meeting – prompted the Global Times to warn India once again that its short-sighted attitude could damage Sino-Indian relations.
On other occasions, the Global Times has warned India to resist the temptation of resorting to ‘protectionism’, in a bid to shield local mobile phone makers and threatened to take counter measures; and, advised India not to play the ‘Taiwan card’. After India had tested the Agni 4 ballistic missile, an editorial pointed out ominously that if the development of long-range missiles by India continues, “The range of Pakistan's nuclear missiles will also see an increase.”
Most recently, commenting on the establishment of the India-Afghanistan direct air freight corridor (Pakistan denies India access to Afghanistan through the land route), the Global Times called the plan India’s “stubborn geopolitical thinking”. China is deeply suspicious of the growing Indo-US strategic partnership and on the eve of Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with President Donald Trump, it said that a close watch would be kept on discussions that follow.
Clearly, despite a stable relationship at the strategic level, China is annoyed with India and the reason is not difficult to discern. China thinks of itself as a great power and, as part of its grand strategy, seeks to dominate the region and gain geo-political influence. Also, the Chinese leadership believes in China’s “political, social and cultural superiority over its neighbours”. In short, the Chinese believe that their civilisation is far superior to the civilisations of its neighbours.
According to a Chinese saying, “One mountain can accommodate only one tiger.” The Chinese look at themselves as the tiger on the Asian mountain and there is no place for a second tiger like India.
If India were to play second fiddle, there would be more frequent noise around the deceptively enthralling slogan of the 1950s: Hindi-Chini, bhai-bhai.
India’s Defence Strategy
India is conscious that China’s growing power and influence pose a long-term strategic challenge for the entire Indo-Pacific region. However, India is itself growing at a rapid rate and is confident of closing the gap quickly.
Resurgent India, poised at a breakout moment in its history, looks at itself as an equal power in Asia – a rising power that is conscious of its regional responsibilities and increasingly more willing to contribute positively to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and the security of the global commons.
The China-India geo-political stand-off is a clash of two competing worldviews and will not end any time soon. China is engaged in the strategic encirclement of India through its proxies like Pakistan and its ‘string of pearls’ strategy in the northern Indian Ocean. In the South China Sea dispute as well, China has exhibited extremely belligerent attitude.
To counter China’s increasing military assertiveness, India should join hands with the United States and other strategic partners, such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam, to establish a cooperative security framework for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
And, as long as the territorial dispute with China is not resolved and transgressions by patrols from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continue across the Line of Actual Control, India should keep its powder dry. As for the membership of the NSG, India should be ready to fight a long battle ahead.
(Gurmeet Kanwal is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. He can be reached @gurmeetkanwal. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)