After BRICS: new strains in Sino-Indian ties

By Shastri Ramachandaran
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 1, 2016
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Relations between India and China, which have taken a hit in recent months, are not showing signs of improvement. Any hope that the 8th BRICS summit - in Goa on October 15-16 - would see the ties mending and the Asian giants striving for greater cohesion in multilateral forums was dashed to the ground. In no small measure this failure to revive any warmth in bilateral relations - be it at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, the East Asia Summit in Laos or BRICS in Goa - may be attributed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's single-point agenda to "isolate" Pakistan as the "mothership" of terrorism.

Far from isolating Pakistan, the campaign has only embarrassed the India at home and abroad. The negative outcome of this campaign, with the U.S., Russia and the U.K. along with China rejecting New Delhi's case against Islamabad, shows that the Indian government miscalculated.

The campaign also painted China as "Pakistan's friend" that held out against the attempt to "isolate" Pakistan. This aspect of the campaign was latched onto by other political parties and influenced public sentiment to the extent that Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now under pressure to confront China for its alleged support to Pakistan. The anti-China mood in India today is such that, even without any explicit official sanction, the clamor for boycott of Chinese goods is spreading.

The politics of this drive to boycott Chinese goods do not make economic or diplomatic sense. A boycott would hit Indian traders and importers more than it would hurt China. Many of the goods imported from China are being sold as "Made in India" because traders fear the wrath of those rooting for a boycott and are anxious to offload the large stocks of Chinese goods imported over the months. As the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi said in a statement, the boycott will not have much impact on China as India accounted for a mere 2 percent of all Chinese exports in 2015 (amounting to US$2276.5 billion). The greater concern is the boycott's negative impact on Chinese investments in India and bilateral cooperation.

In diplomatic terms, it does not make sense to let ties worsen because of differences over India's entry into NSG, Beijing's attempts to block a UN ban on JeM Chief Masood Azhar and China's bond with Pakistan. As much as China, the U.S., Russia and the U.K. have refused to line up behind India against Pakistan. To persist with such a campaign to "hurt" China and Pakistan would also hurt India and its standing in the eyes of the world.

The tensions between India and China are, doubtless, heightened by New Delhi moving closer to Washington.

One way to address that concern is for India to deal with China as the U.S. does - and not as the U.S. asks India to do. U.S.-China ties are instructive on how to maintain ties even in critical times. Neither Washington nor Beijing allows a setback to their interests or strategic goals upset the balance of their economic, political and diplomatic relations.

Consider, for instance, the South China Sea issue. Beijing has got the better of Washington for now with the Philippines jettisoning the U.S. and joining hands with China. Although the U.S. has lost face in its tussle with China - while India has suffered no loss of face whatsoever in its dealings with China - the U.S. is not ranting or breathing fire against China.

To the contrary, U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus says: "We Americans have an obligation to come to China, to learn more about China. Why? Because with each passing day, it's going to be more and more in our future."

In an interview to National Public Radio (NPR) of the U.S., Baucus said that to avoid conflict, Chinese and Americans both need to think more deeply and creatively about their relationship. That means becoming more familiar with each other.

The greater the setback, the stronger is the case for knowing each other better and talking more. That's how Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee dealt with Pakistan and terrorism from its soil. That is exactly what Washington does in its relations with Beijing.

Sino-Indian relations call for such statesmanship where both sides recognize that mutual interests outweigh differences. The talks this week between the National Security Advisors of India and China could be an opportunity for moving in that direction.

The author is an independent New Delhi-based journalist writing on global affairs for Indian, Chinese and international media. He worked as senior editor and writer with leading dailies in India and China, including The Times of India, The Tribune, China Daily and Global Times. He can be reached at:

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