Great Power Strategy: China and India to withdraw troops means relations warming up? Indian scholars: not yet!

The tenth round of talks between the Chinese and Indian armies at the military chief level decided to “disengage” the two sides at the Line of Actual Control in the western section of the border, pictured here as Indian troops captured the withdrawal of PLA troops.

After months of confrontation between the Chinese Communist Party and India over the disputed border in the Himalayas, the two armies issued a joint statement saying the two sides have completed disengagement, or withdrawal, from the disputed border in the Bangong Lake area. This is the final easing of long-standing tensions along the border between India and China since June 2020, when a bloody clash between Chinese and Indian troops left 20 dead in India and four claimed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor at the Center for East Asian Studies at the Institute of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (India), noted that the tenth round of military commander-level talks between the two armies decided to “disengage” between the two sides at the Line of Actual Control in the western section of the border. The two sides have decided to “disengage” on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector of the border, with four or five other disputed border points and bilateral consultations on withdrawal.

India Flame University (Flame University) Department of Social Sciences associate professor, director of the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies Liu Qifeng pointed out that, according to Indian media reports, the western section of the border Aksai Chin has been completely withdrawn, close to the withdrawal of troops in the Sikkim section of Donglang is still underway, China and India back to the posture before the bloody conflict in June 2020. There are eight small mountain ranges on the northern shore of Bangong Lake, and now the PLA is retreating eastward and the Indians are retreating westward, with India backing off a bit more to return to its pre-bloodshed state, leaving the middle of the disputed border a no-man’s land.

Eight months after the bloody clashes between the two armies on the Sino-Indian border broke out, and after a scorching mountain standoff, what made the two sides finally agree to withdraw their troops?

Chinese and Indian troops have been withdrawing one after another at five locations along the border.

Liu Qifeng pointed out that there is a complete mechanism for negotiations between China and India on the border issue, from the theater commanders, to high-ranking officers, and even at the level of the central government and leaders. The key is the will of the top, which has a lot to do with the strategy of both sides at the national level. Indian media reported that the success of this withdrawal negotiation is the will of the top leadership in Beijing, because Beijing is facing a very delicate period of adjustment in Sino-US relations in the face of US President Biden‘s ascension to power, and both sides have to test each other, so the Chinese side first eases the situation around them so that they can have some leverage when dealing with the US.

On February 25, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke with Indian Foreign Minister Su Jaisheng, who said that the border issue is not the whole story of Sino-Indian relations and that it is important to stick to the general direction of the two emerging economies to develop hand in hand and move forward side by side instead of holding each other back.

Does the withdrawal of Chinese and Indian troops mean that China-India relations have warmed up?

Xie Gang said: “Not yet”. He said the process of “disengagement” between the two countries’ armies has not been completed, and bilateral relations, including investment and diplomacy, have not been able to make substantial progress. He noted that last June, when India and China were still in talks, there was a bloody conflict. Therefore, although China and India have now reached an agreement on “disengagement,” it will take some Time to determine whether the conflict has indeed been successfully resolved, and only then will bilateral relations between China and India, including investment, the BRICS summit or other areas, begin to progress.

India needs to see what Medicine the Chinese Communist Party is selling in the gourd

Liu Qifeng pointed out that the Sino-Indian border détente was initiated by the Chinese Communist Party, and India is still observing it. Some Indian public opinion questions what strategic considerations are behind the Chinese Communist Party, and the Indian side’s attitude now is to wait and see first. Indian Foreign Minister Su Jaisheng proposed early this year that there are eight principles to restore normal Sino-Indian relations, of which the Sino-Indian border is the most important core issue. This time, India and China can reach an agreement on the withdrawal of troops is indeed faster than expected. Other sources say India hopes to resolve the border issue within two to three months so that Xi can be invited to the BRICS summit to thaw bilateral relations. However, the Indian side is still watching the Chinese side, the situation is still unclear, the U.S. policy towards China and towards East Asia is still unclear, India must watch. India welcomes the olive branch from the Chinese side, but India does not trust the Chinese Communist Party and wants to see what medicine the Chinese Communist Party is selling in the gourd.

Indian Foreign Minister Su Jaisheng earlier this year proposed eight principles to restore normal Sino-Indian relations, of which the Sino-Indian border is the most important core issue.

Liu Qifeng said that China-India relations are short and long. China-India relations are like a pendulum, which started well, then deteriorated due to the border issue, the pendulum swung to the worst, and recently turned good. However, if the border issue is not resolved between the two rising powers, even if bilateral relations improve temporarily, it may not last long. Even if Xi and Modi meet at this year’s BRICS meeting, it will be in a multilateral format. Modi and Xi have already met twice, so if the two leaders cannot improve China-India relations in person, it would not be a big step forward if they meet in a multilateral format at the BRICS summit later this year. It’s not a big step forward.

Xie Gang said that last year’s BRICS summit, which was chaired by Russia, was held online because of the Epidemic, and this year it will be chaired by India, and whether it will still be held online or physically depends on the epidemic. However, both countries have soldiers killed in action at the border, and it would not be appropriate for the leaders of the two countries to meet to shake hands and smile for photos, unless China makes a major declaration of never entering the country.

Talking about the development of Indo-US relations after Biden came to power, Xie Gang said that Indo-US relations are better than Indo-Chinese relations. He stressed that it is the border issue, not Indo-US relations, that is hindering Indo-Chinese relations.

India-China deficit has become a political issue

And just after the withdrawal of Chinese and Indian troops to ease border tensions, Reuters reported that the Indian side considered approving 45 Chinese investment plans, but the news was denied by Indian officials the next day. Xie Gang pointed out that the key issue of China-India trade and economic cooperation is the trade deficit, trade deficit, the Indian government told China must invest in India to reduce the deficit, but China, including state-owned enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises, the cumulative amount of investment in India 8.2 billion U.S. dollars, far less than Singapore or the Netherlands and other small countries cumulative investment in India up to 20 or 30 billion U.S. dollars. Xie Gang said China, the world’s second largest economy, has not been increasing its investment in India. When Xi Jinping visited India in 2014, he promised to invest $20 billion in India over five years, but only $2 billion has been put in place. Xie Gang believes China may not want to invest in India for security reasons, territorial disputes, or other reasons, or fears that investing in India may help it rise. This is as much a political issue as U.S.-China trade.

India, in addition to facing a serious domestic epidemic, has also seen large-scale protests by farmers against the Indian government’s reforms to liberalize the sale of agricultural products.

Liu Qifeng pointed out that Modi’s GDP growth target for his second term hopes to reach $5 trillion. To achieve this goal, Modi hopes that manufacturing can be localized or foreign technology can be transferred to India. However, it is now India’s export of raw materials to China in exchange for China’s import of high unit price processed products, which is very uneconomical for India. Liu Qifeng pointed out that the trade deficit between India and China is also the reason why India does not join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), if joined may make India’s deficit more serious.

Biden’s Indo-Pacific policy is not yet clear India adopts strategic contraction

Associate Professor at the Center for Liberal Studies at Tsinghua University in Taiwan, Deputy Director of the India Center, and former diplomatic official in India, Tien Chi, analyzed that India has fewer leverage to use in the face of China, such as the Tibet card, or the recent proposal to strengthen India’s relationship with Taiwan. Last year, India chose to move closer to the Indo-Pacific strategy, strengthened the relationship between Australia and Japan, and also signed a logistics supply agreement, but it did not solve the problem of the Sino-Indian border conflict. In other words, China is not backing off from the pressure. Another variable is related to the United States, the world is looking at Biden’s policy towards China and the Indo-Pacific policy after taking power, India is also waiting to see, under this uncertainty, if India has to rely on the Indo-Pacific strategy to check and balance with China, whether it can be effective to play a question mark.

Not coincidentally, with limited foreign aid, India is facing a serious domestic epidemic in addition to the recent mass protests by farmers against the Indian government’s reforms to liberalize the sale of agricultural products. These uncertainties and pressures have caused India to fear the effectiveness of a tough confrontation with China, and thus to adopt a strategic contraction and negotiate a withdrawal agreement with China. China also hopes that the tensions along the border will end in stages. China is watching the U.S. on the one hand, and has its own important political agenda, including the centennial of the Communist Party and the Beijing Winter Olympics, both of which require international support, so it is taking a relatively compromising approach to the India issue. So far, it seems that Biden has come to power without elevated confrontation between China and the United States. There is also no political benefit if China and India elevate the conflict, and both China and India are waiting to see what U.S. policy will be.