National and International Issues

Ladakh China-India Standoff: Significance of Demarcated Boundaries and Challenges of Coexistence

Post-Independence Blunder: Ignoring Boundaries 
The proverb ‘good fences make good neighbors’ simply means that neighbors are best able to maintain a positive relationship when they don’t intrude upon or harm each other’s land. It is on this dictum that most states around the globe generally base their foreign policies, leading them to accord high priority to border demarcation, reflecting the significance attached to maintenance, inviolability and sovereignty of international borders. This act rewards states with an irritant-free relationship with their neighbors, also reflecting the realities and compulsions of coexistence. Right at the outset of its independence in 1947, this sagaciousness somehow regretfully escaped the leadership of India. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the leading stalwarts of the independence movement in India, in his quest to lead the global anti-colonial movement and be an example for others to follow, forgot that ‘charity begins at home’ and that freedom also meant freeing oneself from a colonial mindset. The post-colonial journey which freed Nehru from the stranglehold of foreign masters should have given him the wisdom that the path of liberty also requires reaching out to the neighbors to remove doubts that had accumulated during the colonial period; colonial rulers’ model of governance was based on the sheer arrogance of power which newer states could neither espouse nor practice. It was revolutionary China, a ‘giant’ of a neighbor with which India desired good relations as Nehru considered that India and China share commonalities not only of sharing borders but also of breaking through the colonial and imperial ‘chains’. However, India’s desire for normal relations with China did not match its policies as its neighbor, as reflected in the leadership according low priority to boundary demarcation with China. It is no surprise that history has not been kind to India and its leadership for having unnecessarily dragged the boundary demarcation issue; if the issue was tackled at the right time, the painful fallout and accompanying criticism, both within India and abroad, could have been avoided. 
Compared to Pakistan’s relations with China in the early fifties, India had far better ties with China, but history records that Pakistan had better wisdom. The 1954 ‘China-India Trade and Intercourse Agreement’ signed by Nehru and Prime Minister Zhou Enlai was based on the Five Principles of Coexistence (Panchsheel) which initiated the bilateral relationship. Subsequently, this positive development was followed by an ‘incendiary’ development; maps issued by India showed the disputed Aksai Chin region to be a part of India. According to China, the McMahon Line was illegal and Aksai Chin was an undisputed part of its territory. This uncalled for development muddied the waters; the 1954 Agreement could have been the harbinger of enlarging the relationship, but the bilateral ties suffered through India’s miscalculation of China’s strong stand on the issue of border demarcation and sovereignty of its territory. 
History records that China, in its usual matured handling of relations with other states, especially its neighbors, reached out to India to amicably settle the ‘thorny’ issue. Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, in April 1962, proposed to his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Nehru, a comprehensive settlement of the border demarcation, an east-west territorial swap in which Chinese control over the Aksai Chin and Indian control over the southern slope of Himalayas was to be acknowledged. Not surprisingly, Nehru rejected the offer. Consequently, India’s political wrangling over the demarcation of its border with China and its mishandling over the Tibet issue cascaded, leading to the two countries going to war in October 1962, with India experiencing a humiliating defeat. Premier Nehru never recovered from this humiliation. The basis of mistrust was also laid; India continues to carry that avoidable baggage and has the longest unsettled land border in the world, even after more than seven decades of independence. Late Jaswant Singh, a top political leader of India, acknowledged that his country ignored at its peril ‘the hard-headed pragmatism of Mao Zedong, Marshal Chen Yi and Premier Zhou Enlai, and that India approached the immediate post-independence years fired by the zeal of an idealist’. The result was that its policies were sharply distinct and stood apart from that of China’s approach of a no-nonsense realist. China’s stated policy of One China, the return of Hong Kong and Macau to the ‘motherland’ and Taiwan as a ‘renegade province’ – vowing to eventually “unify” Taiwan with the mainland – is reflective of its uncompromising policy on the sovereignty of its territory. It is now well known that revolutionary China’s total preoccupation was with settled boundaries and India’s relative indifference to borders is in itself a lesson in statecraft to be emulated by other states at its peril. 
Demarcating the Borders: Reflecting Prudence 
On the other side, reflecting foresight and shrewdness, Pakistan, another of China’s neighbors, formally approached China to negotiate a border agreement in March 1961. China responded most favorably and both states agreed on a formula of mutual accommodation. Decades of continuing strong bilateral relationship reflect that border demarcation was a solid basis for bilateral trust. The agreement yielded ‘strategic, political, and economic benefits’ becoming a significant landmark that built greater trust between the two neighboring countries and provided a solid foundation for forging a closer partnership. 
The record of the agreement reflects that there is little truth in India’s allegation that while signing the border agreement, Pakistan had ceded a part of Kashmir’s territory to China, as during the colonial period there were no recognized borders, thus ‘there could be no question of any such giveaway’. Pakistan did not transfer any territory that was under its control. Pakistan’s initiative to reach out to China to demarcate the border was a wise and realistic approach done in the face of possible U.S. pressure and sanctions. To put it in a nutshell, the border demarcation enlarged the bilateral ties and concurrently, with China’s willingness to negotiate the border with Pakistan, treaties were concluded by the two countries enhancing economic cooperation. Added to this, is that the boundary so demarcated between Pakistan and China was part of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir under the administrative control of Pakistan and the border agreement of 1963 between them clearly states that the agreement is subject to the final settlement of the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. So in the interim, there are no border issues between the two countries any longer.
China-India Border – LoC and LAC: Difference and Significance
India and China have not been able to agree on international borders even after the lapse of seven decades. One opinion is that it is an ill-defined 3,440 km (2,100-mile-long) disputed border. With rivers, lakes and snowcaps, some believe that the absence of a clear border demarcation along the frontier means the line can shift, bringing soldiers face to face at many points, which at times leads to a confrontation. After the 1962 Sino-India conflict, China was able to assert its control over the disputed territories, particularly in Ladakh. Thus came the concept of Line of Actual Control (LAC), mentioned in a bilateral agreement of 1993. But the two sides have no agreement on the position and location of the LAC and they do not even agree upon its total length, thus the June 2020 brief but the fierce clash was no surprise. According to India, it is 3,400 km long, while China considers it to be just half of that. Before the 2020 China-India standoff, the last shot that was fired in anger was on the Nathu La border in 1967, more than 50 years ago; a series of border clashes between India and China alongside the border of the Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim. Therefore, it is no surprise that Tansen Sen, a well known regional expert, looking at the 2020 China-India standoff was very close to reality when he commented that the ‘unresolved border’ issue between China and India is no doubt a major hurdle that needs to be crossed over before substantial confidence is built between the people of the two countries. India’s continuing rigidness, bordering on sheer arrogance has been the ‘engine’ or ‘oxygen’ driving India's successive leadership to reject or postpone having a substantive discussion with China to resolve the decades-old border demarcation. 
In the context of 2020 face-off between China and India, it may be important to understand the difference and legal distinction between the Line of Control (LoC) of Pakistan and India and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) of China and India. Generally accepted, the LAC is a line that serves as an international border between India and China. It is delimited through certain legal instruments, including old border treaties, but largely represents the positions of both sides on the ground that is a consequence of state practice between the two neighbors. The LAC is a lengthy international frontier with three main sectors: eastern (Sikkim), western (Ladakh), and central (Nepal), each having peculiar legal features. The Indian position on border disputes is surprisingly contradictory in all three sectors whereas China has implemented a consistent policy to assert the executive authority of its government over the chunks of land it claims all along the length of the LAC. On the other side, the LoC dividing India and Pakistan is set up in a completely different legal context and is not an issue merely of a bilateral nature. The LoC is the eventual legal outcome of chapters 6 and 7 under the UN Charter. Given the presence of the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), the legal basis and environment of the LoC are distinguishable from the LAC. 
Background to 2020 Standoff: Modi’s Abrogation of Article 370 and Carving out Disputed Ladakh as a Separate Territory – Miscalculations and Disastrous Consequences Intertwined
In late May 2019, Chinese forces objected to the Indian road construction in the Galwan River Valley, which later saw Chinese and Indian troops engaged in aggressive melee, face-offs and skirmishes at locations along the Sino-Indian border including near the disputed Pangong Lake in Ladakh and Tibet Autonomous Region, and near the border between Sikkim and Tibet Autonomous Region. These clashes caused multiple deaths on both sides, more on the Indian side. Additional clashes also took place at locations in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The loss of lives of Indian and Chinese soldiers and loss of face by India could have been avoided if the Modi-led government had carried out the desired discussions internally, both within the political circles and military leadership along with diplomatic exchanges with the Government of China. Subsequent events proved that this Indian-created disaster was leading to a planned, or ill-planned, constitutional remodeling of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), which was executed in August 2019. 
India’s ambition to graduate to the exclusive club of the permanent category of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) goes against the very grain of the United Nations principles, which calls for its strict adherence by all member states. For the last seven decades, India has thrown to the wind the peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite under relevant UN Security Council resolutions, which India had agreed to in 1948. The United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 47 on April 21, 1948, stipulated that both India and Pakistan should withdraw their military forces and arrange for a plebiscite to be held in order to provide the people of Kashmir with the choice of which state to join. It was thus in the same arrogant disposition that on August 5, 2019, the Indian government suddenly announced the revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution, which grants the Indian illegally occupied State of Jammu and Kashmir considerable political autonomy. The Indian government – with an argument that has no legs to stand on – stated ‘this is a long-overdue measure that will help to stabilize the situation by integrating the state fully into India’. As feared that this move only added fuel to the flames in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the Kashmiris were already up in arms against the Indian occupation force and the act of revocation left them with no choice but to protest more strongly. 
Pakistan’s reaction was one of outrage. Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan stated unequivocally that ‘India’s move violates UN Resolutions’. The reaction of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of the Army Staff, was equally strong, ‘Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end…We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfill our obligations in this regard.’ Apart from the revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution, the Modi Government also changed Jammu and Kashmir's classification from a state to, what in the Indian constitutional system is called, a union territory, and carved off Ladakh into a separate union territory. While India may have taken into account the reaction of Pakistan to the revocation, but as usual its poor homework, coupled with haughtiness, was an obstacle to Prime Minister Modi and his close advisers' foresight. They forgot that China too was part of the disputed Kashmir territory and carving out Ladakh from IIOJK into a union territory would invite a strong reaction from China. 
The Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson objected to the formation of Ladakh as a union territory highlighting China's claims over the area and stated very firmly, ‘China always opposes India's inclusion of Chinese territory in the western section of the China-India boundary under its administrative jurisdiction’. The statement added that ‘This position is firm and consistent and has never changed and the recent unilateral revision of domestic laws by the Indian side continues to undermine China's territorial sovereignty, which is unacceptable and will not have any effect’. The statement ended with advising India ‘to be cautious in its words and actions on the boundary issue, strictly abide by the relevant agreements reached between the two sides and avoid any move that further complicates the boundary issue.’ India’s response to China’s very clear protest was couched in the usual diplomatic jargon, ‘India and China have agreed to a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement of the boundary question based on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of India-China Boundary Question’.
China’s claims on the Aksai Chin, of which Ladakh is a part, added to Ladakh’s territorial contiguity to Xinjiang directly to the north and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of BRI, running close to the disputed territory is a highly inflammatory making of a geopolitical dispute. In addition, China rightly kept its access over the ridges overlooking the road to thwart any future attempt by India to disconnect CPEC or the highway connecting Xinjiang with Tibet. Regional experts continue to be perplexed that India did not anticipate the implications of its action for China and Pakistan’s territorial interests along the LAC and LoC respectively. They considered it amateurish to think that Beijing and Islamabad would not respond strategically to this shrewd trick; the Indian side missed, one wonders, before its ill-conceived and internally unconstitutional decision to dismantle the illegally occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir, redrawing maps to suit its advantage in an action involving both China and Pakistan. China, with an uncharacteristic wave of a big geopolitical stick, responded and it was this crisis that Delhi faced in Pangong Lake, the Galwan River Valley, and other parts of the Himalayan borderlands in June 2020. The Galwan Valley, located in eastern Ladakh, is a strategic area that gets its name from Galwan River which originates from the Aksai Chin region and joins the Shyok River. It is close to the vital road link to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), the world’s highest landing ground next to the LAC, and serves as an important aerial supply line.
How the Modi-led government carried out the constitutional remodeling of IIOJK was not only whimsical and amateurish with little or scant attention to the neighboring states’ sensitivities but forced seasoned Indian diplomat, Gautam Bambawale, who had served as Ambassador to China, Pakistan, and Bhutan, to utter a statement bordering on realpolitik scrutiny: “One cannot discount that the [Chinese] actions are guided by concerns regarding the Indian UTs [or “Union Territories”] of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.” It is a sensitive observation that spontaneously addresses both historical idiosyncrasy and legal confusion through a geostrategic lens. China’s strong reaction to Ladakh being separated from the disputed Kashmir is not new. In the early 1950s, when India’s then-ambassador to Beijing was negotiating the future of the traditional trade routes between the two countries, he reported that China “virulently objected” to keeping the traditional route through Demchok on the Tibetan plateau open or even “any reference” to Ladakh. These objections pointed towards any acceptance by China of Ladakh being part of India. 
China-India Standoff and the External Factor
Since India became independent in August 1947, it had prided itself as a non-aligned country under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first Prime Minister. Thus, in the post-Second World War’s challenging Cold War years, India prided itself on having very close ties with Soviet Union and friendly ties with the United States – the two main protagonists of that period. However, the facts on the ground of that period reflected India, during challenges and periods of crisis, leaning more on the United States than on the Soviet Union; during the 1962 Sino-India conflict, Nehru, in his letters to the U.S. President John F. Kennedy, sought comprehensive assistance and the arms assistance came in ‘torrents’. Thus the non-alignment was thrown to the winds, termed by many sympathizers of Prime Minister Nehru as a ‘pragmatic dimension of the policy of non-alignment’. 
India’s non-alignment ‘farce’ continued unabated, till it came out in the open, with President Trump declaring India as a strategic partner. The Bush Administration’s oft-repeated emphasis on nuclear proliferation had to take ‘nose down’ when, in 2005, the U.S. entered into a civil nuclear agreement and in 2006 an amendment was made to the U.S. law to exempt trade with a non-NPT member state. 
These developments were taking place when Pakistan was still trying to grapple with the new foreign policy; India pushed its global agenda forth. Specifically, India showcased itself as the new strategic partner for the U.S. in this region, which meant it portrayed itself as a counterweight to China. And, as the new strategic partner to the United States, India wanted to have its stakes in Afghanistan, the Indian Ocean, and beyond. The most concrete step in this regard came on May 30, 2018, when Jim Mattis, the then United States Secretary of Defence announced that Pentagon’s Pacific Command was being renamed as the Indo-Pacific Command, giving India a larger role in the Pacific theatre in pursuit of containing and countering China. China’s reaction was at variance to the contents of the U.S. to ‘contain China’ and sabotage regional peace and stability; the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated, ‘We need to ensure that Asia-Pacific is a stage for China and U.S. to enhance mutually beneficial cooperation. It should not become an arena where a zero-sum game plays out.’ The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue has also emerged as another forum for close collaboration between India and the U.S. against China. 
It is now clear that India being pushed by the West, particularly the United States, has fallen into a trap of its own making; instead of measuring its strength vis-à-vis China – the rising global economic and military giant – its knee-jerk reaction of external insistence led to challenging China on its northern borders and the grave consequences which came with it. India’s experience of conflicts with China, from the larger 1962 to the 2017 Doklam confrontation does not seem to have made the leadership any wiser, and thus in June 2020 it blindly waded into a brief but bloody confrontation in the disputed Ladakh region. In brief, the Modi government got unnecessarily carried away by external actors, who never had any intention to support India with ‘boots on the ground’; India had to fight its wars. It is said that military relations are the most difficult to get right and most likely to lead to catastrophic consequences if leaders mismanage them, and India did mismanage them.
China’s 2021 Land Borders Law: Reinforcing Sovereignty of Boundaries
Since the creation of modern China, the Chinese leadership continues to accord the utmost priority to the sovereignty of its territory, on which there was to be no compromise remaining open negotiating border issues with its neighbors, which shall ensure the maintaince of peace on its borders. The unsettled China-India border and recurrent skirmishes between the soldiers of the two countries on various parts of the border – the brief conflict in Eastern Ladakh in 2019 being the latest – remains a matter of serious concern for the Chinese government, which has very wisely contained the conflict in the spirit of coexistence. However, added to the simmering border tension with India, what has alarmed the Chinese government since the United States and NATO forces left Afghanistan and Taliban took control is the continuing uncertainty in that country, especially reports of incidents of terrorism and the fear of a possible spillover in the sensitive Xinjiang province that is home to the Uyghur Muslims. The anxiety of Chinese government is also due to the illegal immigration from Vietnam and Myanmar bringing more cases of COVID-19 into the country. 
 It is in this scenario, that the new Land Border Law was approved on October 23, 2021, by the members of the National People’s Congress of China’s (the country's national legislature) Standing Committee at the closing meeting of the 31st session of the 13th NPC Standing Committee. The meeting was presided over by the NPC Standing Committee’s Chairman, Li Zhanshu. President Xi Jinping signed orders to promulgate the law. The law, which becomes operational from January 1, 2022, is wide-ranging and stipulates that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China is ‘sacred and inviolable’ and that the ‘state shall take measures to safeguard the territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines them’. The law stipulates that China can close its border if a war or other armed conflict nearby threatens border security. Other features of the new law state that it shall follow the ‘principle of equality, mutual trust, and friendly consultation, handle land border-related affairs with neighboring countries through negotiations to properly resolve disputes and longstanding border issues’. 
The law also includes that the Chinese military "shall carry out border duties", including organizing drills and resolutely prevent, stop and combat invasion, encroachment, provocation, and other acts.  A significant aspect of the new law includes state support for the construction of border towns, improving their functioning, and strengthening the supporting capacity for construction, improving public services and infrastructure in such areas, encouraging and supporting people's life and work there, along with promoting coordination between border defence and socioeconomic development in border areas.  
Since President Xi assumed power, all regions of China have received equal attention in terms of economic development and thereby visible improvement in the lives of the people, a fact acknowledged by the United Nations and all leading global development institutions. It is in this spirit and consciousness of its responsibilities that the Chinese government, in recent years, has been strengthening border infrastructure, including the establishment of air, rail and road networks in most regions of the country including Tibet, which saw a bullet train being recently launched extending up to Nyingchi, the border town close to the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh. Besides that, China also began constructing several villages close to the border with proper infrastructure in Tibet which have become an essential and effective part of border defence. 
As expected, India reacted to the new Chinese legislation and termed it a ‘unilateral’ decision by China to bring about a new land border law and added that ‘it is a matter of concern as the legislation can have implications on the existing bilateral pacts on border management and the overall boundary question’. India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson, voicing its government’s expectation that, ‘China will avoid undertaking action under the pretext of the law that could unilaterally alter the situation in the India-China border areas and that trusts that such a “unilateral move” will have no bearing on the arrangements that both sides have already reached earlier — be it on the boundary question or for maintaining peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC)’. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary of India, added his voice, ‘the passage of this new law does not, in our view, confer any legitimacy to the so-called China-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963 which the government of India has consistently maintained is an illegal and invalid agreement’. What may have been of special concern to India was a part of the new Chinese law, which gives wide powers to ‘China's People's Liberation Army as it will be allowed to counter any "invasion, encroachment, infiltration, [or] provocation" that occurs on any of the country's borders and provides a legal framework for hard border closures if Beijing sees fit’. India’s Foreign Minister’s reaction was balanced and expressed ‘hope that the Chinese side will work with us to bring a satisfactory resolution to the current issues to make progress on our bilateral relations keeping in view each other's sensitivities, aspirations, and interests and that development of bilateral ties can only be based on mutuality — mutual respect, mutual sensitivity, and mutual interests should guide this process’. 
China’s official response to India’s reaction was brief but firm. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, without naming India, advised ‘that countries should refrain from speculating about China’s domestic law and that the new border protection law will not change its stand on the existing border treaty and border questions’. Explaining that the law is in line with international practice, the spokesman counseled that the ‘relevant country will abide by the basic norms governing international relations and not make speculations about China’s normal legislation’.
China and India: Managing the Challenges of Coexistence 
It would seem very odd that China having fought a very brutal war with India many decades back and smaller conflicts in subsequent years, should have the maturity and sagacity to reach out to India to contain a deteriorating relationship; this happened in the backdrop of the 2020 standoff with India in the disputed Ladakh region. Apart from China and India being regional rivals, the significance of tyranny of geography which has forced the two countries to share a long and arduous border has always guided the sagacious Chinese leadership and its diplomats. Coexistence mainly guides Chinese policies with India, not withstanding India’s off and on blunders. During the thick of the 2020 standoff, Sun Weidong, China’s Ambassador to India, while addressing a function in New Delhi, believed that the ‘only right choice’ for New Delhi and Beijing right now is to realize that the ‘dragon and elephant dancing together’ will help in achieving fundamental interests of both countries and advised that ‘both countries should seek understanding through communication and constantly resolve differences’. 
On the contrary, the Indian leadership, especially Prime Minister Modi’s policies towards China, has neither been consistent nor wise. India was shooting first and asking questions later. It is generally accepted that India's stress on developing the disputed Ladakh region by building roads through the Galwan Valley into Shyok is believed to be one of the main triggers for the strong Chinese reaction in the area. On June 15, 2020, after weeks of tension at various points along the LAC, a deadly brawl erupted between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives. There were also fatalities of Chinese soldiers. It is universal that those countries that share a disputed border give advance information of a plan to change the physical contours of the area, a wisdom that the Modi-led government chose not to use, the consequences of which the Indian soldiers had to bear. These fatalities could have been avoided, but better sense did not prevail. 
Before the 2020 standoff, despite India’s whimsical dealing with China, its efforts continued in maintaining normal relations with India in varied fields, ranging from military, political to trade relationships. Militarily, China always had the upper hand, but bilateral and regional peace was uppermost in the minds of the Chinese leadership, who encouraged its military field commanders to engage with their Indian counterparts, an exercise that contributed to containing the conflict. In the economic and trade domain, ties have grown since the early 2000s and have been at the forefront of this relationship. Trade and investment has provided a cushion to this otherwise tricky relationship. In the recent years, the India-China bilateral relationship has been characterized by historical animosity and border disputes. Nevertheless, the economic ties have grown since the early 2000s and have been at the forefront of this relationship. China forms an integral part of the global supply chain and India too is heavily dependent on Chinese imports, ranging from a variety of raw materials to critical components. The bilateral trade that stood at USD 3 billion in the year 2000 grew to USD 92.68 billion in 2019. China was India’s second-largest trading partner in 2019 and emerged as the largest trading partner in the first half of FY 2020-21.
On the political front, a record of the formal and informal summits shows that President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi have met at least 18 times since 2014. Prime Minister Modi has visited China five times, the most by any Indian Prime Minister in the last seven decades. The meetings of the two leaders include one-on-one and on the sidelines of summits, which can be termed as effortless as they are held in a neutral place and leaders do not have to especially travel to each other’s country and can thus stay away from the special focus of the media. What could be better, rather significant, for the leaders of rival neighbors to meet and gauge the intentions of each other, their views on the region and the globe at large; issues which continue to keep them apart and those in which possibilities exist to work together. 
The summits have resulted in India and China having signed several bilateral agreements and protocols, most significant was the 1993 ‘Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas’, an agreement which came under great stress in the 2020 standoff between the two countries in Galwan Valley. In the context of summits, President Xi and Prime Minister Modi’s dialogue at the informal summits in each other’s countries have a special significance in the context of preserving peace between China and India and abiding by the realities of geography, geopolitics, and in brief the compulsions of coexistence. The informal summits at Wuhan, China in April 2018 and Mahabalipuram, India in October 2019, took place in the huge gap that had emerged between China and India on issues ranging from border dispute, the Belt and Road Initiative, Indian membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and China’s presence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. The focus of attention at the Wuhan Summit of April 2019 was ways to ‘manage differences on the border and not raise tensions’ and look for areas of ‘convergence’. However, the Mahabalipuram Summit of October 2019 was wrongly timed. The Modi government’s utter miscalculations in scrapping Article 370 in August 2019, by which India had governed the Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir region followed by the construction of the road, jeopardized a highly sensitive relationship. In brief, one step forward, two steps back. However, the reality that militarily both are nuclear-armed countries and cannot be pushed by each other beyond an extent also weighs heavily on the minds of the leadership of China and India. 
Looking Ahead
Looking at the crystal ball of China-India relationship, the soothsayers do not bode well. One cannot blame the oracles whose choice is limited; on one side, China is led by a highly erudite leadership and on the other, India, whose leadership is shaped by the ruling BJP’s ideological zealotry and extremism bordering on fascism, an ultranationalism which the Chinese revolutionaries fought with their blood against the Japanese occupiers. As India entered the new millennium in January 2000, it was carrying the baggage of unresolved border issues with Pakistan and China, two important regional states in their own right; with Pakistan, the Kashmir dispute (LOC) and with China, the border demarcation. China on the other hand, right from the outset in 1949, reached out to the neighboring states in a mature manner to demarcate its boundaries. Beijing viewed its boundary problems as ‘leftover by history’ and sought to improve its relations with its neighbors through diplomacy to enhance the country’s national security. A former senior Indian Army officer, having analyzed the ‘knuckleheaded’ approach of his successive governments to various issues, both domestic and external, may have pointed towards the issue of the unsettled border with China, when he commented, “Ever since 1947, the Indian foreign policy record has been dismal. It has taken the line of individual personalities, political parties, and their interests and not the supreme national interests that keep on changing in conformity with the dynamic geo-political and geo-strategic situations and developments”. Prudence demands that India, which does not enjoy cordial relations with most of its neighbors, shed its aggressive regional ambitions and for once decide not to punch above its weight to build a sustainable process that minimizes the risk of war. Would India ignore extra-regional biddings and become practical – which demands that it shall take the initiative and finally agree on the border demarcation and which can contribute for these two states to finally live like normal neighbors. This shall call for India to bury, once and for all, the border ghost. This assures the region and the people at large around the globe that the two nuclear-armed states may remain rivals, compete in the economic and trade sectors, but need to bury the hatchet in the conflict zone. The United States is not the only sole superpower, but a leader in innovation and technology; sharing its technical know-how with regional states will spur a healthy race to outsmart each other, thus discouraging armed conflicts. 
Jia Kumar Sharma, a well respected Indian expert of the region, has added his sane voice to the recurrence of such a conflict and advised his country’s leadership, among other steps it should take, to avoid ‘external voices’ and that ‘New Delhi must tread this path cautiously’. The “New Cold War,” if it ever becomes a reality, would be completely different from the Cold War of the twentieth century.


The writer holds a Masters in Political Science (Punjab University) and Masters in Diplomatic Studies (UK). He has served in various capacities in Pakistan’s missions abroad and as an Ambassador to Vietnam and High Commissioner to Malaysia. He is on the visiting faculty of four mainstream public universities in Islamabad and Adviser to the India Centre at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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