India’s Tit-For-Tat for Chinese core interests could rile Beijing: Analysts

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) speaks as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks on as they issue a joint statement in New Delhi on September 18, 2014. India's prime minister expressed concern to China's visiting President Xi Jinping September 18 about "incidents" on the two countries' disputed border, as a stand-off between troops at the frontier overshadowed key talks. "I expressed concern on the incidents on the border and said peace and tranquility on the border is the foundation for good relations," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi after formal talks with the Chinese leader. AFP PHOTO/RAVEENDRAN        (Photo credit should read RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

China’s clear disregard for India’s concerns and aspirations despite appeals at the highest level could result in New Delhi giving less weight to Chinese core interests, say analysts.

Examples of India gradually growing less sensitive to Chinese concerns in recent months include allowing the US Ambassador in India Richard Verma and the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh—that China claims as its territory.

And on Monday, India seemed to back Indonesia’s stance on its South China Sea spat with China, in a move that could raise hackles in Beijing.

India’s support to the Indonesian position came on a day when Beijing declared that its position on backing India’s membership for the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as well as getting the chief of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) designated as a terrorist by the United Nations (UN) “remains unchanged.” That is, its opposition on both issues continue—despite many attempts by India to persuade Beijing to change its mind including appeals at the highest level – i.e. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee—to China’s top leadership i.e. president Xi Jinping.

“As for India’s application for NSG and listing issue pursuant to resolution of 1267 (to list Masood Azhar as a terrorist), China’s position remains unchanged,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing on Monday, the Press Trust of India reported.

Ironically, the comment was made in response to a question on a remark made by Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar in New Delhi on Friday when he said that New Delhi and Beijing should respect each other’s strong sense of independence and legitimate aspirations while seeking accommodation and building trust.

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“China is creating a situation where India will be forced to retaliate by taking positions on issues that are against the core interests of China,” said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

It is perhaps sensing the implacability of China that India seems to have toughened its response to China in recent weeks.

For starters, India quietly allowed a visit to Arunachal Pradesh by the US ambassador to India Richard Verma in October. China stakes claim to almost all of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh stating that it is “a part of southern Tibet” and routinely protests visits by Indian leaders, foreign officials as well as the Dalai Lama to the area. In the past, Beijing has annoyed India by issuing Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh stapled visas or even saying that people of the state do not need a visa to travel to China.

Just days later even as China protested Verma’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, India cleared the visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to the state in March 2017. Beijing reacted almost immediately warning India that the Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit “will only damage peace and stability of the border areas” as well as its ties with India. Beijing says its Communist troops peacefully liberated Tibet in 1950 and regards the 80-year-old, Nobel Peace Prize-winning monk as a separatist. The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since 1959, which is another sore point with Beijing.

Last week, India extended support to Mongolia after China slapped a toll tax on trucks passing between the two countries on the back of a visit by the Dalai Lama to Ulaanbator. Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said India was ready to extend help to Mongolia following the Chinese move given that the new tax put pressure on the Mongolian economy.

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And on Monday came a joint India-Indonesia statement on maritime cooperation that spoke of commitment from the leaders of the two countries to “maintaining a maritime legal order based on the principles of international law.”

This is seen backing for the Indonesian position and sending a subtle message to China which has refused to abide by a July 2016 verdict by an international court in the Hague that dismissed China’s claims over the South China Sea.

“Both leaders recognized that India and Indonesia share common interests in ensuring maritime security and the safety of sea lines of communication. Both leaders recognized the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight on the high seas, unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as resolving maritime disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law including the UNCLOS,” the statement said.

The joint statement tasked the defence ministers of the two countries “to explore collaboration between defence industries for joint production of equipment with technology transfer, technical assistance, and capacity building cooperation.”

According to Baladas Ghoshal, a former professor of southeast Asia and south-west Pacific Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India should help Indonesia in building up its navy which is in need of support. Bolstering defence cooperation with Jakarta could be another signal to Beijing, he said.

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