INDIA-CHINA RELATIONS IMPROVE: successful summit strengthens military confidence

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FRN reports some critical developments in China-India relations, most all of which are quite positive, and exceed prior expectations. As FRN has previously noted, India plays a critical role, and its moves over the last half-decade have confused any number of analysts and pundits. There are some legitimate reasons for this, but today’s big announcement by the Chinese will no doubt frustrate Washington DC strategists, who had hoped to use India as a battering ram of tension stoking, against China and Iran.

Pushing against this, it was announced today that China and India have restored normalized relations in the sphere of military airspace, and gave a new political impetus to the negotiations on the border. These are the preliminary results of China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe’s four-day visit to India which ended on Friday.

The visit was a landmark, and previously there was extreme skepticism as to the possibility or rapprochement between the two Asian giants. Wei Fenghe is the first head of the Chinese Defense Department who visited India in the last six years. Finally, this is the first visit of the Chinese Defense Minister to India following India’s official admission to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

At the SCO summit in Qingdao, which was attended for the first time by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, special attention was given to strengthening military confidence measures, developing inter-military relations and interaction for joint security.

The political impetus for the restoration of military ties, of course, was given by the leaders of China and India. Since the second quarter of this year, there have been three – an unprecedented intensity of contacts not just for Sino-Indian relations. Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi held an informal meeting in Wuhan and later under the BRICS format in Johannesburg.

India’s pursuit of multi-polar relations was meant to play an important stop-gap role, as the US was increasingly isolating itself from other important markets. While any number of India’s official decisions over this period have faced deserved scrutiny and criticism, a long-game orientation has been in place for some time. Like Turkey, India has been in a difficult position, as a second-tier power. It has enough economic and military might to exercise a higher degree of sovereignty than most states, and therefore must balance its relations between the various emergent multi-polar blocs. But being in the position to balance its relations is in itself a sign of a higher degree of sovereignty than smaller or weaker states.

While this has led to a series of policies based on pragmatism and real-existing opportunities in the global market, India’s government and the chattering class of punditry, have turned ‘necessity into virtue’.  In so doing, they have framed these pragmatic decisions as values-based (when they are not), and those values have been, on the whole, rejected by anti-imperialist movements world-wide.

At the same time, it is evident that there are some hard-coded limits to what India can do in its relationship to Atlanticist-oriented trade relations. Still, India serves an extraordinarily important role, and its trade with China has remained its chiefly important relationship – see graph below. Here are India’s largest trade partners, with balances, for the 2017-2018 fiscal to-date.

What should jump out here are India’s top two trading partners. But also evident is the role these play. These are not ideological questions at this level. India runs a total -137.63 billion dollar annual world trade deficit. Almost half of that deficit is from trade with China alone. Of course, any number of these imported Chinese goods are basic materials, from which India is able to create value-added, and job-creating export goods. Between the US, UAE, UK, Sinapore, and a series of other countries, India attempts to make up for their general deficit, keeping that in check.

Therefore, India plays a role that others cannot, and is forced by the weight of global capitalist logic to engage in its present arrangement. These are not the product of the decisions of Modi’s government, but are the outcome of the inertia and gravity of global trade considerations.

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Experts are also speaking to this point, elucidating the importance of China-India relations in the sphere of military and defense. The meetings of the leaders of China and India gave a strong impetus to working border negotiations, which was also expounded upon by analyst Aleksei Kupriyanov, Ph.D. (Hist.), Researcher of the Sector of International Organizations and Global Political Regulation of the Department of International Political Problems, IMEMO RAS. He is also listed as a Valdai Discussion Club expert, and his opinions reflect some degree of consensus on this question. He went on to say:

“The Sino-Indian negotiations on the settlement of the border issue are now taking place. According to reports at the beginning of August, the parties have made great progress in resolving the problem in the Western sector. The eastern sector in the region of Arunachal Pradesh is not yet mentioned in the negotiations, and now the talks are about the western sector,” 

“According to the conversations on the Indian side, the result is encouraging. They conduct the consultations almost daily, and step by step solve all the problems,” 

A confidential exchange of views on the border will obviously give new impetus to negotiators at the level of military experts and diplomats. Wei Fenghe’s personal contact with the Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman is obviously able to play an important role in significantly improving the border situation and reducing the level of confrontation. The border conflict so far is paralyzed, but the dispute is not resolved. However, this task was not scheduled before the visit.

In that regard, observers drew attention to the fact that in a meeting with the Chinese military leader, Narendra Modi did not mention the incident last year at the border. He said that peace at the border can be maintained thanks to the flexibility and maturity the two countries demonstrate in resolving mutual differences.

The Indian leader, Modi, said good relations with China were a matter of stability in the world. Wei Fenghe expressed hope that the visit will deepen bilateral military exchanges and cooperation in the field of security, strengthen mutual trust and develop new military ties in the interests of peace at the border.

The visit of the Defense Ministry to India will give both countries in the future the opportunity to strengthen the military relations between them, said Shen Shishun, a specialist at the Institute of International Affairs of China.

“China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe is making a friendly visit to India, which will undoubtedly contribute to the promotion of cooperation and development of relations between the two states and military relations. After the confrontation last year in Doklam, countries have made active efforts to reduce tensions in interstate relations,” the analyst commented.

According to him, the Sino-Indian border dispute is a problem that has historical roots over time. At the same time he believes that it is “inadmissible that some issues inherited from history affect the development of inter-state relations and cooperation.”

“I believe that in the continued strengthening of mutual trust between the two countries, the two sides will show wisdom and will certainly resolve disputes and disputes properly,” he concluded.

Meetings at the highest political and military level in New Delhi are likely to make it possible to discuss joint Sino-Indian exercises in the future as well as on staff exchanges, including between border guards.

In turn, India and Japan will also continue with joint naval maneuvers to conduct operations against submarines. Combat aircraft will land on air bases in both countries. At the same time, India is expanding its defense ties with the US and Australia. According to the Pentagon, the United States does not regularly conduct as many joint military exercises with any country as with India. In the field of providing high technology and military equipment, Washington has placed India almost on the same level as NATO members. So far, according to observers, the level of military confidence between India and China is such that New Delhi seeks to protect itself from further worsening, strengthening military ties with the United States, Japan and Australia.

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