REN Zegang

In additional to historical sentiments between China and India originated from territory disputes, Ye Hailin, a Chinese expert on South Asia suggested that it is economic structure of the two countries that makes China-India relationship more confrontational than complementary.

In their journey of industrialisation and modernisation, both China and India have no choice but to relying on massive export of manufactured products and outbound direct investment in order to find markets for their huge labour force and manufacturing capability.

China, through its “belt and road” initiative, aims to build a hallway to markets in south and southeast Asia, central Asia, Europe and Africa. India, in collaboration with Japan, has launched a similar project “Asia Africa Growth Corridor” targeting same regions with same objectives.

The competitive nature makes advance of one country often at the expanse of the other between China and India in the international arena. For instance, the increase of activities of Chinese PLA navy in Indian Ocean, which is considered necessary to protect China’s trade routes and oil supply, will be inevitably a challenge to India. The Chinese investment under the banner of “belt and road” initiative in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and particularly in Pakistan has already made India feeling being encircled.

As a response to perceived Chinese assertiveness, India has been supportive to Dalai Lama, who is seen as a separatists by China. India has been upgrading its existence in west Pacific through improved coordination with Japan, Vietnam, Australia and the US. India’s move in this regard is considered a potentially important factor counterbalancing China’s rising power in south China sea.

In return China is object to India’s effort of becoming a permanent member of security council of UN.

Though not very friendly, China has had no desire of attacking India militarily. What China has focused on is to build advanced transportation infrastructures in Tibet ranging from highway, railway and to airports that allows a rapid deployment of PLA from China’s inland to the border in case of military conflicts.

Along the 3500 kilometre border with India, only 50 thousands Chinese troops were stationed. In the contrary, Indian had deployed 200 thousands troops including some elite mountain divisions.

By taking advantage of its superiority in manpower, India sent a few hundreds of troops 100 meters inside the Chinese territory to stop the building of a road by the Chinese in June.

India’s move was actually a bold probing attacking intended to investigate the potential of forming some sorts of alliance with US, Japan, Australia, and Vietnam against China and test the reactions of Russia. By placing China in a situation with hostile pressure from both west Pacific and Himalaya, India would seek an upper hand in its rivalry with China. This is why India chose to send its troops across the border at the same day when Prime Minister Modi met President Trump in his visit to the US.

It is very unusual that governments of major countries and major international presses  kept a very low tone on Doklam standoff between China and India. However this might be an indication that contesting strength under the table by all parties is very ferocious.

During the two-month standoff, Chinese fighters, surveillance aircrafts and bombers were repeatedly flying close to Japan and circling Taiwan; Chinese fleets conducted live ammunition exercises in east and south China sea. The intensity of military activities of PLA in west Pacific was by no means less than that in Himalaya along the border with India.

Apart from responding to the situation in North Korea, the military activities by PLA in west Pacific have the objective of deterring the US and Japan from involving into the conflicts between India and China. It is a show to the parties concerned that China is able to fight wars at two fronts.

During the entire period of standoff, except for the patrol of US navy in the south China sea, the pressure applied by the US on China is insignificant. Threatening with an investigation into US-China trade by using Section 301 US Trade Act, President Trump was more interested in pushing China to carry on a total fuel embargo against North Korea.

In the face of repeat launch of missiles and nuclear tests by North Korea, President Trump has no choice but to maintain a closed dialogue with Beijing.

Without tangible and substantial support from the US, India which was increasingly under the Chinese military pressure will not continue with the dangerous pass of keep confronting with China.

China, whose strategic focus is still at west Pacific, is also unwilling to fight a war with India, especially before BRICS summit and 19th national congress of Chinese communist Party. This explains why the two sides quick ended the standoff a few days before the opening of BRICS summit in early September.

All Indian medias claim the ending of standoff is a win to India as it was under the terms of India, which were withdraw of troops of both countries and stop of building roads at the Chinese side.

Actually there are no losers so far from this incident. The withdraw of troops only refers to those hundreds soldiers living in tents few hundreds meters from the border. India will not withdraw its troops of 200 thousands strong. China will also not withdraw the fresh troops and military equipment and heavy weapons sent to the Himalaya.

As to the building of roads, it might be postponed at Doklam due to coming of snow season but both China and India will not hesitate in any minute to improve their infrastructures in the region.

The prime gain to China from Doklam standoff might be a firsthand judgment on the likelihood of formation of any sorts of alliance between India and counties like the US, Japan, Australia and Vietnam, which still looks like a distant event currently.

Secondly, Doklam standoff is a test to the feasibility of China’s “belt and road” initiative. In particularly it is a test to China’s military strength if it could handle the pressure from two fronts at west Pacific and Himalaya. It is likely that China will further increase its defense budget in the future.

The impact to India will be also substantial. India also gets firsthand judgment on the military pressure from China. The hesitation of the US and Japan might promote India to adjust its position. India would seek more opportunities with the framework of BRICS which represents a new world order in favor of some major continental powers.

However it is possible that India will continue to seek support from the US and Japan in its competition with China.

What is crucial for China is that it should make its “belt and road” initiative more inclusive to India’s interest. However given competitive nature of the relationship between China and India, this is a very hard task.