The eighth BRICS Summit, taking place in Goa in India on October 16, 2016 and attended by the five members of the group, namely India, China, Brazil, Russia and South Africa, has aroused considerable curiosity around the world. The curiosity is mainly about whether the BRICS Summit would aid in easing the tension in relationship between India and China due to various issues or whether it would at least help in concealing the differences between both the countries.
Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India around two years ago there have been frequent exchange of high-level visits between the leaders of India and China.
Over the last few years, China and India have been successfully cooperating in IT, infrastructure, e-commerce and industrial production. Large numbers of Indian students are studying in China, mostly in medical schools. The number of tourists to each other country has significantly increased over the past few years, especially after India granted e-visas for Chinese tourists.
With Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping giving an impression that they have developed a certain camaraderie in their relationship, the optimists seem to think that differences in China and India can be overcome.
In spite of positive optics, the ground reality is that the relationship between India and China face an overhang from several issues such as the ongoing border dispute.
It has to be recognized that there are numerous differences between China and India. Apart from border disputes, the two countries also differ over some international and regional issues, which could hamper and even disrupt smooth development of bilateral relations. In spite of the initiatives between both the countries to foster economic and industrial cooperation, the fact is that China has not diluted or given up any of its policies or claims that cause discomfort in India.
Apart from the fact that China still occupies a large territory that it gained after 1962 war, which India calls as China-occupied territory and considers China as an aggressor as far as this border issue is concerned, China has made claims that Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast of India is part of China. There have been reports of Chinese soldiers entering Indian territory for a brief period and China constructing roads and other infrastructure in some disputed territory.
The recent move of China to construct a dam across the Brahmaputra river has the potential to create huge tensions between India and China as the construction of dam would curtail the water availability for some states in northeastern India. China’s reported plan to divert the Brahmaputra from its upper reaches is being seen as a direct affront to India and a violation of international norms of sharing river waters. Once the construction of dam is complete, the control of the water of the Brahmaputra will be in the hands of China. As the Brahmaputra is the lifeline of northeastern India, the life and environment in the region will be adversely affected by this development.
China’s refusal to provide support for India’s move to gain entry to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) and China’s opposition to India’s bid at the United Nations to ban the Pakistan-based terror outfit JeM chief Masood Azhar clearly indicate that China is not willing to dilute any of its basic policies or approach just for the sake of placating India. India’s assertion that cross-border terrorism in Kashmir is sponsored by Pakistan has not been supported by China. China remains an “all weather friend” of Pakistan and is likely to remain so for a long time to come, in spite of India’s reservation about such a stand.
The fact is that India has been ignoring such an irksome policy of China and is focusing on building economic and industrial relationship with China as India does not want a military conflict with China. Critics of India’s China policy are of the view that Prime Minister Modi is appeasing China without any reciprocal attitude from the Chinese government. Some critics even draw a parallel to the overt friendly approach of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, to the then Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai, which did not prevent China from intruding Indian territory that resulted in the 1962 war between India and China.
Even in the case of Tibetan refugees in India, the Modi government has been taking extreme care to ensure that the presence of Tibetan refugees in India would not antagonise China beyond a point. For China, its Tibetan policy is a highly sensitive issue and the Chinese government knows that there is worldwide disapproval of its forced entry into Tibet and occupation of Tibetan territory. The demolition of Larung Gar in Tibet by China, one of the largest and most influential centres for the study of Tibetan Buddhism in the world, has been strongly criticised by several quarters.
Of course, Tibetan activists protested outside the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, as well as in Goa, ahead of the Chinese President’s visit to India for the BRICS Summit. This is the maximum that the Indian government would allow the Tibetan refugees to register their protests and demand freedom of Tibet from Chinese occupation.
Obviously, with China unwilling to yield ground on any issues and with India, trying to ignore the irksome acts of China to avoid a confrontation, the differences between both the countries are too obvious that a BRICS Summit cannot conceal.
The ground reality that can be clearly seen is that the India-China relationship is on slippery ground, with both the countries viewing each other with more suspicion than faith. In such circumstances, when Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping shake hands at Goa, it would appear to be more cosmetic than genuine warmth and friendship.