While we need to keep China engaged in order to maintain peace on our northern border and keep our diplomacy supple so that we do not lose our maneuverability vis a vis the United States that has become very unpredictable under President Trump, China’s fundamental strategic hostility towards India must be the canvas on which we draw our China policy. On every critical issue, whether, political, military or economic China has seriously challenged or undermined our national interest.
China continues to make unilateral claims on Indian Territory despite the setting up of a Special Representative mechanism to resolve border issues. It has protested against our move to make Ladakh a Union Territory; it protests each time our PM and other leaders visit Arunachal Pradesh.
China opposes India’s permanent membership at UN Security Council and opposes our membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. China shields Pakistan on the issue of terrorism and resisted the designation of Masood Azhar as an international terrorist until the US threatened to publicly isolate China in the UNSC.
China continues to provoke incidents on the border to keep us off balance, which we confronted in Doklam. It continues to increase its military capabilities in Tibet without any provocation. These military capabilities threaten India’s security and force us to spend more on developing the military infrastructure on our side. China continues to arm Pakistan.
Our trade deficit with China is huge and has reached almost $100 billion, with the deficit close to $55 billion. This amount is invested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. China’s market is not sufficiently open to us in return. China has penetrated in highly security sensitive sectors in India such as telecom and power, investing hugely in e-commerce. We have to be very careful about including Huawei in 5G roll-out trials in India to avoid exposing ourselves to China’s formidable cyber warfare capabilities.
Time to Respond
China’s latest hostile move against us on J&K should open the eyes of those who still advocate China’s case either for ideological or economic reasons. China is disregarding India’s core security concerns by joining with Pakistan to inscribe the so-called ‘Kashmir issue’ on the UNSC agenda after 50 years, in violation of the Simla Agreement. Amazingly, given its own abysmal human rights record, China has the temerity to criticise India for human rights violations in J&K.
This background is necessary to examine our options in dealing with China. The firmness and determination we showed in confronting China in Doklam should be shown to deal with this new Chinese challenge. The next Modi-Xi summit should be on equal terms, with equal stakes. Otherwise, we will continue to lose political and diplomatic ground to China, which will be strengthened in its conviction that India’s options are limited and that Beijing can act with impunity. We have many options. We can make statements on the human rights situation in Eastern Turkmenistan (China refers to it as Sinkiang) and Tibet. We could step up our opposition to the CPEC as an illegal change of status quo in the erstwhile J&K state, far more grave than our Constitutional changes in our own territory.
The Hong-Kong Angle
We could pronounce on developments in Hong Kong where Chinese actions to subvert its autonomy and suppress democracy have resulted in a massive popular movement that is peaceful and non-violent, but is being subjected to police brutalities under instructions from Beijing. China is threatening to intervene militarily to quell democracy as it did in 1989 by killing an undocumented number of victims in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere in China. For 50 years Hong Kong has been guaranteed certain democratic freedoms within the framework of “One country, two systems”. Whenever the Beijing-controlled Hong Kong authorities have interfered with these freedoms, massive street protests have erupted: In 2003 against a national security law modeled on China’s, and in 2012 against the teaching of national education in schools. In 2014 the “Umbrella” protests were against a plan to have candidates for the Chief Executive’s post screened by China. In the light of its insidious steps to whittle down Hong Kong’s autonomy guaranteed, unlike in J&K’s case by an international agreement, China has no ground to question changes brought about in J&K and Ladakh by the government through an Act of Parliament after an open, transparent debate. India’s action in J&K is to promote genuine democracy there, not throttle it as is China’s objective in Hong Kong.
In June this year Hong Kong saw massive street protests, including an estimated two million march- against a bill allowing extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China without legislative oversight. Concerns in Hong Kong are legitimate about the independence of China’s justice system, its “re-education” of dissidents in camps and its liberal use of the death penalty which Hong Kong abolished in 1993. These protests also show that Hong Kong citizens are not mesmerised by China’s phenomenal economic success, which exposes the continuing weakness of its soft power.
India should closely follow the political impact of the continuing public upsurge in Hong Kong in the name of democratic freedoms, rule of law and resistance to regressive steps by Beijing-backed authorities on China’s political system as a whole, as well as its international profile. Chinese are not aware of developments in Hong Kong because China controls the flow of information to its citizens. It does not want the contagion of democratic dissent to affect its own population.
Through its policies, China is eroding the “One China, Two Systems” that it accepted in Hong Kong in 1997. It is now officially claiming that it is no more answerable to the UK in any way as the UK has no further role in Hong Kong matters. We could take the position that the situation in Hong Kong should be dealt with peacefully, that no unilateral action should be taken by any party. The right of its citizens to democracy should not be interfered with as what happens in Hong Kong has consequences beyond its borders and is therefore of legitimate concern to the international community, and that China should have a dialogue with the UK to resolve the issues that have arisen. Any action by Beijing will raise regional tensions and therefore a matter of concern for us, mainly about the safety and welfare of 22,000 Indian citizens and 28,500 Persons of Indian Origin in Hong Kong.
It is necessary to react to China’s serious provocations on J&K in league with Pakistan and ensure that there is no further encouragement to Pakistan in its reckless statements on India.
(The writer is a former Foreign Secretary)