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Trust deficit

Coming as the statement does in the aftermath of a Pentagon report which explicitly said that US officials had been “warned” by Beijing not to interfere in the Sino-Indian relationship, the pattern is clear.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

China’s purported outrage at the joint India USA military exercise being held near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Uttarakhand which Beijing claims “violates the spirit” of the border agreements signed with New Delhi is a bit rich.

Reacting to the two-week exercise “Yudh Abhyas 22” that began on 19 November, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday: “The joint military exercise held by India and the USA near the LAC violates the spirit of relevant agreements signed by China and India in 1993 and 1996, and does not help build bilateral trust.”

Coming as the statement does in the aftermath of a Pentagon report which explicitly said that US officials had been “warned” by Beijing not to interfere in the Sino-Indian relationship, the pattern is clear.

Despite the burgeoning economic crisis in China, widespread protests against its Zero Covid policy, and escalating tensions with the West over Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific in particular, Beijing’s coercive foreign policy approach towards its southern neighbour remains undiluted.

Of course, China loses no opportunity to downplay the severity of the border standoff with India and reiterate its intent to preserve border stability and prevent the standoff from harming other areas of its bilateral relationship with India. But there is a clear trust deficit in New Delhi.

For example, throughout 2021, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sustained the deployment of forces and continued infrastructure build-up along the LAC even as it entered negotiations, which made very little progress, thereby retaining its perceived advantage on the border.

It should come as no surprise that Beijing’s discomfiture at the growing closeness between India and America is finding official expression, as its policy of attempting to decouple the border issue from other aspects of the bilateral relationship with India threatens to come undone with New Delhi taking the tactically astute call of conducting the joint military exercise with American forces less than 100 kilometres from the LAC.

The move adds muscle to the Indian position that maintaining peace and tranquillity along the LAC is a prerequisite for the normalisation of ties. China has, ad nauseam, adopted a conciliatory tone vis-à-vis the border issue and the overall SinoIndian relationship but failed to match its actions to its words.

It is all very well to speak of the two civilisational states’ deep linkages, touting the coming 100 years as Asia’s century led by a Sino-Indian double engine, as it were, and insisting that Beijing and New Delhi have the “will and capability” to resolve their differences through negotiations. But the absence of verifiable action on the ground by China to reduce tensions and prevent hostilities is evident.

Nothing illustrates the point better than the fact that military commanders of the two countries have held as many as 16 rounds of talks in the past two years but the Chinese have consistently dodged the issue of disengagement of troops from the flashpoints of Depsang and Demchok. India is doing what is needed ~ pushing back in its national interest.