Exposing Roadblocks

How China is trying to slow down India's progress ahead of G-20
China’s carving of underground facilities underscores its response to India’s efforts to strengthen its position along the border.
China’s carving of underground facilities underscores its response to India’s efforts to strengthen its position along the border.

In the recent tête-à-tête between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, held on the periphery of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, followed by an uptick in their arrogant comments, issuing of maps and undiplomatic gestures from the Chinese side, underscoring the egotism China believes in instead a result-oriented dialogue has come to the fore just ahead of G 20 meeting in New Delhi.

This unfolding scenario portends a potential trajectory in which forthcoming encounters between the leadership of India and China could yield not accord but heightened discord.

While both Prime Minister Modi and Chinese leader Xi had ostensibly concurred on "intensifying efforts" to de-escalate tensions along their contested border, their recent face-to-face interaction—uncommon since a fatal clash over three years ago—appeared to exacerbate rather than assuage strained relations.

New Delhi reprimanded Beijing for its recent publication of the 2023 "standard map," a cartographic depiction asserting China's sovereignty over portions of Indian territory. The Indian government lodged a diplomatic protest, vehemently rejecting these claims as devoid of factual underpinning.

A Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson stated, "Today, we have registered a robust objection through diplomatic channels with China regarding their so-called 2023 'standard map' that lays audacious claims to India's rightful territory. We categorically dismiss these assertions, given their unsubstantiated nature. Such manoeuvres by the Chinese administration only compound the complexity of resolving the longstanding border issue."

China's tendency to stake territorial dominion over Indian land, as history reveals, has invariably proven counterproductive to ameliorating the intricate boundary dispute between India and China.

In response, during a routine press briefing, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin asserted that the unveiling of the new national map was in alignment with China's lawful exertion of sovereignty—a customary practice, according to Wang. Urging discernment and restraint, he cautioned against undue overinterpretation of the matter.

This incident transpired after the encounter between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi at the BRICS Summit. China asserted that India had solicited the August 23rd meeting—a claim India refuted. The tête-à-tête occurred on the summit's sidelines while both leaders attended the BRICS economic consortium.

According to India's Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, the discussions were marked by a constructive exchange, focusing on resolving lingering issues along the Line of Actual Control in the Western Sector. In a statement, India's Ministry of External Affairs underscored Modi's emphasis on maintaining tranquillity along the border and respecting the Line of Actual Control as pivotal for normalizing bilateral relations.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs conveyed that the dialogue between Xi and Modi encompassed an extensive array of subjects concerning China-India relations. President Xi accentuated the mutual benefit of fostering improved ties between the two nations and peoples, urging a balanced approach to the boundary issue to safeguard regional peace.

The historical discord over the India-China border has had far-reaching consequences, including a significant escalation to a full-scale conflict in 1962. Previous interactions, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit and a brief sideline conversation during the G20 leaders' meeting, were notably devoid of diplomatic engagement.

Friction between the nations heightened notably in 2020 after a deadly clash in the Galwan area of Ladakh, followed by a skirmish in the Tawang sector of India's northeastern territory. These incidents exacerbated already strained relations and underpinned the current climate of tension.

In a candid interview with NDTV, India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar articulated India's position unambiguously. He characterized China's conduct as a recurring pattern of asserting dominion over regions unmistakably beyond its jurisdiction. Jaishankar, regarding China's claims as preposterous, emphasized that the mere presentation of a map holds no power to alter realities on the ground.

China's 2023 map, which claims parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin, prompted Jaishankar's dismissal of the audacious assertions as legally baseless attempts to appropriate land belonging to sovereign nations.

In a broader context, China's map extends its territorial assertions not just over India but also includes Taiwan and vast portions of the South China Sea, posing a direct challenge to neighbouring countries' interests, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. Released by China's Ministry of Natural Resources as part of mapping awareness initiatives, this provocative cartographic manoeuvre adds fuel to regional tensions.

Meanwhile, an NDTV report spotlighted China's infrastructure development in the Aksai Chin region. Satellite images indicated that China had begun constructing reinforced shelters and bunkers, potentially countering India's strategic advantage. 

Furthermore, India's endeavours to enhance its aerial capabilities, including extending runways near the Line of Actual Control, could alter the region's strategic balance. China's carving of underground facilities underscores its response to India's efforts to strengthen its position along the border.

The recent Modi-Xi meeting has inadvertently exposed the deep-seated rivalry between India and China, portending a future marked by confrontation rather than conciliation. 

The clash over cartographic claims and the ensuing diplomatic sparring typifies their relationship's persistent tensions. Both nations tread cautiously as they navigate a complex path forward. It will be seen on 9 and 10 September when both leaders will again be face-to-face in New Delhi attending the 20 summit.

Surinder Singh Oberoi is a regular  contributor to Greater Kashmir

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