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Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom from an Indian interests perspective.

I. India-China Ties

India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has made a number of public comments this week about the relationship with China. First, speaking at a webinar by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, he said that the relationship had been “significantly damaged” this year. He said that there was “clearly no question that you have a very much more nationalistic China and that is expressed down the line in a variety of ways and often in policies as well.” On the LAC tensions, he was candid. “We had multiple agreements starting from 1993 that essentially asked both parties not to bring large forces to the boundary. Now for some reason, for which the Chinese have given us five different explanations, the Chinese have violated it…The Chinese have literally brought tens of thousands of soldiers in full military preparation mode right up to the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. Naturally, the relationship would be profoundly disturbed by this.” Finally, he underscored that “we are very clear that maintaining peace and tranquility along the LAC is the basis for the rest of the relationship to progress.” Later in the week, speaking at a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry event, Jaishankar said that India was “being tested.” He added, “what has happened in eastern Ladakh was not actually in China’s interest as it has significantly impacted public sentiment in India.”

China’s Foreign Ministry responded to these comments when asked about them during a press conference on Thursday. Hua Chunying called on “both sides to meet each other half way.” She added that “the rights and wrongs of what has happened in the China-India border area are very clear and the responsibility lies squarely with the Indian side. China is committed to resolving the boundary issue through negotiation and consultation and maintaining peace and tranquility in the border areas.” A day later, India’s MEA said that “the situation that we have seen since the last six months has been a result of the actions of the Chinese side which has sought to effect a unilateral change in status along the LAC in eastern Ladakh…These actions are in violation of the bilateral agreements and protocol on ensuring peace and tranquility along the LAC in the India-China border areas.”

Meanwhile, China’s ambassador to India Sun Weidong attended an online photo exhibition called: ‘Beautiful India Beautiful China: Dragon and Elephant Dance Together for Win-Win Outcomes.’ At the event, he called for both sides to “redouble our efforts to meet each other halfway, strengthen dialogue and exchanges, and overcome difficulties and challenges, in order to put China-India relations on the track of healthy and stable development.” Despite this, the inane niceties are also thinning out. Earlier this week, China’s State Post Office announced that it had decided to cancel the planned joint issue of stamps between China and India. This was being done to commemorate the 70th anniversary of bilateral ties. The Chinese embassy’s spokesperson in India said that the decision to cancel was taken because the “Indian side had not given feedback before launch time agreed by both sides.” The MEA pushed back saying that this was “factually incorrect” and that “there had been no discussion on any launch date with any Chinese authorities for this activity.” Anurag Srivastava went on to further state that “it may also be noted that the launch of the 70th anniversary celebrations itself has not taken place yet, and therefore, the issue of going ahead with joint activities under its ambit does not arise.” Makes complete sense. Things cannot be business as usual with the situation the way it is at the LAC.

Moving on, there was also this fascinating exchange involving India and Russia over the Indo-Pacific this week. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said this week that “India is currently an object of the Western countries’ persistent, aggressive and devious policy as they are trying to engage it in anti-China games by promoting Indo-Pacific strategies, the so-called ‘Quad’ while at the same time, the West is attempting to undermine our close partnership and privileged relations with India.” The Indian Foreign Minister, on the other hand, defended New Delhi’s role in the Indo-Pacific construct. At the same time, the MEA said that “India has always pursued an independent foreign policy based on its national interest. India’s relationship with each country is independent of its relations with third countries…We hope that this is well understood and appreciated by all our partners.” I guess these questions are going to keep coming up again over time, particularly given such remarks by Democratic lawmaker Mark Warner, who heads the India Caucus. Speaking at an event this week, he said that “India will need to get off the fence and realise that the authoritarian capitalism model that China is putting out, you can’t be on the fence on that, you have got to decide whether you are going to align with democracies. Clearly India is the world’s largest democracy and I believe it will align with that group.”

Onto security issues, Bloomberg reports that according to Indian officials, China is assisting rebel groups that have stepped up attacks on its border with Myanmar in recent months. The report adds that armed groups in Myanmar — including the United Wa State Army and the Arakan Army, which was designated a terrorist organization this year — are acting as Beijing’s proxies by supplying weapons and providing hideouts to insurgent groups in India’s northeastern states. It further states that India moved several battalions consisting of about 1,000 troops each into the Myanmar border area after a soldier was killed in an ambush on Oct. 21. Finally, something positive to end with: the Uttar Pradesh government is saying that Samsung will be making an investment of Rs 4,825 crore in the state to move its mobile and IT display production unit from China to India. This apparently comes amid promises of financial incentives of Rs. 700 crores by the UP government. The Union government had earlier this year approved financial incentives — under a $6.65 billion (roughly Rs. 49,035 crores) federal plan to boost domestic smartphone production — for 16 companies, including Samsung and top Apple suppliers Foxconn, Wistron, and Pegatron.

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