Eye on China is a weekly newsletter that tracks developments in China from an Indian interests perspective.
I. India-China Ties
April 1 marked the 71st anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations between the Republic of India and the PRC. But there was really no fanfare. This week the MEA called on Beijing “to ensure that disengagement in the remaining areas is completed at the earliest.” But there’s still no clarity on the next round of talks between the two sides on this issue. India’s Army chief General MM Naravane also spoke about the situation in Ladakh this week. He said that it is important to look at the larger picture when it comes to the current disengagement in that “it serves the interest of both the countries to have a very stable LAC (Line of Actual Control), with less chances of any confrontation taking place.” He then reasserted that “not an inch (of territory) has been lost” and that “we are where we were before this whole thing started.” I find that last bit perplexing. If we are where we were, then what are we discussing?
Anyway, there’s little that’s being heard about the talks process from Beijing. But what’s clear is that 2020 also marked a turning point in even Chinese public imagination of the relationship with India. And such reports by the Global Times are not only indicative of this but will also reinforce this change. It is Qingming Festival or tomb sweeping day in China on Sunday. Global Times tells us that on Saturday “relatives of martyr Wang Zhuoran, a People’s Liberation Army soldier who sacrificed himself in China-India border clash in June 2020, cried at Wang’s tomb located in the martyr’s cemetery in Luohe, Central China’s Henan Province.” The report says that while Wang’s parents came to the cemetery, they saw that “streams of local students, police, residents and villagers from Wang’s home village, had gathered at the square of the cemetery early Saturday to pay respect to Wang.” The video linked to the story shows Wang’s bust and his letters to his parents preserved in a memorial hall.
Moving on, Reuters reported this week that the Indian government has blocked at least two of ByteDance’s bank accounts for alleged tax evasion. This was done in mid-March. The report, citing an unidentified source, says that “the directive to freeze ByteDance India’s bank accounts came after tax authorities last year inspected documents at the company’s office, scrutinised documents and questioned some executives in relation to the advertising and other transactions with its parent entity.” Bytedance approached the High Court in Mumbai, challenging the government’s decision. At the hearing this week, the company’s counsel revealed that four of their accounts had been blocked. There was no immediate relief for the company, with the next hearing scheduled for April 6. Just as an aside, there’s talk about ByteDance being valued at more than $250 billion. That makes it among the biggest companies globally.
Next up, a quick wrap of a few other noteworthy reports. This one from the Hindu BusinessLine talks about India and China tussling at the WTO over Chinese restrictions on Indian shrimp and buffalo meat exports. The report says that “India’s exports of seafood in 2019-20 were valued at about $6.8 billion and China’s imports, at $1.3 billion, accounted for approximately 20 percent of it. However, there has been a sharp decline in imports of Indian seafood, including shrimps, by China in 2020-21, as per industry estimates. On the issue of buffalo meat, India expressed its disappointment that China was not allowing shipments despite signing of an MoU in 2013 and the country clearing 14 centres in 2017 in India for exports.” Second, responding to a question about China-Pakistan friendship on Monday, MoFA’s Zhao Lijian slipped in a comment about the recent Delhi-Islamabad talks. He said: “China is happy to see Pakistan’s recent positive interactions with India. We are ready to work with Pakistan, and continue to inject positive energy into regional peace, stability and development.”
Finally, let’s look at some of the commentaries and pieces from Chinese media. First, here’s a wonderful translation of remarks by Professor Zhang Baijia at the “China’s Frontier and Asian Studies” at Tsinghua University in October 2020. Zhang is the former Deputy Director of the Party History Research Office of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. He talked about the weakness of Chinese research and understanding of its neighbours like India. He says this is because “deep in our bones we are very sinocentric. We think of our neighbors as belonging to the Chinese cultural sphere. Such a simple view is wrong. The history of China’s neighbors is very different from China’s. This is especially true for those of our neighbors which have been colonies of European powers.” He further talked about the challenges of India-China border talks. Zhang said that:
“When pre-1949 Chinese negotiators discussed the China – India border with the UK, foremost for the UK was what borders would best support its control of India and curb the northward expansion of the princely states tubang 土邦. After India became independent, borders became tied to nationalism and so negotiations became much more difficult…At the time of the 1962 China-India War, the PRC seriously overestimated India’s military strength. The result of the war was a deep resentment on the Indian side that made border issues even harder to resolve. Another problem is that China does not understand India. Border issues require long-term engagement on the issues. Opportunities to resolve border issues are fleeting. If one waits for a better opportunity to resolve them, some even may occur such as a change of government and the disappearance of a leader who wanted to make a contribution to history by resolving the issue. That will make that opportunity for a solution vanish.”
Next, there are the pieces issuing warnings about Indian foreign policy. So Long Xingchun writes in Global Times that the US is declining and India hitching its wagon to Washington is not going to help it with regard to dealing with China. The article gave me a hearty chuckle. Throughout the tone is one of finger wagging and warning India from getting too close to the US, and then he ends saying that “New Delhi has made major mistakes in its strategic judgment of Beijing, perceiving that the latter has the intention of threatening it.” Anyway, Long’s basic argument is that the US is declining; China is very powerful; Delhi can have a relationship with Washington but not at Beijing’s cost; and Washington isn’t going to come to Delhi’s aid to fight its wars.
There’s also this piece by Senior Colonel (retd.) Zhou Bo. One can disagree with him, but I think he makes a few good points that should be noted. Zhou argues that the Quad is essentially about China, but it faces many contradictions. His conclusion is that “Unless the Quad takes common strategic issues in the region as driving forces and proves itself to be inclusive rather than exclusive, the future of the small group is not bright. It can survive, but it will not thrive.” Meanwhile, here’s his analysis of India’s role:
“India is at the core of the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” because the other three countries are already allies. Although India regards the Indian Ocean as its ‘backyard’ and is unwilling to see the presence of the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean, there is no evidence that there is a conflict of interest between the two parties. The Chinese Navy has only one base in Djibouti, and the Chinese navy only conducts anti-piracy operations. In May 2011, the Chinese and Indian navies cooperated with NATO to rescue the Chinese merchant ship ‘Fucheng’ hijacked by Somali pirates. If India chooses to fall into the arms of the United States, it will incur two unbearable consequences. First, it will threaten India’s strategic autonomy and room for maneuver among major powers. This is important because India is one of the founding countries of the Non-Aligned Movement. Second, it will lead to a decline in India-Russia relations. India is the world’s second largest importer of weapons, while Russia is its largest supplier of weapons, accounting for half of India’s market share. Any move by New Delhi towards Washington will arouse Moscow’s vigilance. Like Beijing, Moscow is regarded by Washington as one of its strategic competitors.”