China-India relations: as Beijing asks for one-China reassurance, New Delhi demurs. Why?
- India’s reluctance to reiterate the one-China policy in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is not without precedent in recent years
- But observers say Delhi’s ambiguity is also being driven by ongoing border tensions – and its opposition to a flagship Pakistan belt and road project
“Since then, India has never included this phrase in official documents or statements,” said Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, an international-studies professor at Nalanda University in Bihar, eastern India.
“Beijing must be sensitive to India’s concerns as well. Though India has not changed its policy, China is unnecessarily feeling insecure and asking for reassurance.”
Sun Weidong, Beijing’s ambassador to India, made the call for Delhi to “openly reiterate” its support for the one-China policy in a post on the embassy’s website last weekend, noting that “many other countries” had already done the same.
On August 12, before the ambassador’s call and a full 10 days after Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan, a spokesman for Delhi’s foreign ministry had merely said that India urged “the exercise of restraint, avoidance of unilateral action to change the status quo, de-escalation of tensions, and efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region”.
“India’s relevant policies are well known and consistent and they do not require reiteration,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi said in the carefully worded statement.
Border, sovereignty disputes add to tensions
Around the same time, Chinese state media reported on live-fire air defence drills undertaken by a brigade of the People’s Liberation Army’s Tibetan Military District “recently in a training ground at an altitude of 4,600 metres”, without specifying an exact location or date.
India wants to keep the border dispute “at the forefront” and is unhappy “that while China wants India to pay attention to its sensitivities, [it] is showing a complete disregard of India’s sovereignty”, said Sana Hashmi, a visiting fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation in Taipei.
Delhi “firmly and consistently opposes projects in the so-called CPEC, which are in Indian territory that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan”, Bagchi said. “Such activities are inherently illegal, illegitimate and unacceptable, and will be treated accordingly by India.”
Beijing cannot “connive with Pakistan and then expect reiteration of the one-China policy”, said Chirayu Thakkar, visiting faculty at Krea University in India and a doctoral candidate in international relations at the National University of Singapore, adding that “a different, nationalist and assertive dispensation is now in New Delhi that will not shy away from flexing its muscle”.
Derek Grossman, a senior defence analyst at the US-based Rand Corporation global policy think tank, wrote on Twitter that India released the photo “to throw it in Beijing’s face”.
Beijing’s ‘belligerence’ met with Delhi’s defiance
India does not follow in lockstep with any other major power, said Singh from the University of British Columbia, and is instead “becoming increasingly assertive in pursuing its own national interests that demand smart balancing”.
Krea University’s Thakkar agreed, saying: “New Delhi will have to maintain a delicate balance between the expectations of its allies, its role as a regional power, and its national interests.”
“However, the current trajectory suggests that the more belligerence Beijing shows towards New Delhi, the more New Delhi will defy Beijing,” Thakkar said.
Qian Feng, director of the research department at Tsinghua University’s National Strategy Institute, told nationalistic Chinese tabloid Global Times that India should observe the “three mutuals” – mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interest – “on sensitive issues, including the Taiwan question and its cooperative activities with the US in the region, so bilateral relations can see a substantial improvement”.
China-India ties have suffered recently because of border tensions, India’s regional cooperation with the US and unfavourable public opinion in both countries, Qian was cited as saying.
“Our relationship is not normal, it cannot be normal as the border situation is not normal,” he said.