Since August 29, tensions have reappeared on the Sino-Indian border. Indian Special Forces illegally crossed the line and occupied (positions) on the south bank of Pangong Lake and near the Rechin Mountain Pass, and carried out “blatant provocations” against China, which seriously undermined peace and stability of the Sino-Indian border area. The Indian Ministry of Defense even proudly declared that it was a “preemptive” move by India. This, “duplicitous and perfidous” approach has met with firm opposition from China.
While India is provoking and making a show of its strength on the border, it is at the same time substantially advancing strategic cooperation with the United States and its allies. According to Indian media, the “2+2 meeting” between the Indian and US Foreign Ministers and the Defense Minister will be held in September, when India will approve the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with the United States. Together with the “Logistics Exchange Memorandum Agreement” (LEMOA) signed by India and the United States in August 2016 and the “Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement” (COMCASA) signed by the two parties in September 2018, In a few years, India has signed the three basic military cooperation agreements that defense partners need to sign with the USA for sharing of its military bases, communication systems and for intelligence sharing with the forces. It can be said to have become a “genuine” military ally of the United States.
At the same time, there is the “Indo-Pacific strategy” that India and US allies are pushing forward. On June 4, 2020, India and Australia signed the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), allowing Indian and Australian warships and aircraft to use each other’s military bases. Coupled with the “Mutual Provision of Materials and Labor Services Agreement” to be signed between India and Japan, a defense system with shared military bases and logistical support has been established among the four countries of the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
However, even though India has become an ally of the United States in military defense, Indian officials have always denied the “name” ally on the surface, and even claimed to pursue strategic autonomy. India’s approach is to reap the “benefit” of US ally (status), but without the “name.” Because if you accept the status of an “ally” of the United States and become a “little brother” of the United States, it is somewhat “dwarfs” India’s self-proclaimed status as a great power. In addition, India has to consider and weigh its relationship with traditional strategic partners such as Russia and Iran. But the fact is that if a country that shares military bases, communications systems, and intelligence with the United States still maintains that it is pursuing strategic autonomy, such an understanding will obviously be ridiculous.
China obviously can’t stop India from becoming an ally of the United States. This is because India’s diplomatic strategy has always been highly opportunistic, not one of “non-alignment” and “strategic autonomy” as it claims. At the same time that it is militarily “aligning” with the United States and its allies, India has actually begun to “decouple” economically from China, in order to reshape the external economic links, and accelerate the realization of India’s rise in the course of intensified strategic competition between China and the United States. After the outbreak of the new corona epidemic, the United States has been actively promoting “de-Sinicization” of the global industrial chain, and India seeks to contribute to it, with the aim of seizing the opportunities arising from United States’ promotion of relocation of manufacturing out of China. This is the reason for India conducting national security reviews of “Chinese Investment” and blocking of apps related to China.
Therefore, we now need to re-understand India on the basis of examination of ground realities, which also means that we may have to consider reassessing and adjusting our India policy. In the past, China’s foreign policy in South Asia was largely concerned with Indian sensitivities. Now, if India’s China policy undergoes major changes, we must respond as soon as possible. Similarly, if India takes extraordinary measures on Tibet-related, Xinjiang-related, and Taiwan-related issues, we have good reason to take reciprocal counter-measures. After all, there are far more ethnic, religious, and human rights issues in India than in China.
On the other hand, China’s diplomacy with India does not need to adopt a position of “drawing a line with the United States,” even though India is already a military ally of the United States. The reason is that it can choose friends, but not neighbors. The two large countries with a population of one billion people, China and India have to get along with each other for generations under all circumstances.
(The author is a researcher at the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University)