REPORT OF THE ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION ON EMERGING SINO-INDIA RELATIONS: ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
Speakers : Prof. Guo Ming, Jikang Mao and Yuanmei Yao
Chair : Admiral Sureesh Mehta (Retd.) Chairman, NMF
Participants : Vice Admiral Mihir Roy (Retd.)
Vice Admiral Pradeep Kaushiva (Retd), Director, NMF
Cmde. Uday Bhaskar (Retd.) NMF
NMF Research Faculty
Venue : NMF Conference Room
Time and Date : 1100 hrs on 14 March 2012
A delegation from the Hainan Institute for World Watch visited National Maritime Foundation (NMF) for a Round Table Discussion (RTD) on “Emerging Sino-India Relations: Issues and Challenges”. Initiating the discussion, VAdm MihirRoy brought out the changing geo-strategic equations in the Indo-Pacific. He dwelt on the need for greater cooperation between India and China to further peace, security, stability and development of the two countries. The India-China relationship, he noted, has much potential but is still plagued by problems and unresolved disputes. Indeed there are many vexatious issues that bedevil the relationship, most notably the impasse over the boundary delineation, the Tibet issue, China’s strategic build-up, Beijing’s role in Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation and Indian concerns over China’s rising military expenditure. He highlighted the need for a trust-building mechanism between the two countries.
Commenting on some of the issues flagged by VAdm Roy, Prof. Guo Ming brought out that China had the same imperatives and compulsions to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, as any other trading nation. He, however, pointed out that the assertive Chinese stand in the South China Sea must be seen in light of the “shifting U.S. grand naval strategy” in the Pacific. China, he said, is in favour of rules-based governance in the global commons but the South China Sea had a different context that needed a finer appreciation. China, Prof Ming noted, understood India’s concerns but had its own anxieties over what it perceives to be India’s penchant for interfering in China’s disputes with neighbouring countries in the South-China Sea.
Despite all the differences between the two nations, Prof Ming appeared sanguine about the bilateral relationship. China, he observed, was willing to partner with India for joint initiatives in the maritime security domain. He specifically highlighted the need for a Sino-India joint strategy against piracy in South Asia and off the coast of Somalia. On the rapid evolving geo-political situation in South-Asia and the Middle East, Prof Ming flagged China’s grave security concerns over the drawdown of U.S. led NATO forces from Afghanistan and Iran’s conflict with the West over the nuclear security issue.
Responding to the issues brought up by Prof Guo, Admiral Sureesh Mehtaclarified India’s stand on the South China Sea dispute. Addressing China’s misgivings about Indian “interference” in Beijing’s “bilateral” disputes with her neighbours in the South China Sea, the Chairman, NMF elaborated the specifics of India’s position on the issue. India, he mentioned, appreciates that the dispute over the territories of the South China Sea is a matter to be sorted out between the conflicting parties. India is, however, concerned about the implications this dispute has on the freedom of navigation for international shipping and maritime forces. While China, unquestionably, has a right to maintain autonomy and safety in its territorial sea, it is equally important that Beijing accord due importance to international conventions and offer ships the freedom to ply unchallenged on the high seas. India’s concern’s vis-a-vis China, Admiral Mehta, noted are not limited to the South China Sea alone. India was also worried about China’s stand in Tibet, Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh and the WMD assistance to Pakistan. He held that there was an urgent need for confidence building measures in the India-China bilateral relationship.
Vice Admiral Pradeep Kaushiva, in his remarks, focused on the importance of dynamic and vigorous bilateral cooperation between India and China. He cited the example of Sino-Indian coordination in the Gulf of Aden, but expressed concern at the trust deficit that still characterises the Sino-India relationship. The recently altered Chinese stand on the boundary dispute between India and Pakistan, he observed, was yet another example of the Chinese propensity to constantly shift its policy position on disputed issues. The inconsistency of the public stand taken was disheartening for Indian interlocutors. He also alluded to the Chinese proclivity to unilaterally seek to change the status quo.
Responding to the comments and questions from the Indian participants (more specifically to a query by Cmde Uday Bhaskar (Retd) about the ‘Peaceful Rise of China’) Mr. Ji Kang Mao noted that post-2008, China’s maritime strategy certainly seems to have acquired an assertive streak. But the new proactiveness, he contended, was not to be confused with “aggressiveness”. The Chinese, he observed, had their own concerns about the US’ increased involvement in the Pacific and the American tendency to insert itself into maritime disputes in the South China Sea. The trust deficit in Sino-US relations, he contended, was driving China’s perceived hostile positions on the issue, but this is just a firm posture on China’s part to protect its supreme national interests in the region.
More importantly, he characterised China’s policy toward India as “logical” and “reasonable”. Despite differences in Sino-India policy perceptions - which he attributed to the supposed inability of Chinese diplomats to appreciate the nitty-gritty of bilateral relations – the outlook of India-China relations, on the whole, remained positive. Mr. Mao noted that Chinese maritime strategists however, found India’s reluctance in accepting China’s entry into Indian Ocean Naval Symposium rather ‘odd’. Such dissonant policy positions, he noted, could also create a trust deficit.
In the discussions that followed the main speakers’ presentations, participants highlighted other facets of Sino-Indian ties. One Indian participant commented on the burgeoning India-China economic relationship and the fact that India was now closely entwined with the Chinese economy. This, he noted, seems to lend an unmistakably positive hue to the overall bilateral ties. He however, hastened to add that despite many “bright spots” in the relationship, there is no denying the many seemingly intractable issues between the two countries, inter alia the “visa question” and the supposed diversion of the Brahmaputra river on the Chinese side.
There is also a perception in India that Beijing does not support New Delhi taking on a meaningful role in global governance. The Chinese, it was suggested, should try and replicate the success of the Sino-Russia cooperation model that had resolved their conflicting territorial claims. Resolution of mutual conflicts are considered essential prerequisites for further cooperation between the two nations and the Indian side felt that China must exhibit more seriousness and sincerity of purpose through tangible action.
As the Round Table drew to a close, the Director NMF informed the visiting delegation about the invitation extended for a senior officer from the PLAN or an academic expert to participate in the recently conducted Annual Maritime Power Conference and the PRC’s unwillingness to do so.