China-India Brief #97


Published Twice a Month
July 11 – 23, 2017

Centre on Asia and Globalisation
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Guest Column

China-India relations in the time of border skirmishes

by Li Qingyan

A month ago, India sent troops across the Sikkim border into China to obstruct construction of a road by the People’s Liberation Army in the Donglong region. The situation remains tense, with a face-off between soldiers of the two countries still ongoing. If the trespassing of the Indian troops is organized and premeditated to disrupt the status quo in the Sikkim section, it could have a dramatic impact on the future of Sino-Indian relationship.

Unlike previous stand-off incidents between Chinese and Indian border troops, including the one that lasted 26 days during President Xi Jinping’s state visit to India in 2014, the current situation occurred at the Sikkim section of the China-India boundary. This boundary has long been demarcated and defined, unlike incidences that took place due to undefined borders. The Sikkim section of the China-India border was defined by the Convention between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet in 1890 and acknowledged by successive Indian governments since then. Documents between the Chinese and Indian governments show former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru admitted several times that the Sikkim-Tibet border was defined by the 1890 convention, on behalf of the Indian government. India, however, denies the 1890 Convention and claims that the Sikkim section of the China-India boundary is not delimited.

The ‘stand-off’ that took place at the demarcated border is of a totally different nature to that at an undefined border. From the historical and legal perspective as well as the status quo, it is explicit that the trespassing by the Indian troops violates the goals and principles of the UN Charter, and tramples on international laws and basic norms of international relations.

What does India want from its military’s trespassing?

New Delhi sent its troops illegally, crossing the delimited Sikkim section of the China-India boundary. It risked international condemnation by installing its troops on Chinese soil for as long as possible with the ambitious intention to creating disputes in Doklam. It ostensibly entered Chinese territory of Doklam to safeguard its ‘security concern’ in the northeastern region of India.

On the one hand, India seeks to obstruct or delay Chinese road or other infrastructure constructions in border areas in order to protects its security. According to Indian arguments, New Delhi fears that if China completes the road there, it could facilitate a possible Chinese attack on the narrow strip of land that connects India’s northeastern states with its mainland. However, the possible ‘serious security implication’ cannot become an excuse for any country’s troops to cross illegally into another country’s territory. No country can pursue its security at the cost of another country’s sovereignty.

On the other hand, by creating disputes in Doklam, India intends to provoke conflicts between China and Bhutan and to obstruct border negotiations between the two countries. India first claimed that its border had been encroached by China, and then changed its tune by stating its actions were in the name of ‘protecting’ Bhutan. The word of ‘protecting’ reveals the ‘unequal relationship’ between the South Asian giant and Bhutan, a relationship whose kind seldom exists in the 21st century.

Although the China-Bhutan boundary is not officially demarcated, both countries have a basic consensus on the practical condition of the border areas. Furthermore, China’s activities in Doklam have not violated any bilateral agreement nor have they disrupted the status quo.

Where are Sino-Indian relations going?

In recent years, India has enjoyed a favorable external environment and praise from the West, led by the United States and Japan. This has given a fillip to New Delhi’s global ambitions. Through expanding the bilateral defence cooperation between the Narendra Modi-led government and the Obama administration, India has become America’s major defence partner and enjoys privileges because it is designated a ‘close ally’ of the United States.

With defence relations as a major driver, the India-US strategic partnership has reached unprecedented heights. Although the Trump administration’s policy towards South Asia is not very clear, the strategic partnership between the United States and India is expected to stay the same. Trump probably take the same view as Obama that helping India expand in power and prosperity serves the larger geopolitical interests of the United States in the region and globally. Meanwhile, New Delhi has gradually put its traditional ‘nonalignment policy’ aside and is eager to play a more important role in balancing China within the Asian-Pacific strategy of the US. Similarly, the ‘natural alliance’ of India and Japan also sees a role for each other in its China strategy.

The military action taken by India in the Donglong region is the newest and reflects India’s unbridled ambition.

China-India relations have encountered obstacles in the past two years, even as New Delhi is stuck in a Cold War mentality and treats its relations with China as a ‘zero-sum’ game. To maintain stable and peaceful relations between China and India is in the interest of both sides as well as the entire region. As a rapidly developing country, India demands a peaceful neighboring environment more eagerly than China. Furthermore, to be a global power, it should not violate international laws and basic norms of international relations.

China attaches great importance to its relations with India and is ready to develop a long-term stable strategic partnership for cooperation. So far, the situation has not flared out of control. This is thanks to the great restraint exercised by China. However, a peaceful resolution must depend on the efforts of both sides. India must understand that respecting the borderline is the bottom line for sustained peace. The ball is now in India’s court.


Li Qingyan is Associate Researcher at the Department for International and Strategic Studies of CIIS. Her major research fields are South Asia, China’s Neighbourhood Diplomacy, CPEC, and Afghanistan.


The views expressed in the article(s) are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy or the National University of Singapore.


News Reports

Bilateral relations

China ready for ‘war’ with India, holds live-fire drills near border
Newsweek, July 18
The ruling Communist Party of China has issued a stern warning to neighboring India, with which it is engaged in a bitter border dispute that has recently seen Chinese live-fire drills and media speculation of extensive Indian military casualties denied by both sides. After accusing Indian troops of crossing over the disputed Sikkim border last month, Chinese Communist Party outlet Global Times published a commentary Tuesday urging restraint by both belligerents, but warning that China was prepared to engage India in a battle for the contested land. The piece chalked up the conflict to a greater competition for economic and political dominance between the two leading Asian powers and said that Beijing would amass troops and armaments at the border in anticipation for what could turn into an all-out war.

India says in quiet diplomacy with China to tackle border stand-off
Channel News Asia, July 20
When Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on the sidelines of a regional conference last month, officials said they reached an understanding not to let the two countries’ long-standing “differences become disputes”.Yet within days, Chinese and Indian soldiers were jostling in a desolate but disputed border region in the Himalayas that has since grown into an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation from which neither army is ready to back off. The flare-up is the latest incident in a steadily deteriorating relationship between the Asian giants who are unable to agree on their 3,500 km (2,175 miles) border, over which they went to war in 1962.

Some Indian leaders making irresponsible remarks: expert
Global Times, July 22
While some Indian political figures want to win international support by making irresponsible remarks on the military standoff along China-India border, Chinese experts said that China would make no compromise on the territorial issues, but the upcoming visit of Indian national security advisor for the BRICS summit in September might ease the tensions. India’s Bharatiya Janata Party leader RK Singh said changing the status quo in Doklam will endanger India’s vital interests, Indian media Deccan Chronicle reported on Friday. He also said China should stop making aggressive statements, adding that China is not only “bullying India but the rest of the world.”

China and India locked in ‘Eyeball-to-Eyeball’ border standoff
Bloomberg, July 25
China and India, two nuclear-armed powers with a combined population of 2.7 billion, have been in an “eyeball-to-eyeball” military stand-off over territory in Bhutan, a kingdom in a remote area of the Himalayas, since mid-June. The flare-up, one of the most serious since China won a border war in 1962, comes as the two rising powers jostle for regional influence. The current dispute is near a three-way junction between Bhutan, China’s Tibet and India’s Sikkim.


News Reports

China and India in the Regions

‘Closely and carefully’ following India-China standoff, says US
The Hindu, July 21
The US is “closely and carefully” following the border standoff between India and China, the Trump administration said today, urging the two Asian countries to engage in direct dialogue to reduce the tension. “This is a situation that we are following closely and carefully. I’d have to refer you to the governments of India and China for more information on that,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. She said Indian and China were talking on the issue.

Abe plans to visit India in mid-September
The Japan Times, July 22
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering visiting India between Sept. 12 and 14, it has been learned. Abe is expected to hold a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and attend a ceremony related to India’s high-speed railway project, which uses Japan’s shinkansen technology, according to diplomatic sources. Abe wants to reach an agreement with Modi to strengthen bilateral cooperation on maritime security, apparently to address China’s growing activities in the East and South China seas and the Indian Ocean, the sources said.

Pakistan’s envoy wades into Doklam row meeting China’s and Bhutan’s ambassadors
The Indian Express, July 22
A month into the border standoff between India and China at the tri-junction with Bhutan, Pakistan’s envoy Abdul Basit has waded into the Doklam row. The High Commissioner is learnt to have met the Chinese and Bhutanese envoys in New Delhi this week. While it is not unusual for the envoys to meet in New Delhi, the timing of these meetings has raised eyebrows in South Block. The meeting between Basit, who is likely to leave for Islamabad soon, and Chinese ambassador Luo Zhaohui took place Wednesday, sources said. The meeting was at the request of Basit. A day later, on Thursday, the Pakistan High Commissioner met Bhutan’s ambassador Major General Vetsop Namgyel. This meeting too was at Basit’s request.


News Reports

Trade and Economy

India-China trade talks deadlocked
The Hindu, July 13
Trade talks between India and China remained deadlocked with neither side willing to offer concessions to end the impasse, official sources said. Recent bilateral talks on issues relating to farm products, which took place in the backdrop of the military standoff in the Doklam area of the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction, failed to make any headway, said the trade officials. China deferred taking a decision on grant of market access to Indian rice, pomegranate, okra and bovine meat, while India opted to stick to its ban on imports of apple, pear, milk and milk products from China, the sources said. The details of the talks will soon be shared with the Embassy of India in Beijing, they added.

India at risk of losing Nepal transit trade to China
The Hindu Business Line, July 16
India is at risk of losing the Nepalese transit trade to China, whose high-speed rail link, particularly under the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, compares favourably to the slow trundle of Indian goods trains and the capacity constraints on the border with Nepal. According to the World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS), set up by the World Bank and UN trade bodies, Nepal imported goods worth $6.6 billion in 2015 and exported goods worth $660 million. India accounts for 60 per cent and 63 per cent, respectively, of Nepal’s imports and exports. The rest of the trade, valued at over $3 billion, is also routed through India.

China-India border tensions cloud major Asia trade pact talks in Hyderabad
The Straits Times, July 20
A meeting of 16 nations in India on a mega Asia trade pact is happening in the shadow of elevated border tensions between India and China, a wrinkle that could further slow progress on the deal. Trade officials gathered in the southern city of Hyderabad are seeking to hammer out agreement on sticky issues such as the free movement of people in the pact that takes in the world’s second- and third-biggest economies – China and Japan – but does not involve the United States. China is urging the 10 members of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with India, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan, to wrap up the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as soon as possible.

India, China seek reduction in farm subsidies by West
The Times of India, July 22
Even as the Chinese state media turned shriller on India and accused foreign minister Sushma Swaraj of lying to Parliament on the Doklam impasse, India and China are working together at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to get developed countries such as the US and the European Union members to reduce subsidies for farm products that are detrimental to exports from developing and poor countries. Earlier this week, the two countries put out a joint proposal to revive talks on a more balanced set of rules for global farm trade in the run up to a meeting of ministers in December. On Thursday, at a meeting in Geneva, India presented the paper and argued that the current WTO agreement on agriculture contains a major asymmetry as it allows developed countries access to enhanced support and sought its removal as a pre-requisite for talks on reforms for subsidies provided in the domestic markets.


News Reports

Energy and Environment

India and China poised to be the world’s climate heroes
Gulf News, July 20
When United States President Donald Trump pulled America out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change last month, he declared that the historic international accord “hamstrings the United States while empowering some of the world’s top polluting countries”. He was talking about China and India. China has a penchant for thinking big. In 2012, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River generated a world-record 98.8 terawatt-hours. Today, deep inside the Chinese heartland, the national government is constructing the world’s largest wind farm. When completed in 2020, the Gansu Wind Farm will produce 20,000MW, nearly 2.5 times the Bruce Nuclear Station, the world’s largest nuclear generation facility.

Future of renewable energy: Sunny investment climate for solar technology in India
Hindustan Times, July 23
On May 12, 2017, India recorded its lowest-ever solar tariff of Rs 2.44/unit of electricity. That is a 73% fall since 2010, and compares favourably with India’s cheapest power source–coal, electricity from which now ranges between Rs 3/unit and Rs 5/unit. Renewable energy could generate 49% of electricity in India by 2040 because more efficient batteries–to store electricity when the sun does not shine–will provide flexibility of use and boost the reach of renewables, cutting the cost of solar energy by a further 66% over current costs, according to the Bloomberg New Energy Outlook 2017 report. The cost of solar modules is free falling due to rapid and sustained technology improvements adding to the massive economies of scale being achieved. Production volumes globally are growing 10-30% annually for the last decade. By selling at close to zero profit margins, China continues to subsidise the production and exporting of solar modules to gain global market share, and India is a key beneficiary of this.



India-China border row exposes bilateral tensions
The Straits Times, July 12
A four-week border stand-off between India and China is exposing bilateral tensions and fanning nationalistic sentiments on both sides of the Himalayas. The row began on June 16, when Indian border troops approached a People’s Liberation Army road construction group to stop building a road in an area claimed by both Bhutan and China. India said it was asked to intervene by Bhutan and that the construction had implications on its own security. China, which said Indian troops had stopped the construction, accused India of intruding into its territory. Over the last weekend, China issued a travel advisory asking its nationals to be careful in India, capping weeks of sharp rhetoric that has included Chinese officials asking India to pull back troops unconditionally.

India uses Bhutan to stir up border tensions
Global Times, July 13During the recent standoff in the Doklam region between China and India, India has claimed that the region in Yadong county, China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, belongs to Bhutan and that China is trying to grab it. This claim, however, doesn’t hold up to historical scrutiny. The Convention Between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet, which was formally signed between the then Qing government of China and the UK in 1890, explicitly stipulated the boundary between China’s Tibet and British-controlled Sikkim, with Doklam falling on China’s side. In 1975, after Sikkim was annexed by India, that border became the boundary between China and India. India, however, claims that the region belongs to Bhutan, and is using Bhutan as an excuse for its current standoff with China.

Neither side is likely to back down from China-India border standoff
Forbes, July 14
Far from showing signs of abating, the dispute between India and China at the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China — known as the Doklam plateau — appears to be ramping up. It began more than three weeks ago when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attempted to build a road in a disputed border area, prompting the Indian military to intervene. The two nations stand on a more equal footing than even before and are now at loggerheads over the border region — neither side has shown any sign of backing down. In the years since the last major conflict over the Sino-Indian border flared up in 1962, a relative calm has been maintained in the border areas. This is not to suggest that there have been no incursions or stand-offs in recent years, but both countries were conscious of the need to keep the peace along the border and usually found a way to resolve issues without conflict.

The Doklam standoff Both India and China need a face saver to avoid further deterioration in relations
The Times of India, July 15
It is one month into the military standoff between India and China, with no indication either side will back down. There is a sense in India that it will be resolved short of war. Can we be so certain? Two things about the confrontation seem reasonably clear. First, China’s extension of its road in the Doklam area has seriously worried both Bhutan and India. Bhutan believes that Doklam belongs to it and that Chinese encroachments, over several years, have gone too far. India has two anxieties. It is determined to stand firm by the side of its ally, Bhutan. It is also determined that Chinese forces must not be allowed any nearer the thin wedge of Indian territory pinched between Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. If China were to cut off this “chicken’s neck” in a future conflict, it would sever the links between northern and northeastern India.

Sikkim standoff: China is angry because India has changed the rules of the game
Hindustan Times, July 16
All the elements of drama in high places are there. Six thousand soldiers from the world’s two largest countries are eyeball-to-eyeball, sometimes literally, on a remote chunk of Himalayan rock. The official discourse is becoming increasingly undiplomatic. The media on both sides is baying for blood. Amid all this the leaders of both countries are crossing paths in a far-off continent, trying to avoid discussing the crisis. One reason they aren’t: neither has a formula for resolution besides the other side playing dead. Best then to wait, watch and keep your powder dry.

India’s provocation will trigger all-out confrontation on LAC
Global Times, July 18
On June 16, Indian border guards crossed over the Sikkim section of the China-India border to the Chinese side, triggering a face-off with Chinese troops. India’s action this time is a blatant infringement on China’s sovereignty. As the confrontation goes on, China needs to get ready for the face-off becoming a long-term situation and at the same time, needs to maintain a sense of rationality. Within China, there are voices calling for the Indian troops to be expelled immediately to safeguard the country’s sovereignty, while Indian public opinion is clamoring for war with China. However, the two sides need to exercise restraint and avoid the current conflict spiraling out of control.

China, India must prevent border tensions from blocking progress towards RCEP
Global Times, July 20
Hundreds of officials from 16 nations are set to address a gathering in Hyderabad, India next week where they will meet to negotiate an Asia-centered trade deal called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). China and India are two prominent members of the group, but they face the task of preventing an escalation of their border tensions from becoming an obstacle to reach ing trade agreements at the negotiating table. In 2012, tensions over the Diaoyu Islands flared up between China and Japan when the latter tried to “nationalize” the uninhabited islands, which both nations claim sovereignty over. One result of the territorial dispute is that negotiations on a China-Japan-South Korea free trade agreement (FTA) have been stalled since Sino-Japan ties cooled after the incident.

Military conflicts to escalate if India refuses to withdraw troops
Global Times, July 21
Addressing the ongoing border face-off between China and India, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told her country’s parliament on Thursday that “all countries are in India’s support,” and said India is alert to the need to protect its security near “the border where the boundaries of China, India and Bhutan meet,” Indian media reported Thursday. She was lying to the parliament. First, India’s invasion of Chinese territory is a plain fact. New Delhi’s impetuous action stuns the international community. No other country will support India’s aggression. Second, India’s military strength is far behind that of China. If the conflict between China and India escalates to the intensity where their row has to be resolved through military means, India will surely lose.

Can China and India still be business partners despite territorial row in Himalayas?
South China Morning Post, July 23
It is over one month into the stand-off between China and India in Donglang, or Dokalam as the area is known in India. The troops of two countries are mired in an eye-to-eye confrontation while round-the-clock media reports fan mutual antagonism. Fermented nationalism is felt in both China and India. Last week, a video clip went viral on Chinese social media. It showed a group of Indians demolishing the signage of Chinese mobile phone brands Vivo and Oppo. Many Chinese have taken the clip as concrete proof that a carefully orchestrated campaign against Made-in-China products is under way across India. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the reading of this video is wrong. The video was shot two months earlier. It has nothing to do with resentment towards Chinese brands. The incident is sparked by the friction between mobile store owners and the local tax officer in Pune, a city at the centre of India.

India’s got itself into a fine mess in Doklam, it’s time to get out and let China and Bhutan work it out
South China Morning Post, July 23
China and India are locked yet again in a stand-off of Himalayan proportions. Almost five weeks after Indian troops trespassed and forcibly halted the activities of a Chinese road construction crew on a narrow plateau at the China-Bhutan-India tri-junction area in the Sikkim Himalayas, the two sides appear no closer to resolving their quarrel. The area in question, Doklam, is the subject of a legal dispute between China and Bhutan, is under the effective jurisdiction of China, and holds an important security interest to India.


Books and Journals

Conducting Business in China and India: A Comparative and Contextual Analysis
SpringerLink, 2017
As the world was experiencing the resultant turmoil (the aftershocks of which are still being felt), two large Asian countries—China and India—were constantly providing glimmers of hope. The two countries have been praised for their social and economic resilience. China and India were not only growing and developing at their fastest pace during this period but the societies in these two countries characterized by largest populations and several diverse cultures were remarkably calm compared to several other smaller nations. It is for these reasons that the prestige of the two countries on a global scale has risen phenomenally in the past decade. It is thus an opportune time to assess China and India in a comparative manner through institutional lenses. How robust are various institutional frameworks in these two countries? How have the institutions been transformed over the past few decades and with what impact on the society and business? How efficient and transparent is the market in China and India? The objective of this book, by Deepak Sardana and Ying Zhu, is to give readers an impartial and honest account of the institutional and business context of China and India


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