HOW DID A PANDEMIC CHANGE THE INDO-SINO RELATIONS?
Tanya Singh, II Year of B.A.,LLB, from Vivekananda Institute of Professional studies, GGSIPU.
The contemporary world order is rapidly adapting to the ‘new normal’ established by Covid-19, and new equations are emerging at a pace that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. With the advent of COVID-19, the most prevalent expression that has become linked to geopolitics is the "new world order". The hostile and rapid rise of China, the economic aftermath of the global financial crisis, and, most recently, the pandemic all combined are transforming international politics.
China and India have seen many up and downs in their relations over the past years, however, being the first and second highest populated countries in the world respectively, both the neighbors are largely dependent on each other. The first Sino-India war took place in 1962 when the troops from both sides fought for the Himalayan territory of Aksai Chin. China back then had exerted a full-flown attack and had a standpoint that the territory was the ‘Line of Actual Control’ (LAC), and thus they had sovereignty over it[i]. Although India’s strategy was that of defense, however, India was left defeated and humiliated as it was never really prepared for a war with China. Until 1962, India had always focused on security threats that could be posed by its neighboring country Pakistan, but after the battle with China, we have learned to always be prepared for unforeseen attacks. Since then the two countries, i.e., China and India, have seen numerous infrequent stand-offs concerning the disputed areas in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. In 2019, India’s revocation of Article 370 from its constitution and China’s resistance against India’s infrastructure plans in the borderlands started a flint of spark in the border disputes.
RECENT BORDER DISPUTES BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES:
Recently, in May 2020 cross-border disputes in Sikkim between Indian and Chinese troops were witnessed. After some build-up, another clash had taken place in the ‘Galwan Valley’. By September, shots had been fired for the first time in over 40 years. In the words of external affairs minister, S Jaishankar “Such confrontations are the worst India and China have seen in recent years", and thus we see that the dispute has left the relationship between two countries profoundly disturbed.[ii]
Thus, on 29th June, the Indian government banned 59 widely used Chinese mobile phones and desktop applications in response to the unusual shenanigans by China and the escalating diplomatic dispute between the two nations. Another reason for the ban can be the fact that India is trying to take a path of self-reliance and thus we want to be less dependent on China as we have been for the past many years in various aspects.
Then further, on 27 October, the United States and India signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), enabling greater information-sharing and further better defense cooperation, to counter China's growing military power in the region.
Also, as the Indian general public blames China for the outbreak, the Covid-19 pandemic has added heat to Sino-Indian relations, thereby generating an anti-China sentiment. The latest stand-offs have been downplayed as short-term and temporary events by both states. However, if relations begin to shrink across national borders and the boundary issues remain unsolved, then it may continue to jeopardize the economic relations between them as well.
ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF COVID-19 ON INDO-SINO RELATIONS:
In the wake of the bloody border clash with China, India announced a slew of steps to curb China's role in the Indian economy, amid growing anti-China sentiment. Adding on China's previously implemented foreign direct investment (FDI) restrictions; the most recent round of regulations is a clampdown on Chinese investment in Indian start-ups.
The economic situations of the year 2020 had changed significantly. As per the reserve bank of India, the exports to China in India decreased from 121 INR billion in September to 109 INR billion in October 2020. Even the imports from China during April-July 2020 have decreased to $16.6 bn from $23.45 bn in the corresponding period of the previous year.[iii]
According to Piyush Goyal, India’s minister of commerce and industry, the 27% reduction in imports is because the government is committed to making an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Make in India’ success [iv]. Furthermore, we also know that the government has rolled out the Atmanirbhar Bharat package of Rs 20 lakh crore during the COVID-19 crisis. More notably, it has come amid calls for a boycott of Chinese goods following the border clashes.
Moreover, the government is also giving maximum preference to companies whose goods and services have 50% or more local content. So, this is another move aimed at promoting an ‘Atmanirbhar’ Bharat. Furthermore, popular calls have arisen for not using Chinese products. However,; making do without China’s products is not easy. For example, if we talk about smart phones,, the share of Chinese products is 72% of the entire market size. Now, the possibility of substitution of local or other products in comparison to China’s 72% dominance is very difficult. To take another example, in the pharmaceutical sector the share of Chinese products is 60% of the whole market size. Once again, the possibility of substitution is tough as the other sources are much pricier.
There have been claims that Western and Japanese businesses are lining up to shift supply chains away from China to India, considering the disruption caused by the pandemic. In April, leaders as diverse as UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, former BJP President and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have spoken about the issue of attracting companies that want to leave China.
CHANGING RELATIONS OF INDIA WITH ITS NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES:
It can be seen that amidst the pandemic India is trying its best to strengthen its ties with more of its neighboring countries. For Nepal, it is planning to expedite work on its projects and have pledged infrastructure investments that include a dam. Furthermore, India has set out a fund of about 500 million dollars to help the Maldives connect its capital Male with the 3 neighboring islands – Villingili, Gulhifahu, and Thilafushi.
Moreover, since in Seychelles, China has deepened defence cooperation through the transfer of aircraft and naval ships. Jai Shankar, our external minister, has also announced to complete plans worth about $91 million while also discussing security cooperation[v]. Moreover, India and Mauritius have started with the Mission Sagar’ and with Vietnam, we are trying to build more military cooperation.
So, we see that it has become crucial in a world disrupted with Covid-19 to have good connections with other nations. There is a requirement now to have stronger military cooperation as well since China is making it difficult for India to trust it given the frequent border disputes.
The developments relating to de-globalization and decoupling have provided scads of opportunities for India. Notwithstanding the slogan of “Aatmnirbharta” (self-reliance) that has come in the wake of COVID-19, it is reasonable to say that foreign direct investment and foreign trade remain the two key requirements to pull India out of the poverty trap as we see that India’s GDP has been declining gradually and for us to have a say in the global world we not only need to have better diplomatic relations with other nations but a strong economy is also a vital aspect. However, again, the economy isn’t the only factor needed to implant a print on the ground as we can see that the strongest economy in the world, that is, the USA, has been failing to deal with the Covid-19 impacts in so many aspects.
In addition, as our neighboring countries, Sri Lanka and Nepal, are becoming increasingly supportive of China, India should tread cautiously. In other words, it is highly probable that unless India and China find a way to trust each other, they will again be driven to the verge of war.
The popular catchphrase of India's diplomacy with China that is, “Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai” which was used widely in the 1950s and is losing its essence in the pandemic times. Hence, the geopolitical and economic orientation of India would make it a natural fit in the US camp if the world system were to cleave into two.
[i] ‘India-China Relations: A Turbulent Future?’ by By Leoni Connah, available at: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/10/09/india-china-relations-a-turbulent-future/, (last visited on 8th January 2021)
[ii] India–China relations: issues and emerging trends by B.M Jain, available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00358530410001679602?journalCode=ctrt20
[iii] Avalaible at :https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/india-s-imports-from-china-decrease-to-16-6-billion-during-april-july-2020-120092400088_1.html#:~:text=India's%20imports%20from%20China%20decrease%20to%20%2416.6%20billion%20during%20April-July%202020,-ANI%20%7C%20General% (last visited 23rd December ,2020)
[iv] US and China: Decoupling in the era of COVID19 by Manoj Joshi, avalaible at: https://www.orfonline.org/research/us-and-china-decoupling-in-the-era-of-covid19-67545/
[v] ‘How India is strengthening ties with neighbors to counter China?’ avalaible at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/how-india-is-strengthening-ties-with-neighbours-to-counter-china-in-asia/articleshow/79462835.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst (last visited on 7th January 2021)