Recently, Indian border patrol crossed the border at the Sikkim section to enter Chinese territory to obstruct the normal activities of Chinese frontier forces in the Donglang area. This marked the latest provocation by India related to its border with China. The Indian media falsified facts to report that the Chinese side had “crossed the border into Indian territory.”
For decades, China and India have maintained a relationship marked by both competition and cooperation. With extensive common interests, the two countries have produced fruitful achievements in bilateral cooperation in sectors including trade, investment and tourism. In recent years, however, India has adopted a more “assertive” stance toward China and began launching provocative “diplomatic incidents” with China over issues such as border disputes, Tibet, the South China Sea, the Belt and Road Initiative, and China’s relationship to Pakistan. India’s foreign policy towards China therefore, has entered a dangerous phase of a “strategic drift”. These changes not only have shown that India is giving up its willingness to engage in bilateral cooperation, but also negated any effort to improve the neighborly relationship.
The latest provocative behavior by India at the border area happened as China was conducting normal activities within the sovereign Chinese territory, which is totally lawful and unquestionable. Indian border guards entered Chinese territory, uninvited and unprovoked, attempting to disrupt normal functions of China’s state institutes. Such unfortunate behavior may align well with New Delhi’s policy change but risks costing the good neighborly bilateral relationship build up over the past decades. In fact, ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, China-Indian relations have nose-dived and deteriorated following a series of provocative and confrontational moves towards China.
Modi and his party have chosen to embrace far-right ideologies in order to win control of India. However, these efforts have also emitted strong nationalist sentiments by stressing “India first” and prioritizing India’s interests first when handling relations with neighboring countries.
India’s poor judgment of international situations has previously caused deterioration of its relations with China and even led to military confrontation. However, what’s happened on the border reminds us that New Delhi has failed to learn from history. Once again, it is dangerously misconstruing the situation related to the sensitive border issue with China. There are those who bet that China may yield to India’s provocations while Beijing is facing a complicated international situation and is busy preparing an important political meeting later this year. However, it’ll be more meaningful and realistic for New Delhi to learn from the unfortunate lessons half a century ago if they don’t want to repeat the tragedy of adventurism by the then Jawaharlal Nehru government that brought the two nations into war in 1962.
We sincerely hope that after the chaos and turbulence over the past year or two, India will finally realize the importance of maintaining a cooperative and constructive China-India relationship for its own developmental interest. Should bilateral ties be damaged to such a degree that the very foundation for cooperation between the two countries collapses, the two Asian neighbors would head to full-blown confrontation. This would be a scenario severely detrimental to India’s security and stability, as well as Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious economic reforms.
Recently, the Indian film Dangal went viral in China, causing a spike in Chinese attention to India. This shows their close bond in culture, values and social ethics, based on which China and India could achieve win-win cooperation. Hopefully, the Modi government will demonstrate political wisdom and keep the bigger picture in mind when handling issues concerning China-India relations as well as taking active measures to end the stand-off between the two countries. This is the only choice beneficial to India’s security and development, to China-India cooperation, and to the stability of the region as a whole.
The author is an associate researcher with the Department for Developing Country Studies under the China Institute of International Studies.