Can India, China Manage their Ties Within BRICS, SCO Despite Their Competitive Relationship?

© AFP 2023 / CHANDAN KHANNAThe national flags of India (R) and China are seen at the Delhi World Book fair at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi on January 9, 2016.
The national flags of India (R) and China are seen at the Delhi World Book fair at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi on January 9, 2016.  - Sputnik International
New Delhi (Sputnik): India and China might not be in a head-on conflict, but both countries have launched a diplomatic offensive in the region by supplying medical aid to the countries of South Asia. However, the two-week border stand-off between the two neighbours has raised questions, such as how long they will be able to maintain peace?

In the absence of clear demarcation along one of the world’s longest land borders (4,000km), intermittent face-offs take place between Indian and Chinese troops, the Indian army claimed, following a clash which left 11 injured from both sides in the Sikkim sector.

Ever since, Beijing and New Delhi have called for bilateral talks to avoid complicating the situation. "We urge India to meet China halfway, avoid taking actions that may complicate the border situation, and create favourable conditions for the development of bilateral relations and peace and stability of the border area. The two sides have been in diplomatic communication over the border issue," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian had said last week. 

Meanwhile, the speculation about a link between border tensions and the Indian government’s plan to lure business out of China has been dismissed. The Indian Army chief has also said that the border face-offs have no connection with any domestic or international situation.

However, India and the US last week discussed the possibility of moving supply chains away from China. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed with Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar the fallout of the pandemic on the US economy and its over-dependence on "one country".

Along with these development, China has been actively helping Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the South East Asian countries with medical aid to fight the pandemic. China is using the COVID-19 outbreak as an opportunity to carry out the Health Silk Road initiative, proposed in 2017 to the WHO, to increase its presence across Asia.  

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The Indian government has launched its Mission SAGAR to provide medical assistance in countries like the Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar and Comoros to counter Chinese health diplomacy.

While all these issues continue to hover over India-China relations, India's former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal has answered several questions on the future of the two neighbouring countries.

Sputnik: What are the relations between India and China like at present? Are they bad, considering the recent developments?

Kanwal Sibal: India-China relations continue to be based on collaboration, competition and confrontation. We collaborate in the Russia-India-China dialogue forum, the BRICS (which also includes Brazil and South Africa) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). We have some shared interests in global climate change and energy issues, as well those of reform of international political and financial institutions. India is a founding member of the China-led Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank. China is one of India’s biggest trade partners in goods. China has also invested in some key areas of the Indian economy: power, telecommunications, mobile telephony, digital payment platforms etc.  

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As the two largest Asian countries, there are aspects of a competitive relationship. China seeks to be the principal power in Asia and competes with India in its neighbourhood. There is sharpened political, economic and security competition between India and China in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and in the Indian Ocean in general. India’s neighbours play the China card against India with China’s encouragement. China’s rapid inroads into Africa and the Gulf countries, where India has a strong presence, has given a competitive edge to India-China ties.

Sputnik: Where do India and China stand with regard to the border dispute, especially in light of the current stand-off, which has been the longest since Doklam?

Kanwal Sibal: Regarding areas of confrontation, China is aggressive in its territorial claims over Indian Territory. The two militaries confront each other on the Himalayan border, with occasional serious incidents such as in the Doklam area. China’s policies towards Pakistan are confrontational towards India. China is Pakistan’s biggest defence partner.  China uses Pakistan as a proxy against India. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor violates India’s sovereignty. China opposes India’s membership of the NSG. It has attempted recently to inscribe the Kashmir issue on the UN Security Council agenda. It shields Pakistan on the issue of terrorism directed by the latter against India.   

Indian army soldiers patrol at the Indo China border in Bumla at an altitude of 15,700 feet (4,700 meters) above sea level in Arunachal Pradesh, India. (File) - Sputnik International
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Sputnik: Countries like Russia, which share good relations with both India and China, will they have to choose one over the other if the crisis escalates?

Kanwal Sibal: Just as India has a strategic interest in maintaining close ties with Russia, the latter too has reciprocal interest in India. India-Russia ties remain on solid footing. Russia has no need to choose one country over another, as it can have independent relations with both. Russia would not want to put all its eggs in the China basket in Asia, as that will increase its dependence on China and weaken its global role. India is already the fifth largest economy in the world, with strength in many economic sectors, apart from its human potential. Russia cannot ignore this.

Sputnik: How will the two countries be dealing with each other in multilateral platforms like BRICS and SCO?

Kanwal Sibal: BRICS will collapse without India. The SCO without India will lose much of its salience as a grouping of land-based Asian powers. India and China can mange their ties within BRICS and SCO in areas where there is scope for collaboration.

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