India-China Talks Come Soon After Agreement With US
Vivek Raghuvanshi, Defense News 9:51 a.m. EDT April 14, 2016
(Photo: Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/US Air Force)
NEW DELHI — Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar will visit Beijing on Monday to talk with his counterpart and top-ranking Chinese military officials about how to implement an agreement to improve security along their border.
The meetings come within a week of Parrikar and visiting US Defense Secretary Ash Carter agreeing to sign a ground-breaking agreement on logistics.
Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) officials took pains to say that the intention in principle to help the Indian and US militaries better coordinate, including exercises, should not be interpreted as an effort to partner with the US against growing Chinese influence.
However, analysts said India will find it difficult to walk the balancing act to better ties with China while simultaneously enhancing its security interests in the region.
"New Delhi will have to convince China that it is not a front-line state in US efforts to check Beijing's influence in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean region," said Nitin Mehta, a defense analyst in India.
However, Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: "India is already a front-line state: It exists uncomfortably close to growing Chinese military power in Tibet, China's presence in South Asia and in the Indian Ocean, and now China's assertiveness in Southeast Asia, which threatens India's sea lanes of communication to East Asia."
After coming to power in May 2014, the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi kept up efforts to improve ties with Beijing, but several rounds of talks to resolve the boundary dispute over which the two countries fought a brief battle in 1962 have not yielded results, and prospects appear dim in the near future.
"The Modi government wants to segregate the bilateral strategic competition from other areas of possible cooperation. So long as the border dispute can be kept 'cold,' this strategy has a good chance of success," Tellis said.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter tours the Mangeshi Temple in Old Goa, India, on Sunday. (Photo: Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/US Air Force)
"India will always be hesitant in openly partnering with the US," said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. "Nevertheless, there will be practical cooperation with the US and its allies given China's expanding strategic ambitions. The US-India-Japan triangle partnership is a case in point."
Parrikar Talks in Beijing
MoD officials say Parrikar's April 18-20 visit to China is largely aimed at implementing the bilateral Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), which the two countries agreed to in 2013.
However, intrusions across the 2,515-mile border, known as the Line of Actual Control, continue as there is no well-established institutional framework to check these incidents.
Analysts and military officials believe the BDCA cannot be an effective mechanism of stopping intrusions until the boundary issue itself is resolved.
"While BDCA is a stop-gap arrangement to manage the borders, it cannot be effectively implemented unless and until the border dispute itself is not resolved," said Srikanth Kondapalli, professor in Chinese studies at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University.
China claims 57,000 square miles of Indian territory. While India prepares to fight China over the issue, chances of major war between the two neighbors appear remote, according to analysts.
"Given that both China and India remain focused on their economic rise, war in a traditional sense is clearly not an option for either side," said Swaran Singh, professor of diplomacy and disarmament at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
"Both sides have good intentions, but the realities of security competition perpetually intrude — and cannot be wished away. Through the BDCA, China and India have sought to prevent this competition from getting out of hand," Tellis said.