- India and China signed their first ever internal security cooperation agreement marking a new beginning in bilateral relations.
- Through the agreement, both ensured support to each other in dealing with problems of terrorism, human trafficking, and smuggling of drugs and arms beside others.
- The move comes just a year after a two-month-long border stand-off between the India Army and the China’s People’s Liberation Army at Doklam on the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction.
- During the meeting, India has also asked China-
- To support its pending application in the UN to designate Pakistan-based Masood Azhar, leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group, as a global terrorist. In the past, China—a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council—has opposed India’s proposal to list Azhar as a global terrorist.
- To not give shelter to hardline ULFA leader Paresh Baruah. India’s mention of Baruah to China comes in the backdrop of reports stating that United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) leader Baruah had been making frequent trips to China. During the seventies, when insurgency was at its peak in the north-east, the extremist leaders often got training and shelter in China.
- Chinese concerns included insurgency in Xinjiang by Uighur extremists. In the absence of an extradition treaty with China, the two countries have not exchanged each other’s sentenced prisoners, but this pact may change that. There are at least 10 Indians in Chinese prisons and an equal number of Chinese citizens in Indian prisons.
India-China Relations: India China relations are primarily defined by trust deficit between them. Relations have gone through a tumultuous phase in the last few years. There have been a series of disputes between the two countries, including China’s fervent opposition to India’s potential membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); Beijing’s shielding of Pakistan and blocking Indian efforts within the UN to designate the Pakistan-based terrorist, Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), as a global terrorist; the Doklam crisis that went on for more than two months last summer; and India’s open opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Wuhan reset: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping held an informal summit in Wuhan, China, in April this year which helped repair bilateral ties. The Wuhan summit has set the tone of the Sino-Indian relations in the current period. It is aimed at getting the two countries to manage the difficult areas of their relationship and find areas of convergence, and also promote better coordination between them. The summit also sends an important signal globally, that the two countries are quite capable of handling their differences through dialogue and discussion.
Significance of the pact:
Significantly, there is no record of India having ever signed an ‘Internal Security’ Cooperation Agreement with any country, albeit India has signed Social Security Agreement (SSA) with 18 countries. Such agreements are good on paper but the behavioral pattern of the Chinese of outright denial or cooking up stories about prisoners must be taken into account.
However, realization of the current the pact may lead to the signing of a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in future.
How current reset is different from the past?
Similar to the current attempt, in the past too, efforts have been made to re-launch troubled India-China relations. Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s made a groundbreaking visit to Beijing in 1988. The summit proved a turning point which paved the way for a massive improvement in Sino-Indian relations in the 1990s and the early 2000s.
While the Wuhan summit opens the door for improvement in relations, it is not a 1988-style reset. There are few fundamental differences between 1988 and 2018.
- Firstly, the relationship between Beijing and Delhi is much more complex and difficult to manage in 2018 than it was in 1988. During 1998, the territorial dispute was the principal point of tension and the main obstacle to improved relations between China and India. In comparison, the present China-India relationship is troubled not by one but by a number of serious issues. Together with the still crucial and destabilizing territorial dispute, such issues include China’s growing influence in India’s neighbors, Beijing’s expansion in the Indian Ocean, India’s increasing engagement with Chinese rivals such as the United States and Japan, the China-Pakistan axis and the emerging arms race between the two sides.
- Secondly, the international conditions in 2018 do not favor a complete reset of relations as they did in 1988. The Cold War was coming to an end, the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, which had been supported by India and resisted by China, was drawing to a close and at the same time, U.S.-led globalization was forging ahead and integrating the world in a new international economic system. These changes removed many of the obstacles to improvement in bilateral relations. In contrast, in 2018, both sides face a complex international situation characterized by uncertainty and tensions which do not promote Sino-Indian amity. The existing order in Asia is in crisis, with China slowly building the foundations of an alternative international system while Washington, Tokyo and Hanoi resist these efforts, producing tensions.
- Thirdly, the power balance between China and India has shifted dramatically in the last 30 years, making negotiations and mutual accommodation much more difficult. In 1988, China and India had comparable levels of comprehensive national power and were both relatively weak in global terms. This state of affairs allowed the two sides to negotiate and cooperate on an equal basis. This is not the case anymore. Following its spectacular rise, Beijing, now essentially a superpower, has become much more powerful than India and more assertive.
- Finally, unlike in 1988 Beijing and Delhi have to deal with the legacy of three decades of false dawns, tensions and disappointments.
In sum, it is too early to credit the Wuhan meeting as a reset of 1988; however, it signifies a booster to relationship between China. Even though both sides continue to try to stabilize relations, complications are expected to continue. Current agreement is an important step in the right direction, and the first on a long road.
The relationship between India and China is much more complex and difficult to manage today than in the past. Do you agree? What areas of convergence need to be explored between them for better relations?