By Long Xingchun
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale visited Beijing recently and held talks with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou.
Last August, the Doklam standoff was solved diplomatically. Wang Yi in December visited New Delhi and met with his counterpart Sushma Swaraj during the 15th Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of China, Russia and India. However, Sino-Indian relations hadn't returned to the normal track. Top Indian officials continued hyping up the "China threat" theory and made anti-China remarks. Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat alleged without proof that Pakistan with support of China is waging a proxy war against India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the so-called "Arunachal Pradesh," China's South Tibet, on February 15. These moves may have been prompted by internal political factors, but it cannot be denied that they damaged bilateral trust.
Anti-China sentiment is all pervasive in Indian public opinion. Such sentiment and the "China threat" theory amount to political correctness for some Indian media outlets and officials. In recent years, India has accused China of stalling its Nuclear Suppliers Group membership bid and not supporting its bid for a permanent seat on an enlarged UN Security Council. The takeover of operations of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka by a Chinese company, China's investment and participation in infrastructure construction in Maldives and the Belt and Road initiative have been described as targeting India. An anti-China stance can help Indian politicians to win votes. After being hyped up for quite some time, China threat theory is turning from a political lie into a truth for many Indians.
After the Doklam standoff, antipathy toward India has been on the rise in China. In the past, India's anti-China sentiment and "China threat" perception did not draw attention of the Chinese media. But after the standoff, many Indian media outlets' anti-China reports found their way into China, triggering a dislike for its neighbor.
New conflicts between the two countries may emerge. US President Donald Trump and other US officials in recent months have repeatedly mentioned the term Indo-Pacific, with an obvious intention to target China. Countries including Japan, Australia and India actively responded to the idea. In November, 2017, diplomatic officials from US, India, Japan and Australia held a formal meeting at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam. It seemed that the four have the intention to form an "Asia NATO."
If it is truly a free and open Indo-Pacific, China can also participate in, and the region can integrate with the Belt and Road initiative. India's choice will be seen as a touchstone of its attitude toward China. If New Delhi takes part in establishing a military alliance against China, it would mean India giving up its long-held non-alignment principle, which would be a disaster for Sino-Indian ties.
During the recent political crisis in Maldives, former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed accused China of buying up the Maldives one island at a time, appealing to India to send troops. In fact, many cooperation and construction programs between China and Maldives were implemented during the tenure of Nasheed without damaging Indian interests.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered keynote addresses at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2017 and 2018 respectively, both underscoring globalization. In a globalized era, China will unavoidably deepen economic cooperation and relations with South Asian countries, including India. Being anti-India is not in China's interests and Beijing does not want Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives to adopt an attitude of exclusion toward India. In fact, all sides should work together to promote development in the region.
Tensions between China and India have been piling up and serious conflicts must be avoided. Vijay Gokhale's visit shows that the two governments have prepared to manage differences seriously, enhance communication and reduce mistrust, preventing to turn India's own imaginary threats from turning into conflicts. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit to be held in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province this June, will give Chinese and Indian leaders an opportunity to communicate face to face.
The author is a research fellow at The Charhar Institute and director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University.