China wants to normalize relations with India. Will it work?

Article by Lucas Niewenhuis for SupChina - 25.03.22

Today, China’s foreign minister Wáng Yì 王毅 made an unannounced stop in New Delhi, marking the highest-level meeting of Chinese and Indian officials since the two countries’ deadly border clashes in the Galwan Valley two years ago.

Wang came with a clear objective to try to downplay the border conflict. “China and India should put the border issue in its proper place in bilateral relations and should not apply the border issue to define or even affect the overall development of bilateral relations,” he said, according to a Chinese foreign ministry readout (in Chinese). Wang also sought to reassure India (link in Chinese) that “China does not pursue a so-called ‘unipolar Asia,’ and respects India’s traditional role in the region.”

Why is China making this move, and why now, after nearly two years of military standoff and political posturing about the border issue?

  • As we noted on SupChina earlier this week, Russia’s war on Ukraine has widened a gap between New Delhi and Washington, as India depends on Russia for military supplies and oil, and has abstained from condemning Putin’s invasion.

  • The Russia factor was always awkward for the “Quad” — a partnership of the U.S., Australia, Japan, and India that China has deemed a “mini NATO” — and some of those frustrations have recently boiled over in public.

Will it work?

It’s too soon to tell, but the initial reaction from New Delhi was cold. As Tanvi Madan, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and scholar of China-U.S.-India relations, summarized, “India’s not buying what China’s selling.”

The two senior Indian officials that Wang met with, foreign minister S. Jaishankar and national security advisor Ajit Doval, both insisted that China first fully rectify the “abnormal” situation on the border before any type of “normal” relations could continue between the two countries.

The broader context: Global South diplomacy

The past seven days have seen a remarkable blitz of Chinese diplomacy in the Global South. As Cobus van Staden of the China-Africa Project wrote on SupChina this week, China is deftly connecting worries about international turbulence (amid the Ukraine war) with Africa’s wider perception that it’s perpetually ignored, and there are signs that it is working in Africa and beyond.

Today, van Staden added that the “gap between the discursive work of setting pledges and norms, and the actual work of implementing them is emerging as a major weak spot in Western coalition-building around the world, not least on Ukraine” — and China has “proven very adept at riding this to coalition-building of its own.”

More notes on this week:

Our phrase of the week is: Kill 1,000 enemy soldiers but lose 800 of your own (杀敌一千,自损八百 shā dí yī qiān, zì sǔn bā bǎi). This idiom, which traces back to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, was used by one prominent Chinese scholar in his prediction of the economic effect of Western sanctions on Russia. Click through to SupChina to find out more.

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China wants to normalize relations with India - article from SupChina - 25.03.22
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Line of Actual Control between China and India (map by the CIA)

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