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Monday, April 12, 2021

What policy options does India have owing to the China issue?

Since the brutal clash in Ladakh’s Galwan valley, some strategic ‘realists’ have been arguing that India has little option but to align more closely with the United States and other rivals of China. India should likely try to limit military confrontation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, several experts have also suggested. However, what policy options does India really have owing to the China issue? Let’s look at some of the possibilities.

While developing collaborative strategies to stop China will prompt further backlash, it will also put pressure on India’s efforts to ensure its sovereignty. Policymakers also suggest a strengthening of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or the ‘Quad’) with the US, Japan and Australia, and building a regional security architecture around this core to help India stand up against China. There are more options too if thought about wisely.

India’s managing to strengthen defence ties with the US

Under the current regime, the better ties in defence cooperation with the United States have been evident further than under previous governments that were at the centre. India has collaborations in defence with the US and they want to strengthen the partnership by entering into an understanding with private entities for manufacturing in the defence sector.

Modi, Trump and First Lady
Rep Image: President Trump, First Lady and PM Modi. Image: shutterstock.com

The two countries are already discussing the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), the last of the four foundational defence agreements that made geographic pieces of information for targeting and navigation available. In June 2016, the USA had recognised India as “a major defence partner” — this made India the only country with such a status. The USA generally partners up with NATO or its bilateral treaty allies. Japan, another country India can possibly turn to as they too have a tiff with the Chinese, already is part of India’s Malabar Naval Exercises. Then there’s Australia — another country who would also be invited to join the same agreement in 2020. The Quad had receded one Australia backed out in 2009 and has been revived since. No less than five meetings were held throughout 2017-19 — the last of which was held in March 2020 for a formulating a joint strategy to tackle the novel Coronavirus pandemic.

India could stop with the One China policy

The longstanding One China Policy states that there is only one Chinese government, which India has been acknowledging for ages now. However, India might end up being a pawn and pressurised from all sides in the current scenario if it plans to have an alliance with the US to fight against the Chinese. Only China has really benefitted from the policy and thrown Taiwan out of the diplomatic dynamics. Since the policy came into being in 1949, China has rejected Taiwan as an independent country and thus encouraged the world and even the United Nations to do the same. Taiwan has tried its best to get itself out of this situation by altering names in order to be recognised and to participate in international events like the Olympics. India can completely stop recognising the ‘One China’ policy, especially when the country itself does not consider the disputed Jammu and Kashmir as a part of India, and has been forever wanting to annex parts of Ladakh.

What other collaboration options?

What would work for India now is a strong defence alliance with the US but that sounds like a long shot. It might take years to actually operationalise. Strategists have, however, also suggested that the Centre can rethink the One China Policy and focus on improving India’s relations with Taiwan. In terms of material gains, it is not much though and also India being a single country to recognise Taiwan as a  separate entity will not discourage the Chinese the way we would want to. But if we look closely there are numerous other options which can be taken into serious consideration.

Taiwan has never been in the picture when it comes to collective military activities unlike what India has with Japan, the US, and South Korea. This obviously matters as China allegedly is up in arms and aiming missiles at Taiwan. India and China both have quite strongholds when it comes to the number of fighter jets they own or when we speak of a robust defence system. Taiwan still procures its weaponry from the US but India can step into the scene with its expertise in platforms that the Taiwanese can study to know what can be used against them and their forces by the enemy nations. When it comes to the sea, there are ample amount of opportunities for India and Taiwan to work together on in terms of security concerns. This could make a lot of difference, say experts.

Is some kind of intelligence alliance possible?

By definition according to Wikipedia, the “Five Eyes” (FVEY) is an alliance that includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. According to the alliance, the countries are bound by the multilateral UKUSA Agreement for collaboration and cooperation in what is called signals intelligence, military intelligence, and also human intelligence. What some experts have been pointing to is a similar kind of an agreement or understanding between India, Taiwan and probably Japan, which then, in turn, can significantly make a difference in each of these country’s intelligence to a large extent.

Restricting China’s hostility towards India

India needs to comprehend and understand the trajectory China is probably following — it still seems hostile, even after all the talk between the two nations. Whether or not it is threatening is a different debate altogether but what India should not do is ignore or undermine the situation. If India scraps the One China Policy it will definitely unsettle and enrage the Chinese. The other countries like Pakistan might join in and there might be increase tension at the borders. But if India expands its actions it will have more options to choose from later. This will not only improve India’s negotiating position but will also provide India with the necessary tools to defend itself against China.

These policy options are not fool-proof and are just suggestions by experts and policymakers. It will finally depend on the two nations what they want to go forward with.

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