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Amid India-China Strain, Nepal’s PM Arrives in India Today

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NEW DELHI: Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli will begin his three-day visit to India from today amid hopes of both sides resetting their ties to restore the full measure of mutual trust and confidence.

External Affairs Ministry stated that India and Nepal enjoy age-old, special ties of friendship and cooperation and the visit will provide an opportunity to review wide-ranging cooperative partnership and to progress it further.

Oli, accompanied by his wife Radhika Shakya Oli, will arrive in the morning and later attend a business luncheon event.

He will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday evening ahead of the delegation-level talks on Saturday. Oli will also interact with the Nepalese community in Delhi on the first day of his visit.

The visiting leader will be accorded a ceremonial reception on Saturday at the Rashtrapati Bhavan where he will call on President Ram Nath Kovind.

PM Oli will also visit G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in Pantnagar, Uttarakhand. He will also engage with the business community as well as the Nepalese diaspora in India.

Oli’s visit is in line with the tradition of a Nepalese premier visiting India on his first overseas trip.

Swaraj had visited Nepal before Oli took office to congratulate him for the historic victory of the Left Alliance in the Parliamentary and Provincial elections.

She was the first senior Indian minister to visit Nepal after the conclusion of elections to local bodies, provincial assemblies and federal Parliament.

While congratulating Oli over phone upon his appointment to the top executive post in February, Prime Minister Modi had extended an invitation to him for a visit to India.

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India and China – Time for a Dialogue on Nuclear Security?

That there will be no nuclear escalation between India and China has become conventional wisdom.

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Discussions on nuclear security in South Asia generally focus on the India-Pakistan relationship. Given the volatile military equation and frequent sabre-rattling between these two neighbours, that is unsurprising.

China as a nuclear power that has a bearing on nuclear security and stability in South Asia is discussed in India primarily in terms of its nuclear relationship with Pakistan – the material and technology that Indian analysts believe China provides to bolster Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.

That the India-China relationship might itself merit a discussion on issues of nuclear security, perhaps even Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), is seldom mooted.

A dialogue on nuclear security between the two is supposed unnecessary since –

(a) Chinese analysts maintain that India’s nuclear capability is apparently inconsequential and China does not believe it is in a deterrence relationship with India;
(b) given that no shots have been fired along the disputed border, there is no realistic scenario in which the two states would enter into a military conflict; and,
(c) both countries have a declared no-first-use (NFU) policy, which is believed to be a guarantee enough against nuclear escalation.

There are, however, many reasons to re-examine this comfortable assessment of the impossibility of nuclear escalation between India and China.

Chinese scholars continue to state that China’s technological superiority implies that India’s nuclear weapons capabilities do not pose a threat to China and that India does not feature in China’s nuclear calculus. This seems singularly peculiar given that Indian analysts and even ministers have repeatedly stated that India’s nuclear deterrent is primarily a safeguard against nuclear blackmail by China.

Despite the overt unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of a neighbour with nuclear weapons, Chinese views of Indian capabilities are certainly changing. This is best exemplified in the changing tone of statements made by Beijing in response to India’s missile tests.

In the wake of India’s first intercontinental ballistic missile test of Agni V in 2012, the spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) did not so much as allude to the missile test and emphasised only that China and India were cooperative partners rather than rivals.1 By 2016, when India undertook the fourth Agni V test, China’s reaction to the test was very hostile. Not only did the MoFA spokesperson insinuate that India’s missile test was in violation of United Nations Security Council Regulations, but also sought clarity on its “intentions”.2

From muted reactions that seemed to ignore missile development to belligerent statements that place the blame for destabilising South Asia at India’s door, there has clearly been a change in perception regarding India’s nuclear capabilities within the Chinese government. When considered along with the fact that China maintains nuclear missile launch sites and storage facilities in the provinces bordering India, it seems reasonable to suppose that China’s security assessments do actively account for India’s growing nuclear capabilities.

It would be a willful ignorance to deny that the bilateral relationship between India and China remains hostage to the territorial dispute which is becoming increasingly acrimonious. Perhaps, as a prelude to the final settlement of the outstanding border dispute and with a view to bolstering their respective negotiating positions, both sides are seeking to increase their areas of “regular” operations in the disputed territory.

This has not only led to a steady increase in the number of border “transgressions” logged by each country but also brought troops in face-offs more frequently. While it is true that the India-China border has not seen skirmishes of the sort witnessed on India’s borders with Bangladesh or Pakistan involving the use of small arms or artillery and can thus be termed provisionally “peaceful”, fisticuffs and stone-throwing along the Western border3 indicate that tensions remain high.

As India and China compete for greater influence in the Asia-Pacific, this history of mistrust and the legacy of an unresolved territorial dispute continue to dog their diplomatic efforts. A zero-sum analysis predominates assessments of foreign policy. India’s ‘Act-East’ policy is assessed by Chinese scholars as an attempt by India to position itself as an economic and military alternative to China in Southeast Asia.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is viewed with suspicion in India not merely because there is lack of clarity on the details of the vision, but also because the reflex with regard to developments concerning China is one of assessing what India might lose. The possibility that efforts by both countries in Southeast Asia and beyond can be synthesised for mutual benefit is considered utopian.

The stand-off at Doklam demonstrated that they could well become embroiled in territorial disputes that are not strictly bilateral. Could a similar stand-off occur in the South China Sea if Indian naval vessels were to be challenged by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy?

The rapid militarisation of features controlled by China in the disputed waters of the South China Sea along with the active expansion of China’s area of operations in the region makes this a real possibility. Chinese investment and military presence in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor also raises the prospect of Chinese military involvement in a conflict between India and Pakistan in the area.

What does a declared NFU policy mean when there exists a trust deficit between two countries? How far can declaratory positions be relied upon in the event of a conflict? Leaders in both countries have stoked nationalism in aid of legitimising their positions in power.

In the event of a military conflict, how would a country losing a conventional war explain adherence to NFU to its domestic constituency? Does the reliance on declared NFUs make military conflict more likely given the assurance that the adversary will not use nuclear weapons?

Even as far as the declaratory postures of the two countries are concerned, there appears to be continued uncertainty. From a recommendation attributed to the third National Security Advisory Board for India to consider withdrawing from an NFU commitment in 2003,4 to remarks made in 2016 by the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar suggesting that India need not bind itself to NFU,5there has been recurring speculation that India is reconsidering its NFU policy.

Similar speculation over changes in China’s nuclear posture is also ongoing. Within China, there are scholars who emphasise the need to review China’s NFU position.6 Furthermore, discussion over the possible loss of China’s retaliatory strike capabilities has led to suggestions since 2013 at least that the PLA implement a hair-trigger alert in the event of a confirmed incoming attack.7 

Given President Xi Jinping’s emphasis on combat-readiness and restructuring the military for a rapid response, the idea does not seem far-fetched. If Xi condones some version of a “launch on alert” mechanism, it could potentially lead to accidental or mistaken launch triggered by a false alert since the fallibility of detection and monitoring systems has been amply demonstrated in the past.

That there will be no nuclear escalation between India and China has become conventional wisdom. The growing capabilities, competing aspirations and overweening hubris of these two neighbours, however, suggest that reliance on accepted assumptions will lead to complacency. It may, therefore, be time for India and China to discuss nuclear issues bilaterally with a view to mediating the uncertainties borne of their differing perspectives and postures.

References:

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere.

Rukmani Gupta

Rukmani Gupta is a New Delhi based Defence and Security Analyst.

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EAM’s Statement after Meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

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The following is the text of the press statement released by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj after her meeting with the foreign minister of China, Wang Yi in Beijing on April 22, 2018:


I am happy to be in Beijing. I am visiting China to not only participate in the SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting, but also to have a substantial bilateral interaction with State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, following our last meeting in New Delhi in December 2017.

My meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi today is part of the regular high level engagements between India and China. In our meeting, we reviewed various aspects of bilateral relations and discussed regional and international issues of common interest.

As Foreign Minister Wang Yi just mentioned, Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi will visit China on 27 & 28 April for an informal Summit with President of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Xi Jinping in the city of Wuhan.

My discussion with Foreign Minister Wang Yi today was to prepare for this Informal Summit between our leaders. It will be an important occasion for them to exchange views on bilateral and international matters from an over-arching and long-term perspective with the objective of enhancing mutual communication at the level of leaders.

The meeting in Wuhan flows from the understanding reached by the two leaders last year that India-China relations are a factor for stability in a period of global changes, and have a common responsibility for peace, security and prosperity in the world. Both leaders will also discuss their respective national developmental priorities and explore the future direction of the multifaceted engagement between the two countries with a view to strengthen their Closer Developmental Partnership.

As part of preparatory discussions for the Informal Summit, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and I with satisfaction the progress made in our bilateral relations since we last met in December 2017. In particular, we are pleased with the headway made by our various dialogue mechanisms in diverse areas, which has helped in setting a positive tone for the upcoming Summit. The progress made in the last few months has also contributed to building trust and understanding in our bilateral engagement. We have agreed to maintain the momentum of these exchanges.

We also discussed the importance of strengthening people-to- people contacts in bringing our two countries closer to each other. In this context, I conveyed our appreciation to the Chinese side for their confirmation on resumption of data sharing on Brahmaputra and Sutlej rivers in 2018, as this issue has direct relevance for people living in those areas. We are also happy that the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the Nathu La route will be resumed this year. I am confident that with Chinese side’s full cooperation, this year’s Yatra will be a fulfilling experience for the visiting Indian pilgrims.

We agreed that as two major countries and large emerging economies, healthy development of India-China relations is important for the emergence of Asian Century. We believe that our commonalities outweigh our differences and that we must build on our convergences, while seeking mutually acceptable resolution of our differences.

While making efforts to progress our relations in diverse areas, we underlined that maintaining peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas is an essential pre-requisite for the smooth development of bilateral relations.

We also used this opportunity to exchange views on cooperation in multilateral arena. We discussed our perspectives on counter-terrorism and collaborative efforts to address other global challenges, such as climate change, sustainable development, global healthcare etc.

I conveyed my warm wishes to Foreign Minister Wang Yi for the success of SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting on April 24. I also conveyed India’s full support to China for a successful organization of SCO Summit in Qingdao and for other engagements which the Chinese side will be coordinating as the SCO chair this year.

Thank you.

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Positive Momentum in Bilateral Ties, Chinese FM Tells Sushma Swaraj

This was their first meeting after Wang was elevated as state councillor last month which makes him the top diplomat of the country in the Chinese hierarchy.

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BEIJING (China): External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to discuss bilateral ties and step up the pace of high-level interactions to improve the relationship.

Swaraj arrived in Beijing on a four-day visit to take part in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

This was their first meeting after Wang was elevated as state councillor last month which makes him the top diplomat of the country in the Chinese hierarchy. He also continues to be foreign minister.

In her initial remarks, Swaraj congratulated Wang on being elevated as state councillor and appointed the special representative for the India-China boundary talks.

Their meeting is part of efforts by the two countries to step up the pace of high-level interactions to improve relations, official sources said.

Following the Dokalam standoff last year both countries increased dialogue to scale down tensions and improve relations with talks at various levels.

Ms Swaraj and Mr Wang are meeting in the immediate backdrop of the recent meeting between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and the top official of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) Yang Jiechi in Shanghai.

Wang said the bilateral ties have witnessed a good development and shown a positive momentum this year under the guidance of the leaders of the two nations.

“On the eve of the closing of China’s National People’s Congress this year, President Xi Jinping received a very important phone call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” he said, adding that the call spurred a positive momentum in the dialogue process between the two countries.

“Our two leaders had in-depth exchange of views and reached important consensus on furthering the China-India relationship. We must work very hard to implement the consensus between our two leaders,” the Chinese Foreign minister said.

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