Ruan Zongze praises India’s strategic independence amid U.S. shifting ‘pivot’ to Asia Pacific

The boundary disputes with India were a lesser bane for Beijing than were its territorial tensions with other nations, according to a leading strategic scholar who has ties with the Foreign Ministry.

Ruan Zongze — vice president, China Institute of International Studies, and recently a senior diplomat in the Chinese Embassy in Washington — said that unlike in the disputes with “strategically autonomous” India, the hand of the United States was evident in China’s recent altercations with Japan and the Philippines. “If we compare the three scenarios — the India-China border [dispute], what happened between China and Philippines at Huangyan Island [where ships were involved in a stand-off in April], and the China-Japan Diaoyu Islands issue — I think [the issue with India] is quite different as China and India have reached a certain understanding very quickly and the two sides [have] made joint efforts to make the border peaceful and tranquil again,” Mr. Ruan said, speaking at a briefing held here this week to introduce China’s foreign policy under the new Xi Jinping leadership, which took over in March.

“Since the Huangyan Island incident, the U.S. sold weapons to the Philippines, intentionally or unintentionally boosting the confidence of the Philippines to challenge China. The U.S. is clearly aware that it is also responsible for the conflict between China and Japan on the Diaoyu Islands issue,” he said.

“I think India emphasises its own strategic independence and will not become part of any other big country’s strategy. The strategic autonomy of India is very important,” said Mr. Ruan, whose views are in sync with a number of commentaries in recent times in the Chinese media about whether India would play a more significant role as the U.S. attempted to shift its “pivot” to Asia.

The general consensus in the Chinese media has been that India will maintain its “independent” foreign policy and seek to “balance” its relations with the U.S. and China according to its interests.

The commentaries reflect the increasing anxiety in China as its neighbours — including Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam — seek closer ties with Washington amid concerns over China’s “increasingly assertive” approach to disputes.

The rising tensions in the South and East China Seas come amid increasingly frequent reports of aggressive patrolling on the part of China along the disputed Line of Actual Control — most notably evident during the April stand-off in Depsang.

Mr. Ruan, however, isolated India-China border problems from the other disputes: “I think the border issues between China and India are very complicated. One very good way is to smartly and wisely manage the issue in the foreseeable future. Without the development of India, there is not a bright future for Asia. In the future, both countries will have a lot more in common and share more interests.”

Striking a less optimistic tone regarding the Philippines and Japan, Mr. Ruan said: “Since the U.S. adopted its new strategy of returning to the Asia Pacific, some countries have made the wrong judgement that the U.S. will encourage them to challenge the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China,” he said. “This is a misjudgement on their part”.

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