‘India, China have stakes in seeing a stable Russia that is not isolated’, says Hu Shisheng

As China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visits New Delhi amid strains in ties, Hu Shisheng, Beijing-based expert on India-China relations, says security issues in the relationship have dwarfed developmental considerations.

Updated - March 24, 2022 06:53 pm IST

Published - March 24, 2022 11:11 am IST - Hong Kong

File photo for representation

File photo for representation | Photo Credit: Getty Images

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is expected to arrive in New Delhi on Thursday for talks on Friday with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. The visit takes place amid the unresolved crisis along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as well as the ongoing crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both of which are expected to be discussed. Ahead of the visit, The Hindu spoke to Hu Shisheng, a leading Chinese expert on India-China relations and Director of the Institute for South Asian Studies at the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations in Beijing. Edited for clarity.

How do you assess the current state of India-China relations? 

There are “three weaks” [weaknesses] in bilateral relations: weak mutual strategic trust, weak forward-driving forces, and weak bilateral interactions. The basic reason is that the requirements for mutually beneficial developmental cooperation has been replaced or dwarfed by the demands for defensiveness in security.

Do you see the Ukraine crisis as having an impact on the current state of the relationship? 

The crisis has further proved that U.S.-dominated institutions are not reliable. It is now up to India, China, and non-western countries to make joint efforts to moderate, or even invent institutions, to safeguard our national interests during the crisis. It is time for us two giants to do something out of the box, to step out of the shadows… Due to our giant weight, our rules and our criteria will become the international rules and international criteria.

How do you view India’s stand on Ukraine, given that recently, many observers in China have made the claim that India is now fully in the U.S. camp. They have been focusing a lot on the Quad, even calling it an “Asian NATO”, a label which India rejects. In that sense, has India’s stand come as a surprise?  

India’s stand is very similar to China’s. We are very clear on what have been the fundamental reasons behind this current humanitarian crisis. We know that the Western world is not completely innocent and has some ulterior motives. Both China and India don’t want to see a much weakened, much isolated Russia, which means a more vulnerable regional and global order. At least in the Ukraine crisis, both India and China have many commonalities. We had better discuss this to see what we two can do for ending this crisis. We both have stakes in a stable and not so isolated Russia. Many Chinese scholars don’t believe India will follow the policy of the U.S. and its allies against Russia. It just does not serve the national interest.

On bilateral relations, India has said normal relations are not possible unless there is peace on the border. China has said the border should be kept in an appropriate place. These seem like two very contradictory positions. Do you see a way to bridge these two positions?  

It sounds very contradictory. However, there is something which can bridge these two positions: both sides advocate we have to face the issue, not shelve it. Besides, the two have to do more efforts like maintaining dialogue, managing differences, making progress in disengagement, having some tolerance for managing the existing stand-offs along the LAC…

But isn’t India’s stand similar to what China is arguing with the U.S., that you cannot have confrontation in some areas and expect to cooperate in others? 

However, China has to deal with the U.S. anyway, and is grasping any opportunity to engage with the U.S., while New Delhi does not seem that flexible.

What do you see as the big obstacle for LAC disengagement? Why, in your view, is China not willing for a return to status quo, which would seem to be in the interests of both sides?

What is the status quo? According to the Chinese understanding, the status quo had better be the November 7, 1959, status quo. However, obviously, India will not accept it. So, in this case, the so-called status quo is a much blurred concept. My personal view is that if there exist not a few grey areas between the two respectively claimed LACs, such a status quo would be very difficult to define.

And even after disengagement is completed, de-escalation needs to take place given that thousands of troops from both sides are in forward areas and new infrastructure is being built. Do you think de-escalation is a realistic goal, or is a more securitised LAC is here to stay? 

If disengagement can be achieved along the western sector after some more time, I personally tend to believe there will be dramatic reduction of the military deployments along the border regions, since there will be no need for them anymore. It will be crazy to imagine that China and India will fight another border war.

If the LAC remains securitised, how do you see that impacting the broader relationship going forward and how both sides manage the border issue?

The border issue, in my personal view, will finally be addressed in a mutually acceptable way. Even if it is just a disengagement arrangement without a treaty, which would be very okay. Then there will be no need any more to deploy so heavily along the border regions militarily.

Compared to the border issue, the more challenging question in front of both of our countries is how these two neighbouring rising powers coexist peacefully forever.  There haven’t been such examples in the international community for us to follow.

We two have to think out of the box, the modality, the approach, for two rising giants to coexist peacefully.

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