An end to Doka La standoff saved Xi Jinping from an embarrassing face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The resolution will have offered relief to the BRICS organisers too, as there was hardly any logic in talking peace and cooperation among the grouping when two of its key constituents are engaged in a military face-off. Both Xi and Modi have set the stage for talks on peace and cooperation by agreeing to move past Doka La and work on the larger BRICS agenda on cooperation. But all is still far from well.
For India and China, the next point of contention is developing, perhaps not in the form of a military conflict, but something that has all the making of a grand start to a prolonged diplomatic standoff — India’s approach to the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) and One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. China has bet big on CPEC, which it wants to use as a tool to assert significant political and economic influence on Pakistani soil and achieve its long-term goal of regional dominance operating from that base. CPEC is also integral to the OBOR initiative anchored by China. It wants to grow as a world leader with its economic power and military might. For both CPEC and OBOR, India’s cooperation will be crucial for China since no power in Asia can ignore Asia’s third largest economy.
Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping meet at the BRICS Summit in Xiamen. AP
But, China may have a tough time in taking India into confidence since the CPEC corridor passes through the contentious part of Kashmir, which is occupied by Pakistan and claimed by India. India has the backing of others. For instance, Sri Lanka has spoken in favour of India on this issue saying it is difficult for India to accept the CPEC since it passes through the 'heart of Indian interests'. China would have further risked the fate of CPEC and OBOR if it escalated tensions, as India can create hurdles in the path of OBOR. It was one of the major economic reasons it had to put an end to the Doka La conflict as pointed out earlier.
In a recent report, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (ESCAP), the UN’s regional development arm, had warned that the CPEC running through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir could create tensions with India and lead to 'further political instability' in the region. India has so far distanced itself from the OBOR initiative on account of this reason. It did not send a delegation to attend the OBOR meet convened by China early this year. This point of contention is likely to escalate further.
Just recently, army chief General Bipin Rawat had said that the CPEC passing through PoK challenges India’s sovereignty. "It is doing so by increasing defence and economic partnerships in the neighbourhood, especially in Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) challenges India’s sovereignty," Rawat had said. China, on the other hand, has maintained that CPEC has no direct links to Kashmir, a claim India has not agreed to. There are good reasons for China to bat for CPEC. China has invested at least $50 billion so far in the CPEC, and has also promised further investments.
Besides, it also plans to deeply influence the Pakistan region with its power and culture, establishing "a full system of monitoring and surveillance ... built in cities from Peshawar to Karachi, with 24 hour video recordings on roads and busy marketplaces for law and order. A national fibre optic backbone will be built for the country not only for internet traffic, but also terrestrial distribution of broadcast TV, which will cooperate with Chinese media in the 'dissemination of Chinese culture'." All this will eventually make Pakistan nothing short of a Chinese colony and a surveillance base, which is a threat to India.
The 2017 BRICS Summit may not have much to offer beyond the usual rhetoric and general statements on promise of member cooperation. Particularly for India and China, although the Doka La problem is off for now, the damage inflicted by the standoff on bilateral trade and economic relations will linger on for a while. Even if Modi and Xi move past the Doka La episode and shake hands in front of cameras, the CPEC issue will loom over the meet