India's Foreign Minister's blueprint to fix China ties, TikTok layoffs in India, and a Chinese view of farmers protests

Welcome to today’s The India China Newsletter.

India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Thursday gave what is perhaps his most comprehensive speech on the state of India-China relations after the border crisis that began in May last year.

It covers a lot of ground and I recommend reading the full text. Here are some points I thought I would flag:

On the background to the current crisis and why it changed a fundamental principle in the relationship:

The advancement of ties….was clearly predicated on ensuring that peace and tranquillity was not disturbed and that the Line of Actual Control was both observed and respected by both sides. For this reason, it was explicitly agreed that the two countries would refrain from massing troops on their common border. Not just that, there were subsequently detailed understandings on handling situations of friction, if they were to arise…. In the years that passed, we obviously did not see significant progress on arriving at a common understanding of the alignment of the LAC in the India-China border areas. But, at the same time, there was also increasing construction of border infrastructure, especially on the Chinese side. Since 2014, there may have been more efforts by India to reduce this very considerable gap, including greater budget commitments and a better road building record. Nevertheless, the infrastructure differential remains significant and, as we saw last year, consequential.

Why the crisis of last year put the relationship under “exceptional stress”:

For all the differences and disagreements that we may have had on the boundary, the central fact was that border areas still remained fundamentally peaceful. The last loss of life before 2020 was, in fact, as far back as 1975. That is why the events in Eastern Ladakh last year have so profoundly disturbed the relationship. Because they not only signalled a disregard for commitments about minimizing troop levels, but also showed a willingness to breach peace and tranquillity

Yet, when it came to interests and aspirations, some of the divergences were also apparent. You may recall the practice of stapled-visas; or the reluctance to deal with some of our military commands. Then there was China’s opposition to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and to a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. When it came to trade, promises of market access did not match delivery. The blocking of UN listing of Pakistani terrorists involved in attacks on India had its own resonance. And of course, the violation of Indian sovereignty by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Even the border areas saw frictions on some occasions. As the cumulative impact of these developments began to be felt, the two nations agreed at Astana in 2017 not to allow differences to become disputes. At the same time, they also endeavoured to enhance the factors of stability in the relationship. Subsequent Summits were largely in that direction and infact affirmed that very consensus. But far from mitigating differences, the events of 2020 have actually put our relationship under exceptional stress.

His formula or blueprint to repair relations, which he outlined as “three mutuals and eight broad propositions”:

…The three mutuals – mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests – are its determining factors. Any expectation that they can be brushed aside, and that life can carry on undisturbed despite the situation at the border, that is simply not realistic. There are discussions underway through various mechanisms on disengagement at the border areas. But if ties are to steady and progress, policies must take into account the learnings of the last three decades.

Experience of the past taught us the importance of stabilizing our relationship even while adjusting to changes. From that, we can seek proper guidance that will be to the benefit of both nations. These can be summed up by eight broad propositions. First and foremost, agreements already reached must be adhered to in their entirety, both in letter and spirit. Second, where the handling of the border areas are concerned, the LAC must be strictly observed and respected; any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo is completely unacceptable. Third, peace and tranquillity in the border areas is the basis for development of relations in other domains. If they are disturbed, so inevitably will the rest of the relationship. This is quite apart from the issue of progress in the boundary negotiations. Fourth, while both nations are committed to a multi-polar world, there should be a recognition that a multi-polar Asia is one of its essential constituents. Fifth, obviously each state will have its own interests, concerns and priorities; but sensitivity to them cannot be one-sided. At the end of the day, relationships between major states are reciprocal in nature. Sixth, as rising powers, each will have their own set of aspirations and their pursuit too cannot be ignored. Seventh, there will always be divergences and differences but their management is essential to our ties. And eighth, civilizational states like India and China must always take the long view.

Comment: I liked the ‘three mutuals’ and ‘eight propositions’ formulation which, at least, will sound quite familiar to the Communist Party leadership in Beijing which does like such structures (remember the weighty Four Comprehensives and Four Confidences which are essential doctrines in Xi’s China? Or even the austerity measures of Four Dishes and One Soup?).

Joking aside, I think there’s lots to think about from the speech, which offers a way forward out of this crisis. Whether Beijing think so, of course, is another matter altogether.

The Indian Army is turning to Tibetology, reports the Times of India. It is planning to rope in seven institutes - the Department of Buddhist Studies (Delhi University), Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies (Varanasi), Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Bihar), Visva Bharati (West Bengal), Dalai Lama Institute for Higher Education (Bengaluru), Namgyal Institute of Tibetology (Gangtok) and Central Institute of Himalayan Culture Studies (Dahung, Arunachal Pradesh) to work with ARTRAC so Army officers can go on study leave to these centres.

One reason, the report says, is to “counter Chinese influence” in border areas. A welcome move, but I think perhaps a more pressing priority would be a Tibetan speaker in the Indian Embassy in Beijing, which, last time I checked, hadn’t had one in years.

The latest sign of the big chill in relations: ByteDance, which once had big plans for India, has announced layoffs amid the ban on Chinese apps, including TikTok. Expect to hear more such news from other Chinese tech companies that have established not small operations in India. TechCrunch reports:

Chinese internet giant ByteDance has told employees in India that it is reducing the size of its team in the country after New Delhi retained ban on TikTok and other Chinese apps last week, said a source familiar with the matter and an internal memo obtained by TechCrunch. After the publication of this story, a TikTok spokesperson confirmed the layoff.

The company, which employs more than 2,000 people in India, shared the news with employees in the country at 10 am local time and said only critical jobs will be retained in the country, said the source. More than two-thirds of the company’s workforce is expected to be eliminated, the source said. ByteDance said it was left with no choice after the Indian government, which banned its marquee app late June last year, had offered no clear direction on when TikTok could make return in the nation, the source said on the condition of anonymity.

And finally…

Li Qingqing writes in Global Times on the farmers protests and violence that marred India’s Republic Day:

During this year's Delhi Republic Day parade, as India was displaying its military might to the outside world, Indian farmers were storming New Delhi's Red Fort. The contrast was drastic and ironic.

According to China's experience, agricultural reform is indispensable in order to embark on the road to industrialization. Over these years, China has successfully transformed a backward agricultural state into an industrialized country. China has created a large number of employment opportunities in the industrial sector.

The Modi administration is now facing numerous challenges. On the one hand, India needs to deal with various domestic problems, including farmer protests and the COVID-19 infections; on the other hand, the country is confronting China on border issues and also has many disputes with other neighboring countries.

While India's internal problems have not been solved, trying to coordinate with the US to suppress China will not help India's development at all. On the contrary, New Delhi will plunge itself deeper and deeper into the quagmire.

The Modi administration has not understood these questions properly: Can India create manufacturing and development opportunities by confronting China? New Delhi proudly regards itself as a key member in the Indian Ocean with an important geopolitical role. However, a country's development depends on national strength, not geopolitical and ideological games.

India does not really take farmers' interests seriously. Although China has relatively advanced industries, the country still attaches great importance to agricultural issues. The No.1 central government document released at the very beginning of each year has featured agriculture, rural areas and farmers' issues as the country's top priorities for 17 consecutive years since the 21st century.

India wants to realize its major power dream, but it is now walking on an illusory path. If the farmers are living a hard life but the country is showing off its military muscle, initiating disputes abroad and not focusing on improving people's livelihood, India will only drift farther and farther away from its dream of becoming a major world power.

Thank you for reading.