India and China have a long history of engaging with each other. There were times of both rising friendship and animosity. Recently, we have seen hostility between the two nations grow over a host of issues, bringing the importance of negotiations and diplomatic talks to the fore. In such high-stakes negotiations, the approach of both the parties becomes very critical. The success of the talks could hinge on the diplomats, how they approach the agenda at hand and read the other side. Understanding the calculus behind India-China negotiations in the past provides key insights into how the diplomatic cadre reacts/is expected to react towards various challenges that China might pose for India.
To understand this better, we conducted a Samvaad session with Former Foreign Secretary of India, Mr. Vijay Gokhale, along with Professor Avinash Godbole titled, “India-China: The Calculus of Negotiation”. The session also draws motivation from Mr. Gokhale’s latest book titled, “The Long Game: How the Chinese Negotiate with India”. Mr. Gokhale is a retired Indian diplomat, Foreign Secretary and Ambassador. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1981. During his three-decade-long diplomatic career, he held several important assignments. He was the Foreign Secretary of India from January 2018 to January 2020. Before that, he was the Indian Ambassador to China and Germany and the High Commissioner to Malaysia. Mr. Gokhale is a revered sinologist. He holds the unique distinction of being the only Indian Foreign Service officer to have served in both mainland China and Taiwan. During his appointment as the Indian Ambassador to China, he played a key role in resolving the 2017 Doklam standoff between India and China. He has also served in diplomatic missions in Hong Kong, Hanoi, Beijing and New York and held several important offices at the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi. He is currently a non-resident senior fellow at Carnegie India. Professor Avinash Anil Godbole is a professor of International Relations and the Assistant Dean at OP Jindal Global University. Previously, he has been a Research Fellow at the ICWA and a Research Assistant at IDSA. His doctoral thesis is on the Political Economy of China’s Environment and his research interests are in the fields of Chinese Foreign Policy, Environmental Changes in China, Minorities in China, Domestic Politics in China, China’s Asia strategy and India-China Relations. He has been part of the India-China Think Tank Forum and has been involved in various other track 1.5 and track 2 events.
The session began with the guest-faculty discussion, by looking at some key political negotiations between the two nations. We discussed the implications of President Xi Jinping’s presidency for life and its impact on India. This was followed by a brief discussion on the Chinese Wolf-Warrior Diplomacy. We discussed how the Chinese often approach negotiations by building hierarchies with their counterparts to attain a sense of leverage and stall the conversations if their demands are not outrightly met. We then moved onto discussing India-China negotiations on issues regarding Afghanistan and cooperation with Pakistan over projects like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The discussions on political negotiations were followed by economic ones. China being the largest economy in the world in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), has leveraged this to amass enormous power. Undeniably, China is one of India’s closest and most important trade partners. This makes the resolution of several economic deadlocks between the two countries important. In this regard, we discussed the growing trade imbalance between India and China, and how negotiations have moved forward with China and also within Indian policy circles to stabilise it. The discussion also focused on three particular sectors of the Indian economy – pharmaceutical, information technology and agriculture. The conversation examined these sectors closely by looking at the difficulties in importing APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients) from China, incompatible IT services and the trade of agricultural products such as rice and mangoes. Mr. Gokhale also touched upon the idea of decoupling of the Indian and the Chinese economy. It was pointed out that decoupling would be extremely difficult and harmful for both the economies. Professor Godbole also raised questions about several MoUs that were signed between the two governments in 2014-15 and the reasons for slow progress on them.
Finally, the discussion moved on to more contemporary issues between the two countries. Questions were posed by students and members of the live audience. Since Mr. Gokhale served both in mainland China and Taiwan, he elaborated on how China plans to move towards its 2049 goal of integrating Taiwan into China and how could India play a role in it. We also discussed an article that Mr. Gokhale wrote in June 2020, where he stated that China is not seeking to establish a new world order but instead trying to champion the current one. It was observed that this is a highly debatable issue and Mr. Gokhale said that his view is just one way of interpreting what China is doing. Before opening up to the live audience’s questions, Mr. Gokhale talked about the Tiananmen Square Protest and the possible similarities one could draw between the Chinese government’s response then and now, with respect to the 2019 Hong Kong protests. The live audience’s questions were also very engaging and covered a broad spectrum of topics from the QUAD to China’s new South Asia grouping and other alliances.
At the end of the session, Mr. Gokhale highlighted the importance of the new generation and the youngsters taking up China studies in order to foster a larger public discourse around China. He believed that it is integral that India understands China better in order to alleviate tensions and tap into the several opportunities that these nations hold for each other.
The entire conversation with Mr. Gokhale and Professor Godbole is listed on the Centre’s YouTube channel. The discussion was extremely insightful and we highly recommend students interested in China Studies, International Relations and Political Science to listen to it.
The session was conducted by Deepanshu Singal, an undergraduate student at Ashoka University, who has a keen interest in Economics, Political Science and International Relations.