For all the rapprochement over the past 30 years—joint working groups, appointment of special representatives, the five agreements to maintain peace along the border, confidence building measures and, lastly, high-profile summits between heads of state--suspicion of China is deeply rooted in the Indian psyche. Ever since India’s defeat in the 1962 border war, the Chinese have been regarded with ingrained distrust. That has now been reinforced manifold by the border clashes in Ladakh last year, and the protracted military stand-off thereafter. Yet, despite the loss of lives and the amassing of troops on both sides, the two countries managed to pull back from the razor’s edge. All through this tough period, India and China continued talking. This has finally yielded results—a disengagement process has now begun in Ladakh. What the future holds for Sino-India ties once the process is completed is unclear, with the post-COVID-19 international situation continuing to be in flux.
Much will depend on the power play between the US and China. At the G7 leaders’ statement, US President Joe Biden has reasserted that America is back to leading the multilateral cooperative world order. The idea is to call out China on its unfair trade practices, its human rights record, and emphasis on a law-based free world order. But the world that Biden was familiar with has changed drastically in the last four years. Biden wants Europe’s cooperation in challenging China. But is the EU, especially France and Germany, ready for it? The UK’s Boris Johnson is willing to play ball, but Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel may not be as enthusiastic. As the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi called for mutual respect and cooperation for a reset in US-China ties on February 22, will Xi Jinping and Biden cut a deal? After all, the economies of the two countries are closely integrated. As countries hope to repair shattered economies, China will remain a major player. It’s early days yet as the Biden administration weighs its options.