India-China Relations: Possible Reflections on Bangladesh

Speaking pragmatically, geo-politically and superlatively, in the ongoing global order free, independent and sovereign states operationally and strategically cannot be away from bilateral, regional and global realities, issues, problems, challenges, dilemmas and opportunities therein, notwithstanding anything contained in bilateral or multi-lateral documents, texts and contracts open or not, and more importantly being within the sway/domain of United Nations. Bangladesh under the leadership leaning towards statesmanship of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seems as of today be well aware of such actualities especially in her dealing with two giant states India and China and, perchance, no horns of dilemma are demonstratively foreseeable. (This is an enlargement of the write-up published in the web journal of Centre for Governance Studies recently.)
There is no denying the fact that degree of closeness–mathematical or not– between these two giant neighbours China and India with 4056 km (2520 mi) long borders on five fronts taking Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh shall have corresponding or near-corresponding effects, Immediate or future, on Bangladesh. Therefore, Bangladesh having 4156 km (2582 mi) long international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world, with India on five fronts covering 262 km(163 mi)in Assam, 856 km(532 mi)in Tripura, 180 km(110mi)in Mizoram, 443 km (275 mi) in Meghalaya and 2,217 km(1378mi) in West Bengal(this boundary demarcation line is called the Purbachal(operating zero-line) shall have to keep Eagle’s eye on the ongoing state of affairs between India and China.
Bangladesh has no border with China but she connects China through Myanmar, a trusted ally of China, that has 270 km (179 mi) —210 km of which is fenced–international border with Bangladesh and China has km 2,185 (1,357 mi) borders with Thailand. On the other hand, India has 1624-km (1,009 mi)-long international borders with Myanmar through its four northeastern States namely Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur. Therefore, on all counts, China-Myanmar relations act as a vital strategically magnetic point while dealing with India and Bangladesh taking further Bangladesh as the entry point to South Asia and Myanmar as the entry point to Southeast Asia and thus these two countries together have emerged as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
For Bangladesh most leading strategic realization relates to The Siliguri Corridor (also known as the Chicken’s Neck for looking its shape being like a neck of chicken), which is a narrow stretch of land of about 22 km (14 mi) located in the Indian state of West Bengal that connects India’s northeastern states via Arunachal with a territory of 1,00000 square miles with the rest of India, having the countries of Nepal and Bangladesh lying on either side of the corridor. The Kingdom of Bhutan lies on the northern side of the corridor. Arunachal state borders with Tibet Autonomous Region of China (also known as Dingdong province) and, curiously enough, during the war in 1962 between India and China (it is on record) that People’s Liberation Army of China, PLA, with a distance of 500 km away came closer to this Chicken Neck. Catastrophes came to an end due to China’s unilateral withdrawal from the occupied territories.
To be fair and pragmatic, to understand the state of standing of present India, glimpses of the causes of India’s defeat in 1962 war are inescapable and that relates, inter alia, three factors, which may be summed up as (a) lack of adequate connectivity between Mainland India and its northeast India (officially North Eastern Region, NER) with seven states, widely known also as seven sisters, a sobriquet/term coined by a Tripura-based journalist Jyoti Prasad 1972(which later rose to eight when China withdrew her claim officially from Sikkim in 2003.) with an area of 262,179 km 2 (101,228 sq. mi) (b) Indian defence forces were not so much well- trained and experienced in high altitude battle/war while China was advanced enough. But since then and over the periods, realistically telling, India has developed and advanced a lot in almost all points including the creation of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (MDONER) in September 2001 and its onward activation and reshaping armed forces including the Eastern Command in line with the concept of ‘striking force’ based on ’‘Proactive defence strategy’—a kind of polish interpretation of cold start doctrine unveiled in 2004—primarily against Pakistan extending to China in course of time, if possible. Cold Start is a military doctrine developed by the Indian Armed Forces for use in a possible war with Pakistan. It involves the various branches of India’s military conducting offensive operations as part of unified battle groups The Cold Start doctrine is intended to allow India’s conventional forces to perform holding attacks in order to prevent a nuclear retaliation from Pakistan in case of a conflict. It is also levelled as Two-Front War Doctrine since this will be the mainstay of India’s New War Doctrine, based on the reality that India should expect and be prepared to effectively meet simultaneous threats from China on the Northern borders and Pakistan on the Western borders.
This doctrine is one step forward to Sundarji doctrine (after the name of. General Krishnaswamy Sundarji, although India officially does not agree) who was India's Chief of Army staff from 1986 to 1988). The Sundarji Doctrine was made up of seven defensive although India officially does not agree e ‘holding corps’ of the Indian Army and deployed near the Pakistani border. Possessing limited offensive power, the holding corps’ primary responsibility was to check a Pakistani advance. India’s offensive potency was derived from the ‘strike corps’ which was made up of a mechanized infantry and extensive artillery support. Unlike the holding corps that was deployed close to the border, the strike corps was based in central India, a significant distance from the international border. In a war, after the holding corps halted a Pakistani attack, the strike corps would counterattack, penetrating deep into Pakistani territory to destroy the Pakistan Army’s own strike corps through ‘deep sledgehammer blows’ in a high-intensity battle of attrition. In January 2011, while talking to the media in the run-up to Army Day, Army chief General V K Singh came closer than any other government official, while spelling out the widely speculated Indian war doctrine popularly referred to as Cold Start. ‘There is nothing like Cold Start. But we have a ‘proactive strategy’ which takes steps in a proactive manner so that we can achieve what our doctrines and strategies,’ he said ( my article ’VK Singh: New Skipper of MDONER,’ Dhaka Courier on 11 September 2014) and © Learning and experiences of weak espionage networks that predominantly came to the forefront after the India-China war in 1962 and India-Pakistan war in 1965 and 1971.
Subsequently, RAW, Research and Analysis Wing was created in 1968 during Indira Gandhi Administration followed by NSC, National Security Council, in 1998 and Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (MDONER) in 2001 during Atal Bihari Vajpayee Administration. Today India in nearly all considerable areas has progressed meaningfully including defence, science and technology. From a defense point of view, it is now a nuclear power (1998) with a mark of one of the largest armed forces. ‘India has been ranked the fourth most powerful military power in the world. According to the Global Fire Power Index 2017, India’s military strength is second only to that of the US, Russia, and China’(
India has developed military bases in her island states in Lax deep, Nicobar and Andaman Islands and attempts are on to increase domestic productions in many fields of defence. With limitations, she has formal defence pacts for the supply of arms and ammunitions to not less than 42 countries including Bangladesh and Myanmar. Under the “Make in India” flagship programme outlined in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi government has been laying emphasis on defence manufacturing in India to build up the country’s manufacturing base, ensure jobs for its youth. India is the second-largest importer of defence equipment just behind Saudi Arabia in 2019, according to defence-related institutes entailing also the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
‘India may be a big importer of defence equipment but has been making steady progress in exports of such products to a number of countries including those who are big names in the export market like the US, Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, South Africa and Sweden. These countries are in the list of 42 nations that also included Azerbaijan, Seychelles, Estonia, Indonesia, Guinea and the Philippines. Minister of State for Defense,
Shripad Naik, in a written reply to Rajya Sabha on Monday said the “cost of the items and quantum of foreign exchange earned varies from company to company” and the ministry did not keep a record of the quantum of foreign exchange earned.
Indian defence product exports to Australia included 5.56x45mm Ball MK N (SS109) cartridges, while it exported protective headgear and hard amour plates to Azerbaijan, helmets, bomb suppression blanket and soft armor panels to Germany, sleeping bags to Guinea, mortar shell covers to Israel, hard amour plates to the Netherlands and the US, radar parts, bullet proof vests and helmets with accessories to Singapore, detonators to South Africa and night vision binoculars to Thailand’.(
More thought-provoking is that India has crossed its boundary militarily and Farkhor is India’s first military base outside its territory. Farkhor Air Base is a military airbase located near the town of Farkhor in Tajikistan, 130 km (81 mi) southeast of the capital Dushanbe. It is operated by the Indian Air Force in collaboration with the Tajik Air Force. Chabahar Port in Iran, developed by India, provides India surface transport access to Farkhor Air Base via Afghanistan( This is also assumed by many that The Farkhor Air Base would give the Indian military the required depth and range in seeking a larger role in the Indian Subcontinent and is a tangible manifestation of India’s move to project its power in Central Asia.
India necessarily looked at South Asian states and played a vital role in forming SAARC, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, in 1985 and her vision extended to the establishment of Look East Policy in 1991 under Narasimha Rao Administration meaning closer ties with the countries in Southeast Asia, apparently creating a counter balance against China. It was revitalized by Narendra Modi in 2014 renaming it India’s Act-East Policy. In both cases, India’s successes are not so much shunning due to long-standing hostilities between Pakistan-India that almost made the SAARC ineffective and, as a possible available alternative, India made attempts to move without Pakistan that Narendra Modi declared in the 18 th SAARC summit in 2016 and thus gave birth to few sub-regional groups such as South Asian Sub-regional Economic Cooperation(SESEC) comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Srilanka and The Motor Vehicles Agreement for the Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN MVA)and China’s formidable draconian presence in Southeast Asia with meaningful materials and political supports. Besides, India moved further to set up sub-regional groups within the hemisphere of far east and south Asia and Southeast Asia like Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) and Bay Bangla Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) consisting of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Srilanka and Thailand. In some areas, collaborations between China and India are markedly noticeable. India’s target to enter and stay safely in Myanmar is not comfortable in reality because of China’s long time multi-dimensional Himalayan presence and engagements therein, despite her assistance and collaboration in development domains in particular.
India’s relations with the neighbour states, besides Pakistan, are not moving in comfortable moods and modes for bundles of reasons and she had problems with Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives on the one hand and on the other Bangladesh-India relations are going ups and down for India’s failure to comply with promises made again and again. India-Bangladesh relations— bearing in mind markedly her historic role in giving birth to Bangladesh in the draconian challenges and dilemmas of the bi-polar world under the USA and undivided Russia—may be conceptualized in few maxims such as (a) India-friendly Bangladesh at the government level but Indo-phobic Bangladesh at the mass level and (b) Geography tells us to be with India(Considering its geographical standing and location that made Bangladesh almost an India-locked country having exit passage to the south with the Bay of Bengal and to the south-east end bordering Myanmar. Even viewed with virtual certainty, for Bangladesh Bay of Bengal is not a safe passage because there stands Indian union territory Nicobar and the Andaman Islands with a big defense installation) but History warns to be away from India (Memories in the past, save India’s historic role and contributions in giving birth to Free and independent Bangladesh, are very much intoxicated and tainted with deprivations and non-committals).
Attempts have been made by the Hasina Administration to put relations on the best possible positive treks and she did her maximum even going beyond limitations distinctly in paving safe way in the northeastern states (Attn. to my articles. ‘Understanding Indian Seven Sisters from Bangladesh’, 3 June 2015, Green Watch and ‘India-Bangladesh Relations’, 3 January 2014, Dhaka Courier). From India’s standpoint, Bangladesh is now a true friend of India while Bangladesh still suffers mostly from an acute sense of suffocation of getting deprived and betrayed, although both sides openly claim that ongoing relations are a role model.
It is also perceived, conceived and understood by a large section of people, think-tanks, intelligentsia even political leaders and activists that the tastes of power to be enjoyed by the political parties through elections in the ongoing multi-party system in Bangladesh are largely in the hands of India, which is so crude and target-oriented to see her national interests flowing over those of Bangladesh and hence since 2009 India has routinely been being blamed and held responsible for contaminating the fabric of free, fair and credible elections in Bangladesh. Hard virtual certainty is that India, regardless of her robust politico-economic-commercial-cultural and diplomatic drives, initiatives and communications has not yet been in a position to show excellence convincingly in setting glaring illustration that she is a true friend of Bangladesh under all the circumstances, compelling or not, and resultantly not-coveted U-turn landscapes of the past are likely to overshadow highly talked about role model sojourn (Attn. to my article ‘Bangladesh-India Relations: Centre of attention’, 11 September 2011, Dhaka Courier)
Noticeable it is as well that Pakistan’s leaderships appear smart enough to embark upon policies and strategies to remove and delete the wounds and negative memories of 1971 and Prime Minister Imran Khan, once unresolved critic of Bangladesh, at present doesn’t feel shy of making courtesy telephonic calls to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
During this long period China did not sit idle and from the days of Dongxiang Ping after the death of Mao Xuedong as of the day of Xinjian Ping China brought about meaningful reforms and changes in communist ideological strengths and spirits aimed at the arrival of a modern socialist country by 2050 as set in the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China {Atten. to my article ‘Conceptual understanding of the Chinese dream’, 4 April 2015 in Daily Green Watch, Bogota Free Planet on 6 April 2015 and in Dhaka Courier on 19 March 2015). Today, China— the second-largest economic power in the world with her overall exposures in almost all areas enthralling science and technology, trades, commerce and industries and son on—looked meaningfully with her avowed policy to stand by ‘neighbour (s) first’ fingering at Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Srilanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan and so strengthened and cemented multi-faceted ties, notwithstanding the failures of 23 rounds of talks between China and Bhutan to set up diplomatic ties through opening formal embassies at Beijing and Thimphu (Attn. to my article “Feedbacks: Narendra Modi’s sojourn in Bhutan’, Burma Times on 30 September and Dhaka Courier on 2 October 2014). India’s interests in these countries from bi-lateral viewpoints in particular and south Asian standpoints, in general, are now visibly at stake due to China’s rapidly growing pro-active ties with the countries concern.
China’s Road and Belt Initiatives and BRICS(Association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa came into being on 16 June 2009) drives getting rolled and extended steadily. India sided with BRRI but distanced herself from Road and Belt Initiative considering Karakoram Trek with eight summits over 7,500 m height, with four of them exceeding 8,000 m: K2, the second-highest peak in the world at 8,611 m, Gasherbrum I, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum, as a connecting route between China and Pakistan on the disputed land of Kashmir, which Pakistan gave to China in 1963 during military authoritarian general Ayub Khan administration and Zhou Enlai Premiership under Mao Xuedong on condition of its being discussed once the Kashmir issue is settled or during the final stage of settlement. The deal was Geo-strategic significance of this trek is beyond question. It is a mountain range spanning the borders of India, Pakistan and China with the northwest extremity of the range extending to Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It begins in the Wakhan Corridor in the west and encompasses the majority of Gilgit-Baltistan and extends into Ladakh and the disputed Aksai Chin region controlled by China. It is the second-highest mountain range in the world and part of the complex of ranges including the Pamir Mountains, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayan Mountains. It is widely projected that China has meanwhile encircled India by Strings of pearls (Attn. to my article ‘China’s String of Pearls: Conceptual understanding’, Burma Times, 4 March, Dhaka Courier, 5 March and Daily Observer, 7 March 2015).
Few clashes between these two big neighbours took place, still take place, on diverse occasions at different points decidedly at Doklam and Ladakh, now a union territory of India after the cancellation of article 370 in the Constitution of India in 2019 by the Modi administration. The situation in Ladakh has become volatile recently centring fighting between Chinese and Indian soldiers over Palawan, although politico-diplomatic initiatives are on to put it under control showing due respects to the line of control, LOC, and line of actual control, LOAC. Doklam is an area with a plateau and a valley, lying between China’s Chumbi Valley to the north, Bhutan’s Ha Valley to the east and India’s Sikkim state to the west. It has been depicted as part of Bhutan in the Bhutanese maps since 1961, but it is also claimed by China. To date, the dispute has not been resolved despite several rounds of border negotiations between Bhutan and China. The area is of strategic importance to all three countries.
In June 2017 a military standoff occurred between China and India as China attempted to extend a road on the Doklam plateau southwards near the Doka La pass and Indian troops moved in to prevent the Chinese to no avail.
India claimed to have acted on behalf of Bhutan, with which it has a ‘special relationship’. Bhutan has formally objected to China’s road construction in the disputed area (Attn. to my article ‘Bhutan: Locked within the fold of India doctrine? Dhaka Courier, 25 September 2014).
Factually enough, during the official visit of Indian Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari to China in 2014, and China officially announced its vertical map wherein it showed Arunachal province as a part of China, although the Chinese government eventually recognized Sikkim as an Indian state in 2003, on the condition that India officially recognizes Tibet as a part of China. New Delhi had originally accepted Tibet as a part of China in 1953 during the government of Jawaharlal Nehru.
The reality also reveals the other side of the coin that Bangladesh- India relations specifically since Sheik Hasina’s coming to power in 2008 grew as a turning point and today Bangladesh-India relations are considered as a role model with Himalayan height, Pacific depth and Saharan breadth {Attn. to my article ‘India-Bangladesh Relations, 3 January 2014, Dhaka Courier). Similarly, Bangladesh- China relations are now on a very solid foundation taking almost all areas of development activities to defence and security matters. China now stands as number-1 development and defence partner while Bangladesh-India engagements also entered into formidably meaningful phase. From these very standpoints, Bangladesh is known as a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia. Bangladesh, one may differ or not, has still been maintaining a unique equilibrium in its relations with China and India. This very standing has to be upheld under the circumstances, decisive or not. If there is any escalated war between China and India, be sure, it will be confined to them only rather involvements of Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Pakistan cannot be set aside outrightly or their tacit supports to China seem to be a sure possibility.
It is on record that militarily, financially and strategically China prevails over India, although in naval areas India has demonstrative developments. But India has to face not only China rather states in south Asia are mostly with China on account of their respective unresolved disturbing bi-lateral and regional issues and here China means an ‘implied allied force’ with all sorts of excellence and skills having geo-politics and strategic supercity. I am sure that shall be no war but little clashes and counter clashes on the borders since global overall scenarios are not favourable for such dimensions and escalations. After the arrivals of COVID-19 and its herculean devasting blasts on almost every area in life, society, state and the earth planet at large made any escalated war least impossible and world war third a virtual impossibility. Neither America nor China, whatever words and languages they prefer to apply and exchange on various thorny issues and dilemmas touching national and beyond border issues and concerns, is not ready in essence to take father risks of being deleted from the map of the world as global powers.
Nevertheless, viewed nationally, bilaterally, regionally and globally, every power, rising or risen, seems to be despite, overemotional and befuddled with respective dreams say, China with Chinese dream called ‘Xanthian’, America with American dream and India with India doctrine, Russia with Russian dream and so forth. The ongoing state of affairs in Fareast and south Asia can hardly be understood, calculated and realized in full without having mathematical and geopolitical significance and strategies therein, especially China-USA relations, China-Russia relations, China-European Union relations, China-Israel relations, China-Saudi relations and India’s overall standing within such landscapes in particular.
Therefore, from Bangladesh perspectives, question and concern crop up and chase what Bangladesh shall do in such state of affairs? Pragmatically, it’s a great challenge with complexities and limitations for Bangladesh as such landscapes, seem to be horns of dilemmas before her (Attn. to my article. ‘India factor while dealing with China’,7 September 2014, Daily Observer) Bangladesh and ’Jostling under the armpits of giants’,14 August 2014, Dhaka Courier). Foreign minister of Bangladesh Abdul Momen meanwhile expressed to the media not to side either with India or with China under such bewildering state of affairs. Let us see where the overall phenomenon finally rolls and ends.
(Dr. Sinha MA Sayeed (titled ‘Global voice’ for the book O United Nations), writer, columnist, public speaker, member of International Political Science Association and Chairman of Leadership Studies foundation, LSP, at