India has significantly rewritten the long standing premise of its relationship with China. For years, the bilateral relationship centred around an essential delinking of the boundary – seen as “managing” tensions along the LAC – from the larger relationship of trade, investment and increased diplomatic ties.
Agreements from 1993 onwards built on protocols for maintaining “peace and tranquillity” on a boundary that is not demarcated, allowing each side to largely patrol its established lines. This allowed other parts of the relationship to move forward, despite doubts and suspicion that lay beneath. This was followed by all governments from Rajiv Gandhi to Narendra Modi. In fact, it was held up as a template to Pakistan that India and China could be mature enough to go ahead with the rest of their relationship and insulate the boundary dispute.
China’s heightened aggression and the Galwan clashes has undone that template. The Prime Minister’s remarks in Leh sharpened the reversal of that policy, the first inklings of which were evident in the scrutiny of Chinese investments and the political under pinning of the “self reliant India” campaign.
When he slammed “vistaar vaad” (expansionism) in his remarks to Indian security forces, PM Modi directly addressed China, without once referring to it by name. “In the past centuries expansionism has done the greatest harm to humanity, even tried to destroy humanity, history is witness that such forces have been erased or forced to turn back.”
The bilateral relationship now will depend not on trade and summitry, but on the boundary being respected and resolved. In a sense, we’re back to the India-Pakistan situation of 2000 when former US President Bill Clinton warned against redrawing boundaries “in blood” and urged respect for the LOC.