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The Legacy Of Imperialism

India and China have managed to ease, in a way, their border tensions since the Armed Forces of the two countries locked with each other in the Galwan Valley near northern Indian territory of Ladakh on June 15, 2020. However, it is still not clear on what basis the two Asian neighbours agreed to call back a part of their troops from that region. The only thing is that the two countries have entered a new era of mistrust and suspicion!

Now, the point is what remains as to the impact of long political perspective, called ‘longue durée’, on the Sino-Indian ties that has led to the recent conflict. It is to be noted that the clash between the two Armed Forces have taken place at a time when the foreign policies of the two countries are going through some major changes. Foreign Policy Experts are of the opinion that Regional Nationalism had triggered all the previous bilateral disagreements and conflicts. This time, the rise of Ethno-Nationalism has created trouble in the Himalayan region…

Both the People’s Republic of China and Republic of India bear a tradition of Imperialism… the British Empire, after a long tradition of Islamic Rule, and prior to that rule by a Combination of Dynasties in the case of India, and China’s Qing Dynasty. China has also the legacy of their middle kingdom, as other places were ruled by Shins, Ming and others. As both of these countries have a long history of exploitation, India and China were important centres of anti-Imperialist activities in the past. At the same time, both the countries are following the footsteps of their predecessors (the British Imperialist power and the Qing Dynasty) in a spontaneous and unhindered manner, especially in the case of claiming lands.

Towards the end of the 18th Century, the Qing Dynasty used to control Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet, which were parts of the former Ming Empire. The Qing Empire suddenly collapsed in 1911, mainly because of the rise of Ethno-Nationalism among the Han peoples who were in majority. They blamed the Manchu regime for their repeated defeats at the hands of Western and Japanese imperialist powers. The rebels used to hold heated debates over how far the Chinese Nation-State could be extended in the future. Some of them were of the opinion that only Han-dominated regions should become parts of China. Others wanted Xinjiang, Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria to be included in China. From these two distinct thought processes, a purpose was somehow arrived at. The new ruling class of China decided to include all the neighbouring territories in order to strengthen the empire, and to increase the wealth. As a result, a new Republic of China was born on January 1, 1912, as if it was a replica of the Nation that was under the control of Qing Dynasty in the 18th Century! When the Communist Party of China, under the leadership of Mao Ze Dong, won the Civil War against the Nationalists in 1949, they did not think of initiating changes in the land policy.

Meanwhile, the British had, directly and indirectly, ruled the entire Indian Subcontinent practically from the middle of the 19th Century… and, their rule officially ended in 1947. At the height of the British Raj in 1937, Myanmar, too, became a part of their Colonial Empire. Although the Subcontinent was divided on the basis of Religion, the newly born Nations – India and Pakistan – inherited their borders marked by the British Empire. After its Independence, India campaigned hard for the inclusion of 565 territories that were under the British control. The North-Eastern Indian provinces, and the Western and North-Western provinces of Pakistan, which were situated at border areas, demanded autonomy or direct independence at that time. However, neither India nor Pakistan accepted their demand. The most important example of such a province is Jammu and Kashmir (including Ladakh) that was a territory of British India. The conflict over the region has not only led to a strong Freedom Movement there, but has also made permanent enemies out of India and Pakistan. The last significant re-organisation in terms of territorial division took place in the Indian Subcontinent in 1971 and in 1975. East Pakistan became Independent Bangladesh in 1971, while Sikkim became a part of India in 1975. This tendency to carry on with the Imperialist Legacy has possibly encouraged both India and China to leave their borders unmarked and disputed. Hence, the source of conflicting views of India and China on their borders or the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is embedded in various meetings between representatives of British-India and Qing Dynasty (later China and Tibet) in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The failure to reach an acceptable consensus had reportedly led to the Sino-Indian War of 1962, and to minor border conflicts in 1967, 1975 and 1987…

In principle (and also by strategy), the two neighbouring countries seem to have inherited the Imperialist Legacy! None of them can actually claim their sole rights over the border areas. There has been a different kind of imperialist conspiracy hidden in each and every regional conflict between the two in the last few decades. Although both India and China claim to be Republics, they still possess the imperialist ambition.

After 1949, the Communist Party of China, reportedly, had mentioned to the people that it would be important to be loyal to the Party and the Revolution. When the situation changed in 1989, the Government of China decided to focus on loyalty to the Nation, instead of the Party. The Global Community, then, witnessed the rise of an arrogant Han Nationalism once again in China in the late 1990’s. The political situation, which had led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty almost a century ago, has started resurfacing in China. That is why Beijing is now being seen trying hard to encourage the Muslim Uyghur community, living in the Xinjiang Province, to follow the path of Nationalism.

On the other hand, the rise of Ethno-Nationalism in India is being accompanied by the rise of the extremist ideology of Hindutva. The image if a Secular Indian State is on the verge of fading in the face of the glorious propaganda of a strong Upper Caste Hindu Nationalism. Hence, the border crisis is no longer just an issue of Regional Nationalism. The Han Nationalism of China and the Hindu Nationalism of India have added spice to it! Both the countries have started considering even the slightest problem at their border as a serious threat to their Sovereignty, and Self-Respect. Therefore, the deployment of Armed Forces near the border area could lead to dangerous escalation of tensions. The Indian and Chinese Foreign Policy-makers will have to keep this fact in their respective minds in future…

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