New Delhi: The border dispute between India and China is an “ancient” one, under which Beijing will continue to enhance its territorial position, but in the long run it’s possible that Chinese President Xi Jinping will take a strategic decision to go for a border settlement with New Delhi, according to former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd.
In an interview with ThePrint, Rudd, who is now president of the Asia Society, a global non-profit organisation, said Xi would never settle for a “diplomatic compromise”, be it in the case of India, Taiwan or the South China Sea.
“This is an ancient border dispute. It predated the war of 1962. Zhou Enlai (first premier of the People’s Republic of China) and (former Indian PM) Pandit (Jawaharlal) Nehru began looking at what a compromise might look like. The border war of 1962 destroyed that. And that’s now 60 years ago,” said Rudd, who was in India to launch his new book, The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the US and Xi Jinping’s China.
He said: “The evidence in recent times, and since (politician-reformer) Deng Xiaoping and certainly under Xi Jinping, is over time to change the reality on the ground with the border, in order to enhance China’s overall territorial position along the border and, of course, this is being reinforced by infrastructure construction on the Chinese side.”
“Therefore, I do not see any evidence from China’s generic strategic behaviour, either on the Sino-Indian border, in the South China Sea, over Taiwan or in the East China Sea that China is about to land upon a diplomatic compromise,” Rudd added.
He did not, however, rule out the possibility of Xi taking a strategic call after five or 10 years to put an end to the border dispute with India.
“I do not rule out the possibility that in the long-term, after five or 10 years, maybe if Xi Jinping reaches a strategic decision that it’s better for him to finally resolve the border for a range of other strategic reasons… so, we should not rule out the possibility. But it’s a possibility, not a probability,” he said.
Rudd, who was on a week-long trip to India, also said that India has finally realised that its main strategic challenge remains China, and that New Delhi has to take effective steps to deal with it going forward.
“India seems to have reached a conclusion that its principal strategic challenge does lie with China, whether it’s on the Sino-India border, whether it’s over Kashmir, whether it’s over Pakistan and China’s all-weather alliance with Islamabad or over the Indian Ocean,” Rudd said, adding that he believes this is why India’s strategy is now becoming “clearer’.
“India’s strategic partners have become clearer and this will unfold over time but without an immediate rupture with Russia,” he added, in the context of India’s stand in the Russia-Ukraine War and its impact on the Indo-Pacific.
He said this is why India is going for several maritime security initiatives like the Quad, and participating in the Malabar exercises with the navies of Australia, Japan and the US — India’s Quad partners.
“When you look at the future pattern of Indian naval and military purchases, there’ll be an increased predisposition to look to the US in terms of long-term supply,” he said.
The Quad grouping, Rudd said, has been designed as a “flexible vehicle” looking at the future, and will be made effective in a gradual manner as and when needed.
“It can expand vertically or horizontally in the future and become more military over time as circumstances demand,” said Rudd.
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‘US will respond militarily if China attacks Taiwan’
According to Rudd, who was also Australia’s foreign minister from 2010 to 2012, the Joe Biden administration will respond militarily if China decides to attack Taiwan.
“Under the Taiwan Relations Act (of the US) and because of the nature of US strategic thinking and its domestic politics, if China moved unilaterally, militarily against Taiwan to take the island, I think it is more probable than not that the US would respond militarily and with force,” he said.
He also said that despite the Taiwan crisis and the Russia-Ukraine War, both Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin are there to stay for the long run.
Xi will be reappointed as the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “supreme leader” at the upcoming 20th national congress, expected to be held later this year, Rudd said.
“I see Xi Jinping is politically determined to remain in office until the late 2030s because he knows that if he was to stand down from office, there’s a risk that he and his family would be purged by those whom he has alienated already in Chinese domestic politics,” Rudd said, adding that Xi will continue to face numerous challenges till then concerning slowing economic growth and an ageing population.
“We should get used to the long-term political reality of Xi Jinping in Beijing and Vladimir Putin in Moscow. I think that’s going to be the case through the rest of the 2020s and most of the 2030s,” Rudd said.
Xi’s ‘Great Rejuvenation’ plan and PLA reforms
In the coming decades, Xi will be focussed on giving shape to his plans for the ‘Great Rejuvenation’ which also includes massive modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
And that, Rudd said, will pose some “structural difficulties” for other countries.
On the PLA following Xi’s ambitious plans, the former PM of Australia said: “In Xi Jinping’s worldview, the modernisation of the Chinese military is one of the major ambitions. He launched the PLA reform programme in 2015, (and) he has indicated that he wants this to be completed by 2027. He consolidated China’s military regions from seven down to five, (and) there’s a major campaign to produce integrated joint operations between all four sectors of the Chinese armed services — naval forces, land forces, air forces, and now information and logistics as well.”
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
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