India's Strained Foreign Relations With China And How It Impacts Tourism
Since independence, all of India's successive governments have worked on building better relations, particularly in trade, with its neighbors and other countries. This policy was pushed on more with the advent of the Modi government in 2014, with a major focus placed on creating better and stronger ties with other countries.
In the past few months, however, India has been facing a major challenge in its northern borders with China, an issue that started in May and continues still, getting more and more worrisome. Historically speaking, this relation has always been rocky at best, but placed mostly in the backburner for the sake of trade, because India does, after all, trade goods worth millions with the country. With the rising border tensions concentrated in the Ladakh region and the death of Indian soldiers due to a face-off with Chinese troops, there has been a wave of nationalism that has affected the country. With a prominent boycott of Chinese goods and software still taking place within the country, the process is slow but successful. This wave of nationalism has brought to attention the other fragile relations India is dealing with consistently with its neighbors like Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc. that can, in fact, be traced back to China.
What does this have to do with the tourism industry? It's important to keep in mind, firstly, that a large number of countries in Asia, predominantly smaller ones, have debts to China and India, two of the fastest-growing economies in the world who can afford large loans to other countries, which establishes them as two giants, not just economically but also through land space, in Asia - relations between the two affect a number of countries. Secondly, and most importantly, multiple countries in the continent are dependent on tourism as a revenue generator, for example, Maldives, Indonesia, Thailand, Bhutan, India, etc. They are dependent financially and/or for employment on tourism, whether it is a big chunk or a small sector.
With these facts established, let's get into the 3 most important ways that China-India relations can affect the tourism industry, either directly or indirectly.
1. Border tensions and land disputes
China is, of course, one of the countries India is currently having a land dispute with in terms of claimed territory and borders, concentrated towards the border in Ladakh which India shares with Tibet, officially a part of the republic. Did you know, however, that India is also facing land disputes with Nepal and Pakistan? the two countries earlier released new political maps of their countries which claimed regions in India as theirs, with Pakistan claiming the whole of Kashmir and sections of Gujrat as a part of the country and Nepal releasing a new map with towns and sections of Uttarakhand (Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, and Lipulekh areas) as Nepal's territory.
Many political experts believe both had been influenced in some way or the other by the Chinese government to carry out these changes. Whether this is correct or not, the fact is that these map changes are not only complicating relation issues for India but also hinting to more disagreements that can cause land loss. While it is unlikely these maps will be accepted, it still means that the land being fought over may just get more dangerous and even cordoned off for tourists. Ladakh, Kashmir, and Uttarakhand are some of the most tourist-heavy destinations in India and an escape from the densely populated southern cities for many. These issues, whether remaining stagnant or becoming more problematic, will cause many problems to the tourism industry. Small vendors and shops in the areas dependent on tourism, already hit hard enough by COVID-19, will suffer even more due to these border issues.
Potential Problems: A hit to tourism in the areas where there are land disputes with other countries, mainly Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh. This can cause a hit to revenue, increase in danger and possibly lesser enthusiasm in travelers to these spots.
2. The Indus Water treaty
The Indus river is one of the main sources of water for many states of India. It originates in Tibet, which is a part of the Republic of China, and runs in Pakistan, India, and Tibet. The treaty has, for years, made sure of fair usage and distribution of the water between the countries, mainly India and Pakistan, who have upheld the treaty now for close to 60 years. Next to the town in Tibet closest to India, there is a giant hydroelectric dam built on the Sengge Zangpo River (Indus), just 80 km from Demchok, a Ladakhi village that sits on the undefined Sino-Indian (China-India) Border.
China has, in the last few years, rapidly ramped up development along the river, with satellite images showing multiple projects that have sprung up in Tibet funded by the Republic. Although the government says these are for faster development of the region, multiple experts share concerns about the nature of the development. Many say this is one way China is trying to impact India - and this will leave a huge scar. The river runs through Ladakh and provides water for irrigation and other purposes to provinces in Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab. These states will be directly impacted, and so will tourism - with the flourishing tourism industry in Himachal and Ladakh, as well as the role of water sports in these attractions, any changes made by China such as controlling the water source through built dams, redirecting within Tibet, or more dams and hydroelectric projects that can majorly impact the water flowing into India will hit these states hard in multiple industries.
Potential problems: Any control or hold back of the river to even the smallest extent can drastically hit infrastructure based along the river and in the states hit the hardest. Agriculture will be hit the hardest, leading to a search for possible alternative water sources. An increase in pollution due to mass development along the Tibet - India border can also drive down tourism.
3. Positive relations with the Maldives
Amongst all these tensions India is maintaining its relationship with the Maldives very well, and mostly always has. Although some tensions are subsiding and getting marginally better (such as India-Russia relations), there are multiple challenges India will continue to face within and outside Asia. India recently paid a large amount to the Maldives for recovery funds (around 400$ million), as the country, predominantly tourist-based, was hit hard by COVID-19. The move, along with India's increasing pitch to the country, seems to be strategically done against China, which uses the ports of the country and its waters for trade. The southern neighbor of both countries is placed in an essential way in trade routes and tourism.
India has also been funding multiple tourism projects within the Maldives, such as fishing villages and centers, attractions based on the culture of the country, etc., totaling 9 projects for higher development. These tourism projects will not only further the two country's' relations but also boost tourism between both. More number of Indians will visit the country and the increased heritage tourism projects will promote the exchange of art and culture amongst the countries.
Potential Advantages: Increased revenue through tourism for the Maldives, better tourism experiences for travelers across the globe due to India-Maldives joint projects, and possibly lower costs or better deals for Indian tourists. There may also be the development of channels to travel to the Maldives, and a stronger tie between the two can be the step India has been looking for to hit the Republic of China back hard.
These were the three main ways that relations with China are affecting India. Although we can't say for sure what is the result of pressure from the Republic and what is just a country's doing, it is safe to say that all these steps taken in the last few months have impacted India strongly and will continue to. It is also worth mentioning that other tensions with countries not border-related will also impact tourism - for example, Sri Lanka's increasing moves against Japan and India said to be, again, under pressure from China.
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