Elephant and dragon hug mutual interests
The specific reference to the South China Sea disputes, along with the forward movement on theUS-India nuclear deal, in the joint statement issued byUS President Barack Obama and Indian PrimeMinister NarendraModi on Jan 25, is seen by analysts and some Indian media outlets as a significant outcome of Obama’s recent visit to India. TheUS-India joint statement issued in September 2014 duringModi’s visit to theUS too had mentioned the maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
WhileWashington andNew Delhi have seen a significant improvement in their relations over the past decade, the presence of Obama as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations on Jan 26 was a symbolic move signifying that India would not let the baggage of the past influence its ties with theUS.
But despite the progress in Indo-US ties, Indian prime ministers over the past two decades have sought to build a strong relationship with China.
The current geopolitical situation is in stark contrast to the 1970s when India’s relations with theUS and China both were strained. While a “non-aligned” India’s close ties with the Soviet Union during the ColdWar prevented it from having the best of relations with theUS, and the 1962 border war strained its ties with China.
In the intervening years, however, Indian and Chinese leaderships’ efforts to improve ties have yielded dividends: the two countries have been working closely in the BRICS bloc and making efforts to make the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor a reality. The two countries have also found common ground on climate change at global forums.
The links between the two countries today go deeper than economics and trade. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India an agreement was signed to establish sisterly relations between Guangzhou province and India’s Gujarat state. New Delhi and Beijing, Kolkata and Kunming, Bengaluru and Chengdu, and Ahmedabad and Guangdong are already sister cities. Thus it would not be wrong to say that diplomacy between China and India has become multi-layered and multi-dimensional.
Of course, there remain irritants in bilateral relations, with the most significant being the border dispute, China’s increasing influence in South Asia and the skewed balance of trade.
But that the current Indian government is serious about its relationship with China has been demonstrated by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s just concluded visit to China and the announcement ofModi’s visit in May 2015.
Also, during his visit to India in September 2014, Xi andModi discussed all the important issues, including territorial and water disputes, and theChinese president promised an investment of $20 billion in India over a period of five years.
What the naysayers in both countries need to realize is that in a changing world and with
its growing economic clout, India cannot remain a nonaligned or be excessively dependent on any one country. It is for this reason that India has been following a policy of “multi-alignment” over the past two decades. This does not imply any compromise with its core strategic and economic interests, rather it means keeping national interests at the forefront. Modi seems to be following this policy by emphasizing thatNewDelhi is open to engagement with all countries.
So while IndiaandtheUSmay convergeoneconomicandstrategic issues, ChinaandIndia can beonthe samepageonother issues vis-à-vis theWest, whichamongother things include climate change. The increasing economicandstrategic clout of the two countries alsomeansthat after the withdrawal ofUScombat forces from Afghanistan, they need to jointly fight terrorismandfind areas of cooperation to help the battle-ravaged country’s economic reconstruction.
Relations betweenChinaand Indiahavenumerouslayers yet one thing is for certain that they are likely to be dictated by realismand rationality rather than idealismand emotion. The author is a senior research associate with the Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonepat. India.