Courtship or Dal­liance?

In­dia looks at a strate­gic re­gional part­ner­ship with China

Southasia - - Contents - By S. M. Hali

China and In­dia, both grow­ing Asian economies whose in­ter­ests have clashed in the past, have now re­al­ized that set­ting an­i­mos­ity aside, per­haps co­op­er­a­tion is the need of the hour. Deng Xiaop­ing, China’s top leader and eco­nomic re­formist of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China (PRC), in­tro­duced devel­op­ment plans, which have pro­pelled PRC to be­come one of the lead­ing economies of the world. As per his phi­los­o­phy, Deng preached that re­gional dis­putes should be shelved and in­stead em­pha­sis must be laid on eco­nomic growth.

In­dia, which is also as­pir­ing for ex­po­nen­tial eco­nomic growth, com­pre­hends that in­stead of lock­ing horns, the duo can achieve greater success through col­lab­o­ra­tion. S. M. Kr­ishna, Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter of In­dia, re­cently stated that In­dia’s key for­eign pol­icy pri­or­ity is to in­vest in build­ing a sta­ble and co­op­er­a­tive re­la­tion­ship with China, which will be a source of sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity in the re­gion.

This turn­around has not been an easy one. The Sino-In­dian armed con­flict of 1962, the bor­der dis­putes over Arunachal Pradesh and Ak­sai Chin, In­dian naval pres­ence in the South China Sea and the Chi­nese naval ac­tiv­ity in the In­dian Ocean, have all proved as de­ter­rents to a stronger re­la­tion­ship. In ad­di­tion to this, China’s de­fense ties with Pak­istan, and In­dia’s grant of po­lit­i­cal asy­lum to the Dalai Lama and the Ti­betan Di­as­pora fur­ther serve as ir­ri­tants that ham­per col­lab­o­ra­tion. In­dia too, now sees wis­dom in im­prov­ing diplo­matic and eco­nomic ties with China in or­der to achieve its true po­ten­tial. In the post Cold War and 9/11 era, In­dian ties with the US have seen vast im­prove­ment. It was en­vis­aged that the US may prop In­dia as a bul­wark to con­tain China but prag­matic think­ing in the South Block man­darins, who con­sider it pru­dent to have a diplo­matic and eco­nomic al­liance with erst­while op­po­nent China, has thwarted such US over­tures.

Sino-In­dian re­la­tions de­pict decades of an­i­mos­ity and com­pe­ti­tion. Time and again, in­ci­dents have marred the ef­forts of peaceniks to bury the hatchet be­tween the former ad­ver­saries. The Indo-Viet­namese deal for oil ex­plo­ration in the dis­puted South China Sea irked Bei­jing and prompted the Chi­nese for­eign min­istry spokesper­son to com­ment, “We do not hope to see out­side forces in­volved in the South China Sea dis­pute and do not want to see for­eign com­pa­nies en­gage in ac­tiv­i­ties that will un­der­mine Chi- na’s sovereignty and in­ter­est.” Though both Bei­jing and New Delhi down­played the is­sue, there were un­sa­vory and provoca­tive com­ments from some sec­tions of the In­dian as well as Chi­nese me­dia.

The meet­ing be­tween Chi­nese Pre­mier Wen Ji­abao and his In­dian coun­ter­part, Dr. Man­mo­han Singh at the side­lines of the re­cent ASEAN Sum­mit at Bali poured oil over trou­bled wa­ters. Dr. Man­mo­han Singh re­it­er­ated his oft-quoted state­ment that there was enough space for both In­dia and China to flour­ish. To which, Wen Ji­abao in­stantly re­sponded, “It is im­por­tant for our two coun­tries, the most pop­u­lous in the world, to achieve mod­ern­iza­tion and work hand in hand,” adding that he was “fully con­fi­dent that that kind of world will ar­rive.”

The In­dian move to host the Global Bud­dhist Con­gre­ga­tion 2011, to be ad­dressed by the Dalai Lama, de­spite Chi­nese re­quests for can­cel­ing the con­clave, raised se­ri­ous con­ster­na­tion in Bei­jing. How­ever, apart from co­op­er­at­ing dur­ing the Dur­ban Con­fer­ence on cli­mate change, the high point of the Sino-In­dian re­la­tion­ship dur­ing the year 2011 was the re­sump­tion of the De­fense Di­a­logue.

The year 2012 saw for­eign and

eco­nomic ties steadily grow be­tween the two neigh­bors, with some re­ports stat­ing that In­dia is ex­pected to reach a US$100 bil­lion dol­lar trade with China by 2015.

Dur­ing the sec­ond BRICS sum­mit, held in New Delhi, it was agreed that the Chi­nese government would en­cour­age domestic com­pa­nies to im­port more prod­ucts from In­dia in or­der to bal­ance the trade deficit. Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao also told In­dian Prime Min­is­ter, Man­mo­han Singh that “it is China’s unswerv­ing pol­icy to de­velop Sino-In­dian friend­ship, deepen strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion and seek com­mon devel­op­ment” and “China hopes to see a peace­ful, pros­per­ous and con­tin­u­ally de­vel­op­ing In­dia and is com­mit­ted to build­ing a more dy­namic China-In­dia re­la­tion­ship.” Sino-In­dian ties were fur­ther ce­mented with Chi­nese De­fense Min­is­ter Liang Guan­glie’s visit to In­dia in Septem­ber 2012.

An im­por­tant fac­tor in the Si­noIn­dian equa­tion is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Bei­jing and Is­lam­abad. China’s re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan touches raw nerves in In­dia on three sen­si­tive is­sues sig­nif­i­cant to In­dian na­tional se­cu­rity, namely ter­ri­tory and bor­ders, nu­clear is­sues, and ac­cess to the In­dian Ocean. Chi­nese sup­port in de­vel­op­ing the in­fra­struc­ture at Gwadar raised alarm bells in New Delhi with con­spir­acy the­ory prop­a­ga­tors de­pict­ing the move as a Chi­nese at­tempt to en­cir­cle In­dia. On the same keel, China’s un­stinted sup­port to Pak­istan over the is­sue of Kash­mir has drawn flak in the In­dian camp. If the for­eign re­la­tions be­tween New Delhi and Bei­jing hope to progress pos­i­tively, In­dia will have to be more un­der­stand­ing of China’s own stakes in Pak­istan; the coun­try serves as China’s door to the Is­lamic world and is an im­por­tant part­ner in the bat­tle against Is­lamic ex­trem­ism. Pak­istan’s cen­tral lo­ca­tion is also sig­nif­i­cant for China in se­cur­ing en­ergy routes for its eco­nomic devel­op­ment and, at the strate­gic level, serv­ing as a balancing card in the In­dia-China-US equa­tion. His­tor­i­cally, as US-Pak­istan ties faced a trust deficit, Indo-US re­la­tions deep­ened but China un­wa­ver­ingly stood by Pak­istan as its “all-weather friend.”

Sino-Pak re­la­tions can­not be con­sid­ered detri­men­tal to Sino-In­dian ties. Over the years, the Sino-In­dian re­la­tion­ship has also ac­quired an in­de­pen­dent dy­namism and can­not be jeop­ar­dized by the strong al­liance be­tween China and Pak­istan. The drive of Sino-In­dian ties comes from within each coun­try -- the need to fur­ther eco­nomic devel­op­ment and forge bet­ter un­der­stand­ing. The two, de­spite their dif­fer­ences, are des­tined for deeper eco­nomic in­ter­de­pen­dence.

Should Sino-In­dian ties im­prove, it is an­tic­i­pated that other coun­tries in the re­gion will fol­low suit. Sink­ing its dif­fer­ences with Myan­mar, Laos, Viet­nam and a num­ber of other neigh­bors, PRC has devel­oped trade ties with them, which have been prof­itable for all quar­ters and are con­tribut­ing to pros­per­ity in the re­gion. Group Cap­tain (R ) Sul­tan M. Hali, now a prac­tic­ing jour­nal­ist, writes for print me­dia, pro­duces doc­u­men­taries and hosts a TV talk show. He is cur­rently based in Is­lam­abad.

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