Courtship or Dalliance?
India looks at a strategic regional partnership with China
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.