Wednesday, May 22, 2013
This Way To Chindia
The Chinese premier’s visit will be a balm to India’s recent wound
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Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang’s visit to India is significant for three unique and
outstanding reasons. First, it takes place soon after the recent 20-day faceoff in the
western sections of the disputed border between the two sides. The fact that the visit
is on shows that the top leaders of both countries are determined not to allow any
dispute or difference to come in the way of their attempts to build a strategic
partnership. It also demonstrates that Sino-Indian ties are of strategic and global
significance and go far beyond a bilateral relationship.
Given the lack of mutual acceptance or unified recognition of each other’s Line of
Actual Control, there are scores of overlapping and grey areas with the potential for
such face offs. It is also reasonable to assume, given the ground situation, that this
kind of “incursion” must be occurring on both sides. The only difference could be
that the Chinese media does not have easy access to reporting such “incursions”
by the Indian forces, whereas the Indian media is very vocal on the issue. But till
the lac is finally identified and is mutually accepted by both parties, such instances
will remain all too frequent.
In the interim, however, there are several existing mechanisms which can help the two
countries establish ‘guiding principles’ to settle border disputes. The manner in which
they were used recently are a measure of the maturity the Sino-Indian ties have
Second, if it’s any encouragement, only once before have the heads of the Indian
and Chinese governments visited each other’s country in the same year. (Manmohan
Singh is scheduled to visit China later this year.) This was in 1954 when Chinese
premier Zhou Enlai came to India in June and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
returned the visit in October. Yet again, in the context of changing power equations
in the global and regional arena, there is a strong demand from both sides to further
upgrade the top-level interaction between the two countries.
The simultaneous rise of India and China, the global financial crisis and the economic
recession as well as America’s ‘Asia-Rebalance’ strategy have infused a new dynamic
into the Asia-Pacific region—where both China and India are located—and
engendered uncertainty not only in the economic but also in the security domain.
It’s a scenario in which India and China can work jointly and constructively towards
a much brighter future rather than wait for others to create a favourable external
environment. In fact, the faster their rise, the greater the strategic squeeze and
restrictions they are likely to face from the neighbourhood and developed economies.
Both countries have the resources and the capacity to build a more inclusive, open,
balanced and diversified framework in the Asia-Pacific region, both in terms of
security and development, ensuring a win-win situation for both.
Leaders of China and India have often reiterated that there is enough space for the
development of their countries. Both have had a long and rich civilisation to derive
wisdom and philosophy from. The two nations also have a number of areas they can
collaborate in. But without strategic cooperation, such development and space could
become restricted and congested. It could also lead to the competition becoming more
vicious, and the more vicious it becomes, the less room there will be to develop. A
collaborative approach, on the other hand, will help both countries grow.
Moreover, only by expanding their areas of cooperation and cultivating more common
ground can the two countries reduce their differences—if not in absolute terms, then
in relative terms. It could provide the constructive atmosphere in which both countries
can step out of their straitjacketed thinking and come up with fresh solutions to disputes.
Third, his trip to India will be Premier Li’s maiden foreign visit after he became prime
minister in March. Given that President Xi Jinping’s first visit was to Russia—another
big neighbour—it’s clear that the new leadership in China is giving neighbourhood
diplomacy top priority. Or at least that it regards relations with the neighbours to be as
important as those with the US, for China’s peaceful development, especially as it
faces troubled waters in the West Pacific region.
Building a cooperative and
harmonious neighbourhood is a must for China to be accepted as a benign rising
global power. The Chinese dream cannot materialise if both the country and its
neighbours spend sleepless nights. In fact, China needs to take initiative to promote
relations not just between China and its neighbours but among the neighbours
themselves. It can only bode well for Sino-Indian ties.
(The author is director, South Asia and Southeast Asian Studies, Chinese Institute for Contemporary International Relations, Beijing.)
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