Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This Way To Chindia
The Chinese premier’s visit will be a balm to India’s recent wound

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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