Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India-China Relations: Conflicting Trends1

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India-China Relations: Conflicting Trends1

Article excerpt

Will the conflicting trends override the cooperative drive in Sino-Indian relations in coming times?

China and India, immediate neighbours, are powerhouses in regional and global politics. To what extent will they compete or cooperate or find a via media between the two polar options? How they work out this conundrum carries enormous implications for regional and global politics. Conventional wisdom suggests that the current vitality and import of Sino-Indian relations extends far beyond the purview of bilateralism, to much wider regional and global political facets. Their relationship is currently akin to other pre-eminent major- power relations, such as Sino-US, Sino-Japanese or Sino-Russian. It is important to contextualize the debate against the fact that China has emerged as the second largest economy and India as the third largest economy in world GDP (PPP) ranking.

Admittedly, the two countries have their differing perspectives on various matters, whether bilateral, regional or international; they also have bilateral disputes. Regardless, there is a point to be noted from the speech Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made at the Central Party School in Beijing in October 2013: the China-India relationship is 'unique' in world politics.2 Does that speech reflect satisfaction at the state of the relationship over the last nine and a half years? Or, is it a bit wishful about what might have been, and then lays down the parameters for the development of the relationship? Will the Chinese meet us halfway on the conditions the PM has laid down as prerequisites? What are the conflicting trends that can be gleaned from PM's speech?

In his speech at FICCI during his trip to India, Le Keqiang, the Chinese Premier also described this connection as 'most important global relations[hip]'. Therefore, Sino-Indian relations indeed are the focus of considerable attention from analysts of world affairs.

The pattern of engagement between the two countries has, however, remained limited in some ways. The boundary dispute festers as the main obstacle between the two on the road to possibly warmer relations. Maritime developments in the South China Sea and in the Indian Ocean region have currently become additional irritants. Compounding these is the fact that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) made incursions into India's sovereign territory in Ladakh in 2013. There is also the Sino-Pakistani nexus, and the Chinese antipathy to India's commercial interests in the South China Sea.

On the other hand, India's closer relationship with the USA; the US rebalancing towards Asia where India is a factor in the American 'pivot'; and New Delhi's rising economic and political reach in Southeast/East Asia; and its stable rise as a democratic country and a dynamic economy are causing unease in China. On the obverse side, there has been constant political engagement between the two sides. Trade and economic contacts have also been growing.

Against this background, Sino-Indian relations in the global context deserve close scrutiny and assessment. These countries are currently two of the leading powers in the comity of nations, contributing significantly at various levels of regional and global politics. Their current competition for resources in Africa, their quest to draw in the developing and emerging countries into their respective folds in active pursuit of their individual national interests are some aspects that suggest a fertile ground for their mutual antipathy.

But antipathy has no place in real-politik. Constant mutual engagement, seeking areas of consensus as well as collaborating in multilateral bodies in the interest of spreading their individual spheres of influence are the order of the day. The association of India and China in BRICS and BASIC exemplify this approach. …

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