Seeking to downplay old border disputes and to enhance trade,
India and China have taken modest mutual steps that could help
Asia's largest nations put 40 years of chill behind them.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to China this
week signals at least an intention by the two nations to explore a
new relationship - and the beginnings of an Asian understanding
stretching across the Himalayas. It is the first step taken by the
two sides to actually become neighborly, some analysts say, though
it may also prove to be a journey of 1,000 miles.
India officially accepted China's definition of "Tibet" and vowed
to curb militant-minded Tibetans living in India. China, by opening
a trade route to Sikkim on its southern border, informally agreed
that India's sovereignty extends to that mountain entity. Yet it
appears that a rumored deal allowing a visit by the Dalai Lama to
Lhasa, Tibet, engineered by Delhi, has not materialized - though
sources say the subject was probably raised informally.
In the post-Sept. 11 era, as the US moves toward more fluid
coalitions of interest, India and China may be following suit by
pursuing better ties with Washington and with each other. As Chinese
leader Hu Jintao stated in a meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee,
"history will show we are partners, not rivals."
Or, as a Western scholar in Beijing puts it, "There is enough
maturity in both India and China to contemplate a relationship based
on Asian proximity and Asian solidarity, something often talked
about, but never realized."
That sounds good on paper. Trade between the two nations has
increased from several hundred million in the 1990s to $5 billion
today, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry figures. Direct flights
between Delhi and Beijing have been under way for more than a year.
There remains, however, significant anti-China feeling in Delhi.
When the current Hindu nationalist government came to power in 1998,
its stated rationale for testing a nuclear device only days later -
an act that forced Pakistan to test - was a perceived threat from
China. The security brain trust in Delhi has viewed China as a
regional danger, and its intelligentsia have chafed at a perceived
cultural dismissiveness of India by the Chinese.
Brief mid-century bright spot
Both countries emerged from occupation and a colonial past in the
mid-20th century. There was a brief halcyon period in the late 1950s
when Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru thought the two nations
would link arms, redefine Asia, and create a developing-world
socialist paradise. When Chinese premier Zhou Enlai visited India in
1956, Indians thronged the streets shouting "Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai!"
- India and China are friends. …