India and china are faced with two broad categories of issues. First one relates to their past second set of issues consists of new areas of competition.
Both India and China are one of the oldest civilizations of the world. Before the formation of nation states in the recent past, these two civilizations had coexisted peacefully for centuries. But in today’s context things have changed a bit.
Today, India and china are faced with two broad categories of issues. The first one relates to their past which had been marred by border quarrel, the fear of internal interferences by the other side and the problem of Pakistan.
Second set of issues consists of new areas of competition including arms race, the desire of enhanced international status and the demand for food, water and energy. The legacies of past are with them which can’t be ignored but the two giants have learnt to coexist and cooperate and the future awaits them with new challenges which requires them to think about the broader, more institutionalized form of cooperative interactions.
This place is not befitting to discuss as to why we became thirsty for each other’s blood after initial years of friendship but reasons of estrangement are necessary to understand the projected trajectory of our common future. A handful of theories are afloat but a few are more prominent than others which will find their listings in this space.
While one interpretation suggests the competition for status and influence in Asia as the reason of estrangement, the other one centers on the domestic political issues that spiraled them into practice of assertive policies with Nehru’s forward policy being the final trigger. One other theory contends that Nehru and Mao took the issue of territory extremely seriously and it was this seriousness that led to war.
Both countries had just arrived at the world stage. While India had been colonized, China had been humiliated by western powers and Japan. The nations shared a deep sense of victimhood and both saw themselves as the aggrieved party in the border dispute. So that was 1962, what about now? Has the situation changed? It can be argued that all three factors continue to exist in today’s scenario as well. We still have geopolitical rivalry centered on notions of status and influence. Domestic politics continues to be turbulent and violent; and attachment to territory and the sense of victimhood are still quite fierce.
Having said that, it is imperative to probe if the same set of factors continues to impact the bilateral relationship or the new set of factors has found its introduction in the equation. For example India China trade was almost negligible in 1960 and today they are targeting bilateral trade worth of USD 100 billion by 2015. In 2011-12, the bilateral trade between the two countries stood at USD 75.45 billion. While India's exports were at USD 17.90 billion, imports stood at USD 57.55 billion. Thus, the trade deficit between the two nations stood at USD 39.65 billion in favour of China. So naturally it does not make sense for China to forgo this huge export opportunity. However one can’t afford to be complacent as this would be counted as just another influencing factor in the complex bilateral relationship of India and China.
Even after fifteen rounds of talks, India and China have failed to resolve their border issues though some progress has been made. The main bone of contention is the areas of Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. China has never given its affiliation to McMahon line and India justifies its anger over the forcible acquisition. However India has softened its initial stand that not an inch of land will be given and is now more receptive to talks. There are military instabilities around the border but they are not of alarming nature. There are some evidences that suggest that Chinese military intrusions have been on the rise. While the evidences are inconclusive, the question to be asked is if the intrusions are deliberate or accidental in nature.
It can be argued that the intrusions are deliberate and are part of Chinese pressure tactics. But since there is no clarity about the actual line of control itself, it would be pertinent to ask if it is intrusions that we are talking about or they are just transgressions. There have been reports that Indian troops too transgress into Chinese territory, so the tactic can be attributed to stake their respective claims over the areas of dispute. Both sides have been boosting their infrastructure along the line. While China has already developed huge infrastructure in Tibet, India although slowly, is on a mission of improving accessibility to its northeastern region.
Compulsion of non-interference
Let’s digress from border issue to the fear of internal interferences by other party and the problem of Pakistan. India has always feared that China would support the Naxalite movement in India and offer its assistance to northeastern separatists. In fact China had abetted the movement in 1960s although the encouragement was limited. It would be wise to note that China has never recognized the Maoists as a communist party and continues to call them as Left Wing Rebels, but China did provide support and refuge to northeastern separatists.
However after 1970 there has been little evidence to support the claim. China has its own share of worries that pertain to the issues of Dalai Lama in India and Tibet. It can be safely said that India has exercised a great deal of caution and prudence in dealing with issues of Dalai Lama and Tibet. Hence it can be said that both parties have chosen not to interfere much in other’s internal affairs where they could have done so.
As China’s relation with India worsened in 1950s, its appreciation for Pakistan grew at alarming rate. But, is India a reason for this closeness? Let’s observe a few facts. Pakistan has a location advantage as it stands at the mouth of energy rich gulf and it’s also an important partner for China in the Islamic world. Pakistan had also allowed China to study the technology of its American military equipment.
Pakistan in fact is a potential threat to China as Islamic terrorists from Pakistan and the Uighurs are instrumental in destabilizing Xinjiang. China’s arms transfers and economic aids are modest when compared to USA. And most importantly China has never come to rescue Pakistan militarily with 1971 being the crucial instance.
China has never interfered on the issue of Kashmir and is of the view that the dispute is between India and Pakistan and they should solve it bilaterally. However issuance of stapled Visa to the residents of Kashmir and presence of Chinese military in POK are worrisome developments for India. China has started to address the issue of stapled visa and its military presence in POK is mainly to protect its technicians and workers who are engaged in developing infrastructure in POK. So it can be concluded that China’s favors for Pakistan are not merely aimed to counter or sideline India; rather these favors serve important purposes in stabilizing Pakistan which is critical even for China’s internal security.
China and India meet very frequently now on various platforms of the world and are members of most of organizations and groups of world importance. They have continuously been engaging in high level summits between the Presidents, Prime Ministers and foreign Ministers of the two countries. These summits are not merely photo opportunities but are of great importance in a relationship that is prone to misunderstandings. The countries have also been carrying out various confidence building measures.
Fierce Economic Competition
Thanks to globalization, India and China, both have been clocking high economic growths for a considerable number of years. With increased economic ability come other risks that the countries are faced with. The countries can enter into arms race, will desire enhanced international status and will compete for resources like food water and energy. Two countries are the biggest arms importer of the world but India should be content with the fact that USA and Europe have banned arms export to China. China is already a global player and its views are respected on every forum of the world. India on the other hand, is an emerging player and is aspiring to play a bigger role in global affairs. India has also been instrumental in garnering huge support for its candidature for permanent seat in Security Council.
China and India, being the most populous countries, will see the demand of food items spiraling northwards. While China accounts for 50% of the rise in demand of cereals, India on the other hand is self-sufficient in this category. Reforms in the retail sector in India are also expected to boost its supply chain efficiencies and in turn will be equivalent to increased food production itself. The picture is not so rosy when it comes to water resources. Supplies in both countries have been falling and demand increasing. Northern part of China has 40% of its population and only 7% of its total water resources. To bridge the gap, China plans to divert water from Tibet region which will affect India inversely as this is the region from which most of freshwater rivers emerge.
The claim that China which is an upstream country has responsibilities towards downstream countries cannot be refuted. And diversion of water will attract harsh international criticism and will present mammoth engineering and environmental challenges. Energy situation also does not paint a rosy picture and suggests otherwise. China is already world’s largest energy consumer and demand in both the countries outstrips the supply. Demand for industrial commodities like coal and oil is also very high in both the countries. These areas can become sources of conflict as we move forward.
It can be argued that arms acquisitions of both the countries are not aimed at each other and instead are crucial for their internal as well external security. China has more numbers of land or sea neighbors than any other country than Russia. Moreover three of its neighbors are nuclear powers. It also has to offset the growing American military influence in Asia. India too has its traditional enemy Pakistan which is on a destabilizing trajectory and this forms the basis of its justification for increased arms import. Furthermore India also has been a soft target of terrorism for years now and for which it has to strengthen its internal security.
As far as International ambitions are concerned it would not be wrong to accept that India is no match to China with its economic vigor and UN veto. But China has been making gestures towards India and has taken steps to dampen the competition. Although it has not supported India’s candidature for Security Council but it has softened its stand on the matter. Mutual cooperation, better management of existing resources and increased domestic outputs can help countries to lessen the competition as far as food, water and energy are concerned.
Finally given the circumstances, the war between the countries is extremely unlikely as both the countries are nuclear armed and cost of war will be too much for both the countries. India too have been developing its missile technology very fast and very soon will possess an ability to strike anywhere in China and it will surely act as a deterrent for China. Himalayan terrain will be too tough for any major traditional war and both countries have sufficient air power to support their land borne armies.
So it will be in the best interest of both the countries if they cooperate and sort out all their differences through bilateral dialogues and confidence building measures.