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India-China: Border Conflict Shrinks into Past as Healthy Competition Grows

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By Shastri Ramachandran*
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NEW DELHI (IDN) - Fifty years after the Sino-Indian Border War of 1962, the memory of that conflict no longer looms large for the two rising Asian powers, which are locked in a competition-cooperation mode.

There are doubtless contradictions in a double-sided race where India and China have to compete and cooperate at the same time. Yet, the evidence so far suggests that the competition is as friendly, healthy and cordial as the cooperation. The credit for that goes not only to the present leadership in New Delhi and Beijing, but also to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's ground-breaking visit to the People's Republic in 1988.

The gains of that breakthrough, which paved the way for the signing of two critical agreements, one on border peace and tranquility in 1993, and one on military confidence-building measures in 1996,were further reinforced by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit in 2003. Vajpayee's visit saw the creation of the special representatives' talks on the boundary issue, which laid the foundation of increased trade and greater economic and cultural ties.

On the boundary question, there have been 15 meetings of the special representatives, 10 of the Sino-Indian Joint Working Group and five of an expert group. There has been little progress, but this is still a positive situation. It underscores the success of the effort to delink the border issue, quarantine it from other interactions and ensure that it does not figure between India and China in bilateral, regional and international forums.

It is now clear that in this emerging pattern of bilateral relations, the boundary issue will not be allowed to vitiate the other tracks and forums where India and China come together. It cannot be otherwise, for "there are many areas of convergence of interests between India and China," as D.S. Rajan, Director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies pointed out.

He recalled that traditionally Chinese Buddhists referred to India as "Western Heaven," and China as "Eastern Heaven." "This shows the very high status China accords to India as a civilization, a powerhouse," said Rajan.

How does this perception translate in the real, strategic world? It translates into a compulsion for both countries to work together and turn almost a blind eye to problems that won't go away.

Asian Century

The convergence generates its own compulsions. Recognizing a few of these are enough to understand that the role and importance of the border issue will only diminish, and not increase, as China and India prepare for the Asian Century.

The first and foremost compulsion operating on both India and China is their need for a stable international environment and a peaceful periphery for their growth and development, as well as for projecting their hard and soft power on the global stage. As the two biggest economies to buck the global downturn and lead the world's recovery, India and China have high stakes in sustaining their turbo-charged growth.

It is in the interest of both countries not to let other powers drive a wedge between them. The best barometer of their cooperation is the 20-fold increase in trade from $2.9 billion in 2000 to nearly $61.7 billion in 2010, which is poised to surpass the $ 100 billion mark well before the target year of 2015.

As rising powers, both India and China want a peaceful ascent. Both assert they are responsible powers. To demonstrate their clout as international stakeholders, they have put their money where their mouth is.

For example, India has pledged $10 billion and China $43 billion to the IMF for bailing out crisis-hit eurozone countries. It is only by acting in tandem in forums such as the G20 can India and China help stabilize the global economy towards a stable post-U.S. order.

Flowing from these are the global responsibilities that China and India have assumed for reform of the UN, and the international financial institutions and the WTO. These cannot be pursued if the two countries do not work hand-in-hand.

The two have to march in step and to achieve common objectives, which are also in the interest of the developing world, when it comes to other global issues such as climate change.

There is no dearth of such issues that put the boundary question in the shade. Taking a long-term view of the big picture, it would not be misplaced optimism to say that the border worries have long been sidestepped.

The generational change imminent at the helm in both countries suggests a leadership not overly burdened with a history of grievances against each other. Both countries are out for bigger game on the world stage.

*Shastri Ramachandaran is an independent political and foreign affairs commentator. He worked as Senior Editor & Writer with the Global Times and China Daily in Beijing. This article first appeared in Global Times and is being published by arrangement with the writer. [IDN-InDepthNews – June 28, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

The writer's previous articles in IDN:
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