CHINA and India have been attempting to ‘reset’ their bilateral relationship for years.
While the countries stand to gain much from improved cooperation, political animosity and territorial disputes dating back to the 1962 Sino-Indian Border Conflict have undermined progress, writes World Review guest expert Vaughan Winterbottom.
But just weeks after India’s newly-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, he has set in place plans to forge closer ties with neighbouring China.
This indicates that decades of cool relations may thaw between the world’s two most populated nations and realise Mr Modi’s election promises of reviving a flagging economy.
Early signs, however, indicate that New Delhi will continue its hard-line approach to territorial disputes with China.
Both countries are keen to separate business and politics and, as they pursue different agendas for diversifying their economies, bilateral trade may grow significantly.
In the 1950s, Beijing and New Delhi positioned themselves as leaders of the developing world. They jointly penned the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’ in 1954, a set of lofty doctrines which the two countries’ leaders saw as guiding post-colonial diplomacy.
But in 1962, the neighbours engaged in a fierce, month-long conflict over disputed mountain borders drawn by the British. China came to administer Aksai Chin, which India claims as part of Jammu and Kashmir, while India held Arunachal Pradesh, which China asserts is a region of Southern Tibet.
The 1962 war has had a profound impact on subsequent Sino-Indian ties.
India remembers it as a national humiliation, and has been suspicious of Chinese strategic intentions ever since.
For China, the war is less significant to the national psyche, though India’s continuing to host the Tibetan government in exile is viewed as interfering in Beijing’s internal affairs.
Skirmishes along the Line of Actual Control, a de facto border negotiated by the two countries in 1993 and 1996, continue to this day.
Despite tensions, hopes for a cooperative relationship remain. The two countries inaugurated a ‘Year of Friendship’ in January 2014, and proposed initiatives to boost economic, cultural and people-to-people links.
This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Beijing held a conference in June 2014 to mark the occasion. Both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherjee attended. They spoke of the importance of the Principles – and completely ignored the territorial disputes.
Beijing responded enthusiastically to the electoral victory of Narendra Modi in May 2014. However, old sticking points remain: just days before the Five Principles anniversary conference, four Chinese People’s Liberation Army speedboats crossed into the Indian-controlled side of Pangong Lake in Jammu and Kashmir. The boats were pushed back by Indian troops.
On the day of the anniversary conference, China published a new map which shows Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory and a large area of Jammu and Kashmir as part of China.
Even assuming these incidents are aberrations on the path to closer ties, early signs from Mr Modi do not suggest a China-policy rethink.
Mr Modi told a rally in Arunachal Pradesh in February 2014, ‘China should give up its expansionist attitude and adopt a development mindset… No power on earth can take away even an inch from India.’
Mr Modi’s National Democratic Alliance plans to spend US$830 million to settle areas close to the contested border in Arunachal Pradesh were announced on June 20. The region’s governor, Nirbhay Sharma, said that without greater settlement along the border, ‘a gradual assimilation of our area by China is on the cards’.
Given Mr Modi’s record of support for India’s territorial claims and his openly nationalistic politics, a Sino-Indian rapprochement is unlikely.
However, Mr Modi has presented himself as a pro-business leader keen to reform India’s stagflating economy.
On this point, he may find common ground with Beijing, which is no stranger to separating economics from politics in its dealings with foreign governments.
Mr Modi has already outlined a vision to turn India into a knowledge-based society with a large service sector.
A positive sign for future economic cooperation between India and China emerged at the end of June 2014 when Mr Modi’s cabinet approved a plan to set up Chinese industrial parks in five Indian states.
In the long run pharmaceuticals, IT, medical equipment and tourism may hold greater promise as export stalwarts.
As China’s economy edges up the value chain, India could move in to pick up the labour-intensive manufacturing slack. Doing so would require tackling India’s bloated bureaucracy, corruption and vested interests in order to free up land and labour. The task defeated former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
via World Review | China and India ignore border tensions to forge economic ties.