The last six decades of India-China relationships have been replete with instances of suspicion, hostility as well as antagonism which used to be earlier marked with bonds of mutual mistrust, friendliness and cordial atmosphere. The challenge has always been to bridge the differences of opinion from both sides and devise a common consensus that both of these growing powers of the world can adhere to and agree to.
One shouldn’t presume that Beijing and New Delhi have always been on the opposite poles of the spectrum as serious attempts have always been made to facilitate discussion and promote diplomacy in its truest essence. From the Panchseel Agreement of 1945 to the recent Galway valley violence of 2020 – do these countries still believe in dialogue for peace’ as the belief that the Ministry of External Affairs holds or has– Hindi-Chinni Bhai-Bhai period already becoming into Hindi-Chinni bye-bye period.
While promising a stable bilateral relationship it is imperative to note how cross-cutting sensitive issues of the border dispute, country contours, diverging projections of geopolitical interest, security ties with other powers, close affiliations with Pakistan and the United States forces us to look at multiple vantage points in this already complicated affair – thus raising the burning questions whether as INDIA and China both take over the world stage are they willing to ‘confront’ and ‘concile’?
“Today, being the biggest developing countries in the world, China and India are both committed to developing their economy and raising their people’s living standards’’– Li Peng
The past 60 years of India- China relations have signalled that both countries have been making a concerted effort to embark on seeking mutually acceptable resolutions to the main contention relating to a boundary issue. The major provocations which confront this asymmetrical correspondence been to build mutual trust and confidence. The trust deficit which plagues both sides has decimated the robustness of bilateral relationships where the element of trust is an essential pillar in maintaining a sustained balance. Somehow, the lack of these essential components of confidence-building feigns grounds of hostility towards one – another and gives rise to biases dwelling on power dynamics.
The deepening of relations can be traced to the signing of the Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity in 2005 and A Shared Vision for 21st Century in 2008 which serves as a reminder of our neighbourhood while laying foundations for a future that envisions us growing together; however it’s saddening to see how we are walking on eggshells now as our cordial relations reach a breakthrough.
Undoubtedly, India and China have emerged as the two rapidly growing economies and their bilateral relationship to a greater extent has assumed global and strategic relevance. The objective of this article will be to assess and analyze the broad overview of India-China relations, throwing light on issues that fragment them while we chart our future prospects of convergence. It is of utmost importance to questions what lies the way forward for both the ‘dragon’ and the ‘peacock’ as uncertain times dawn and reciprocal development is the need of the hour.
EVOLUTION OF RELATIONSHIP
Taking a glimpse of the past 70 years gone by, China-India relations have moved ahead despite wind and rain and have followed their own course of growth despite all odds. Since the 1950s, the leaders laid the stone to establish diplomatic relations between China and India, as they Cooperatively championed the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.’
As consensus was maintained in the era of initial cordiality the Panchsheel Agreement was signed which ascribed the ‘guiding principles’ of India-China bilateral relationship as its ideals of ‘non-interference in each other’s internal affairs while respect for territorial unity, integrity and sovereignty’ coursed through both nations.
However, it was Zhou Enlai’s trip to India in June 1954 which was a mark of China’s intent to uphold it promises while also reinstating another historic event where a communist head of government was making a peacetime visit to a non-communist state.
The animosity and hostilities gained momentum during the decade of 1959 – 1976, where this rough patch resulted in the infamous war of 1962. During this period, there was a sharp shift in the perception of China where negative connotations of it being seen as an aggressive neighbour that sought to humiliate a democratic India garnered headlines. A dramatic transference of ideologies as well as values of peaceful and friendly consultation,
established strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity, while achieving all-round development of bilateral relations marked the much of 1980s.
In the post-1998 scenario after India detonated a nuclear device, China was a staunch critic of this development thus putting a roadblock in their relationship. However, the situation changed after the realisation set in about each other’s contribution to the global economy and to a greater extent started broadening the then-existing bilateral ties. The strain in the relationship was replaced by an era of cooperation in the economic sphere while disagreements on respective political fronts.
While tracing the genealogy of Sino – Indian relations we come across the phase commenced by the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by initiating the concept of “hometown diplomacy” which ranged from informal summits in Wuhan and Chennai to strategic communication on long-term issues of global and regional importance while agreeing to facilitate development and close partnership
Today’s achievements of China-India relations embody the concise and regular efforts of several generations from whom we need to draw inspiration from the past as experiences of the present tragically make us critical of each other’s intentions.
As we stand on the brink of a new starting point present-day decision-makers should draw wisdom from our thousands of years of civilisations and explore authentic ways to stay true to the essence of ‘ brotherhood’ envisioned years ago as we look forward towards; “enhancing mutual trust, focusing on cooperation, managing differences and seeking common development”.
CHALLENGES TO THE INDIA-CHINA PARTNERSHIP
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi often resonate with the philosophy, where the whole world is seen as a family of the whole rather than functioning in splinters, which runs parallel with the Chinese philosophical concept of “universal peace” and “universal love” thus reiterating the belief that the “Dragon-Elephant Tango” does hold the potential to create a new chapter in building a community with a shared future if they agree to make credible and foresighted peaceful endeavours towards the issues of contention like :
- To devise an early settlement of the border problem and to prevent the enduring stalemate from completely undermining the confidence that remains between the two nations
- To reconcile regional strategies in South Asia, Central Asia, ASEAN, and the Indian Ocean;
- To promote confidence-building measures and eliminate misperceptions while avoiding the misreading of each other’s strategic intentions,
- To envisage each other’s core interests and strategic sensitivities
- To reinforce the bolstering effect of vibrant trade, economic links and developmental ties in sustaining a stable bilateral relationship;
- To breathe more substance into the existing framework of the declared Sino-Indian strategic partnership.
THE WAY THAT LIES AHEAD
This journey of facilitating change and strengthening the relationship needs to be steered by mastering the four keys of “leading, transmitting, shaping and integrating” – the basics of enhancing trust and to instil confidence amongst one – another.
“Leading” pertains to reaching consensus and guide the direction of the development of bilateral relations under the guidance of leaders. “Transmitting” means to transmit the leaders’ consensus to all levels as they get translated into tangible cooperation and outcomes. “Shaping” refers to go beyond the mode of managing differences while accumulating the positive momentum of shaping bilateral relations. “Integrating” at the end concerns strengthening exchanges and cooperation while promoting convergence of interests and achieve common development.
There is no doubt in saying that the levels of engagement between India and China have increased certainly but India, at the same time, requires to move forward with a sophisticated approach to deal with the emerging strategic challenges being emanating from China. Power dynamics often remain at the core of weak reciprocal agreements however this holds no vitality in the context here as, despite the fact that China has become increasingly assertive not only at the regional level but also at the global level, India has not shown any displeasure so far in strongest terms.
In the current circumstances, it is obvious that trade has come to be viewed as an increasingly important facilitator of relations especially in the shadow of lingering political mistrust as issues ranging from the long-running protracted border dispute to China’s close affiliations with Pakistan to India’s cordial allegiance with the US defies the purpose of simplifying the conflict.
The signing of an Agreement on “Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Border Dispute”, by both India and China is a major stride in moving ahead in terms of reaching a consensus on this major irritant while also joining hands in a promise to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border front. But, at the same, it’s needless to highlight that this requires a careful assessment especially on the intent and declarations of outcomes.
China has always been a hardcore follower of following the tenets of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’. The attempt has always been to deny access to other powers in the region that it perceives as exclusively within its sphere of influence. As the time has come to breathe more substance into the existing framework of strategic partnership it is essential on the part of India to remind Beijing how these stipulated actions have been damaging the interests of other regions especially to the countries in the East and South-East Asia.
In the long term, neither Indian nor Chinese defence strategists can rule out the possibility of a renewed confrontation over the disputed territory (Tibet, Kashmir, Myanmar, or the Indian Ocean ) as China becomes the other alternative unchallenged power and India continues to increase its circumference of influence thus signalling that a Sino-Indian rivalry in southern Asia may well be a dominant feature of future Asian geopolitics of the twenty-first century thus compelling the regional actors to choose sides. The nature of the rivalry will be facilitated by how domestic political and economic developments, as well as internal mechanisms of these two countries, affect their power, their outlooks, and their foreign and security policies on the international platform. On the flip side, it can also be noted that while they are competitors for power and influence in Asia, China and India also share interests in maintaining regional stability as well as exploiting economic opportunities while promoting regional cooperation – all of which could act as indispensable factors in influencing their relationship.
Last but not least, there comes a pressing necessity where one under these idealistic terms of co-operation, unity and oneness must not forget the real question where countries wonder: ‘WHETHER CO-OPERATION AND COMPARATIVE ELEMENTS IN BETWEEN POWERFUL WORLD POWERS COEXIST ?’
Keshab, Chandra & Ratha, (2014); ‘India-China Bilateral Relations “
Kumar, R. (2007), “Cultural and Economic Relations between India and China”
Nehru, J. (1946), “The Discovery of India”, Oxford University Press; pp 30-42 .