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Sino – Indian Relations: Book Review

Sudhir Kumar Singh, ‘Sino – Indian Relations:

Challenges and Opportunities for 21st Century’,

Published in Association with Society for Social Empowerment, New Delhi,

(Pentagon Press, New Delhi 2011) PP 438, Price: Rs 995/-

This book, edited by Dr Sudhir Kumar Singh of University of Delhi, is a commendable work; it contains a rich database and useful analysis on Sino – Indian relations and their external dimension, contributed by 21 China specialists representing some important academic institutions and think tanks in India and abroad.

The complex nature of relations between China and India, the two Asian giants rising simultaneously, is becoming more and more evident under conditions in which economic compulsions are driving them to engage each other constructively on one hand and strategic issues continuing to divide them on the other. Not surprisingly, the Chinese are viewing the Sino-Indian ties as ‘very fragile, very easy to be damaged and very difficult to repair, requiring special care in the information age’ (Ambassador Zhang Yan, 14 December 2010, New Delhi). It is another matter that India nurtures a more optimistic outlook treating the bilateral relations as actually ‘far more stable compared to two or three decades ago (Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, New Delhi, 16 December 2010).

It will be time consuming to review all the articles appearing in the book, but in an overall sense, it could be seen that all the writers, while trying to reach conclusions on the subject, have kept the ‘fragile’ nature of the contemporary Sino-Indian relations in their minds. Dr Sudhir Kumar Singh is one such scholar; he, very appropriately, has summed up the need for both the nations to ‘maximise their national interests at a time when the Asia – Pacific strategic structure is changing’. Other writers have gone further by identifying areas in which such ‘maximisation’ is possible. Mr H. Sudhir and Mr N. Surjit Kumar have given importance to the benefits accruing for India’s northeast once Sino – Indian trans-border connectivity is established.  According to three more scholars Mr Tej Pratab Singh, Mr S. Utham Kumar Jamadhagni and Ms Yeshi Choedon, other potential fields where India and China can work together could include climate change, global economic and financial reforms, maritime security and the United Nations Peace Keeping.

As expected, some contributors have demanded that India should be pro-active in its dealings with China. Mr Anil Bhat has cautioned New Delhi against China’s attempts to ‘encircle’ India by forging strategic ties with countries in India’s neighbourhood. As Dr Sudhir Kumar Singh sees, it would be necessary for India to take note that the Tibet issue and the Sino-Indian border question are inter-linked. However, his another point that the progressing globalisation process may persuade China to accept the autonomy demands of the Tibetans, looks un-realistic considering the fact that China is not likely to give up its present un-compromising position on all sovereignty related issues including that of Tibet. Worth taking notice is also the suggestion of Dr Suresh that New Delhi should support the cause of Tibet’s self determination. It is, indeed, bold, but one has to pay serious attention to the likely adverse impact of such support on Sino- Indian relations, if it materialises.

Ms Geetha Govindasamy of University of Malaya, Kulalampur, has given a valid reason for India’s approach to North Korea as an area of its peripheral concern. According to her, this is in contrast to China’s policy of considering Pyongyang as central to its international relations. Also interesting are remarks made by Dr Sharifah Munirah Alatmas, also of the University of Malaya that rather than covertly acting to divert water resources from one country to another, India and China should cooperate in the matter of protecting the shared resource of water supply. One cannot disagree with the opinion of another scholar, Mr Pankaj Kumar Jha, that ‘China threat’ perception still prevails in Southeast Asia and the regional powers continue to perceive the US as a security guarantor. But, his vision with respect to China-Southeast Asian nations convergence of goals, is rather questionable given the continuing clear signs of Chinese territorial aggressiveness giving rise to regional tensions.

China’s domestic goals have always been a factor determining its foreign policy course. Beijing’s ties with New Delhi are no exception. China considers a stable international situation and a peaceful periphery as sine-qua-non for the successful completion of its modernisation drive by the projected dead line of the middle of the 21st century and correspondingly, has put in place a ‘harmonious world’ concept for its international relations. Of late, a new ‘core interests’ element has begun to influence Chinese foreign policy making.  Under it, Beijing is showing aggressiveness on all matters concerning ‘national sovereignty’; as a result, China’s relationship with its neighbours like Japan, South China Sea littorals and India, all having territorial disputes with Beijing, has come under a shadow. India’s Prime Minister has himself admitted to China’s assertiveness in South Asia. Puzzling to the outside world, is the contradiction between China’s quest for a ‘win-win’ relationship with foreign countries and its preparedness to show aggressiveness externally particularly on territorial issues concerning neighbours. Such a scenario does not seem to have received the adequate attention in the book under review. However, despite this omission, the usefulness of the book as a valuable reference material for China scholars both in India and abroad cannot be denied.

(The reviewer  Mr D.S. Rajan, is Director, Chennai centre for China Studies, Chennai,

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