A Chinese soldier (L) and an Indian soldier stand guard at the Chinese side of Nathu La border crossing. Image Courtesy: Tribune India/ AFP file photo
Article No. 25/2019
The two Asian emerging nations of India and China get along very well in international forums. When they speak, their voice does not go unheard. They should bring the same dynamics in their bilateral relations. When one’s house is on fire, it is the neighbor who comes first to help. China’s ageing population and India’s youth could be a boon for either country. Similarly the trade war between China and the US could give room for enhanced Sino-Indian economic cooperation.
India and China need to freeze all border disputes for 90 years and dedicate the dividends of peace to development. Both countries are rising but millions of people across the Himalayas are still poor. Since decades, precious resources are spent on military expenses, but to no avail. Yes, borders are a question of national pride. But there is no urgency to draw the lines in the dry, cold and inhospitable mountains. The border issue can be raised at a later stage. The stakes could be different in 90 years. A sense of priorities has to prevail. A good dose of good faith is needed on both sides for this to happen. Building trust is the starting point. The good news is that this work has begun.
Henceforth India and China, which together are home to one third of the world’s population, can work together. An ongoing postive phenomenon is seen where India and China, having similar issues and interests, take common stands on issues of mutual concern, at international forums. The results are commendable, be it at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or on climate change. The same dynamics should be persued in bilateral relations.
At the 5th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in 2003 at Cancun, the two countries, together with Brazil and South Africa, turned the tables on the US and EU negotiators who were surprised that such coordination between the emerging countries could occur. Since then onwards, the face of world politics and diplomacy has changed. When China and India speak the same language, their voices are heard; their messages are not ignored. They have today the clout and power to give new direction to the governance of the world.
In the present trade war between China and the US, the latter has the upper hand even if the Chinese economy seem to be resistant so far. The question remains on how long this will last. Beijing is rightfully looking for alternatives to trade relations to the US. This is a chance that India should capitalize on. If India joins sides with China, the US will be less forceful, not only on China but also on all other countries. Moreover, China and India themselves are increasingly becoming important trade partners. Inevitably, trade and investment are bound to grow between the two despite the official policies in Beijing and Delhi on strategic issues.
It is apparent that the historical leadership of the US is being ‘challenged’ by China when it comes to matters of economy. This is not about domination or getting to the first rank. India should give a hand to boost this challenge. A US-dominated and uni-polar world is not good not only for China, but also for India. In the end, it is not about China becoming the new great power but the US respecting other nations including emerging powers.
The US is finding it difficult to accept the emergence of Chinese technology companies (Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, Xiaomi) which are competitors for American tech giants such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook. This is making it difficult for USA to access its desired global market share. Huawei, being a leader in 5G technology, is a clear example of how the US and its allies cannot accept the new challenge posed by China. There is no reason to rejoice over this in India. The day, Indian companies will thrive, they will meet the same antagonism in the United States. There are already a lot of suspicion around Indian IT companies operating in the US or in Europe. The lack of agreement in the Mode 4 issue regarding working permits at the WTO is proof of it.
India is more suspicious than China when it comes to bilateral relations between the two nations. This suspicion is powered by the Indian press and even the cinema industry. This can be explained by the animosity still existing after the Sino-Indian War of 1962. There is a clear need to change the mindset and to move forward. One does not choose neighbors. When the house is on fire, the neighbour comes first to help. India caricatures China while in fact, it should recognize that China is a huge country, with a millennial history and civilization, while being at the same time a formidable economic powerhouse. If China achieves prosperity, this will definitely trickle down to the whole of Asia.
The large and expanding Chinese economy offers a great opportunity to India. The proof is there, whereby as China rises, trade between the two countries grows. Now, it is about how the two together can grow together in future. They can be competitors but they are also very complimentary. For example, one is strong in hardware, the other is great in software.
China has a aging population. In contrast, India stands to reap demographic dividends arising from its youthful population. This is about innovations, production, services and financial markets. China will need India as it will face shortage of skills and talents in all areas to sustain its economy.
India’s policy towards China should correspond to the needs and aspirations of the younger population and not to the 1962 generation. The younger generation wants development, opportunities, security and peace. The younger generation wants to travel, discover, share.
India’s present negative attitude towards China is understandable. It is nourished by the fact that apparently China stands by Pakistan which may be supporting terrorism in India. Until recently there was anger in India in the light of Chinese opposition to get Masood Azhar named as terrorist at the UN. China has finally changed its stance, and Azhar has been designated as a terrorist by the UN.
India needs to think out of the box. The question arises of whether China, which is investing $40 billion through the Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan, has a choice. India can play backdoor diplomacy and engage China in constructive and forward-looking ideas. Ultimately China would changed its mind and this would not be a small event.
India should not think that the US is an eternal friend. US is a true friend of Europe. The Transatlantic Alliance is solid. Both have so many things in common: history, culture, religion. Inspite of present trade turmoil between US and Europe, they will come together whenever it will come to fundamentals. The US/EU alliance will never hesitate to take action against India if the need arises. India should not take the momentary priviledged links with the US as permanent. For the US, India is a momentary friend in need to counter China. Washington will knock India’s door only when it has a self interest. The long term interest of India lies in an alliance that can match and stand to the traditional powers who have moulded international law, conventions and standards to serve their interest on the back of others.
When the US and the EU were negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the leaders openly said that once signed, the bilateral agreement will set international standards for trade and investment. They were in reality, speaking of moulding international standards outside international organisations, the WTO for instance. Only a strong alliance led by strong emerging countries – this does not need to be an anti US-EU axis – can contribute to frame fair and equitable international rules and global governance.
At a certain point of time, India should also look seriously on how to change the dynamics of its relations with Pakistan. New Delhi’s perspective cannot be perpetually based on adversity and conflict. There is a need to pay credit to all past initiatives while realizing that the final goal is yet to be attained. Peace and reaping the dividends of peace should stay the focus.
(Mr. Ram Etwareea is a Mauritian national. He is a Journalist, Economic & Finance, Ringier Axel Springer Suisse SA Newsroom Le Temps, Switzerland. He visited C3S from 4th-28th March 2019 to learn and exchange views of India and China. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.)