The State of Sino-India Ties
Image Credit: Shayon Ghosh

The State of Sino-India Ties


It’s been a busy week of hosting for the Chinese leadership. As I mentioned, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner have been in town (with discussions on North Korea taking up much of their time), while yesterday, Indian President Pratibha Patil arrived in Beijing to meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao.

According to reports, a host of issues were raised, while bilateral agreements on civil administration, sports and visas were also signed. It was the issue of visas that stoked tensions between the two nations last year, when it was learned that China had begin issuing separate visas for Kashmiris. The provocative change was introduced last May, apparently because China sees Kashmir as disputed territory; the decision incensed India.

With media reports about Chinese incursions into the disputed border area of Ladakh, some analysts (and certainly the media) felt the situation had deteriorated enough to at least warrant discussion of whether some sort of conflict between the two was possible.

I asked Sanjaya Baru, a consulting fellow to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, for his take on relations and whether they were as bad as they appeared to some. IISS will be hosting its annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore next weekend. I’ll be attending the conference and hope to catch up with Baru in person then. But in the meantime he told me:

‘India and China have a very complex bilateral relationship that’s shaped by history as much as it is now increasingly shaped by economics and geo-politics. The relationship has seen its highs and lows in the past two decades, but it has never become too difficult to manage—the leaders of both countries have been careful not to let differences be blown out of proportion.’

Baru agreed that last year was a tough one for bilateral ties, especially on the back of what he says was Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s concern over China’s ‘new assertiveness’. But he told me that the Copenhagen Climate Change Conferencewas a turning point in ties.

‘India took China's side rather than back the US and EU and in so doing earned China's gratitude,’ he told me. ‘China reciprocated by choosing to address some of India's long standing complaints about China's trade policies.’

Meanwhile, the two nations in April agreed to establish a hotline connecting their leaders’ offices directly (the first time in recent years that India has made such an agreement with another country), while Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao the same month pledged the two nations would increase student exchanges.

So, were the suggestions of impending skirmishes—or worse—mostly media hype? Certainly the Indian government at the time sensibly tried to tamp down excessive media talk of tensions.

Baru explained:

‘The media in both countries certainly hyped up the issue of military conflict and tension. However, it’s true that incursions on to "India's side" by Chinese troops had sharply increased in 2009. In India the media hype was partly a by-product of intense competition between privately owned TV news channels—anything sensational sells—while in China there may have been government prodding since Chinese media is state-controlled.’

Looking ahead, Baru told me he felt the most likely future sources of tension would  be issues relating to acquisition and utilisation of natural resourcessuch aswater and China's ‘growing presence and investment’in India's immediate neighbourhood.

But although Baru was upbeat about prospects for peaceful ties between the two, largely because of the twocountries’ ‘wise and mature’ leaderships and a need for both to focus on their domestic economies, he added that as China becomes even stronger that further tensions could still develop, ‘especially if China becomes more nationalistic and does not become a more open and democratic country’. 

March 23, 2012 at 12:26

Yang Zi, it would very foolish to think China can sink any Indian navy ship in SCS, our iagfrtes and destroyers are leaps ahead of chinese ships, the only area where PLAN has an advantage is submarines, Chinese ships are very easy targets for our Brahmos and Club cruise missile armed ships, Brahmos allows every IN ship armed with it to dominate a diameter of 600km, anything with-in a 300km radius is toast, there are no defences against the mach 3 Brahmos which also has extreme maneuvering ability at such high speeds. Chinese long range cruise missiles are subsonic and modern ship defences are more than capable enough to take them on. Furthermore, IN ships have better as well as longer range maritime radars. I know the PLAN has the new ASBM but the missile depends on long range detection, finding a ship in milions of square miles of high seas is like finding a needle in the hay stack.

August 19, 2011 at 08:14

Hi Pal(David),
Time will decide who will livw and who will perish and for now can you please stop abusing a particular country.

This applies to all.

July 3, 2010 at 02:56

Every neighbour of India is fed up of India. the worst problem in the whole region is the existence of extremist India which never stops indulging in every country with its dirty game..The outcome of it all will be, disintegration of India and that does not seems very far!

June 5, 2010 at 10:51

and John, there is no such word as Kalistocracy. It is Kakistocracy.
And India is NOT a kakistocracy.
Our Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh is a Doctrate holder from Oxford.
Finance Minister is a Triple Graduate.
Interior Minister is a Harvard Graduate.

You can get the full details here

June 5, 2010 at 10:43

India is a failed state?
Against the odds of staggering poverty, conflicting religious passions, linguistic pluralism, regional separatism, caste injustice and natural resource scarcity, we have had 60 years of democratic rule.

This was written by an American Scholar – “imagine if Mexico became the 51st state of the United States, followed by Brazil, Argentina and the rest of Central and South America. Add Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to give this union the Sunni-Shia mix of India. The population then represented in Congress would still be smaller and less diverse linguistically, religiously, culturally and economically than India’s. If such a state could democratically manage the interests and conflicts swirling within it, and not threaten its neighbors, the world should ask little else from it. If we were such a state, we would feel that our humane progress contributes so much to global well-being that smaller, richer, easier-to-manage states should not presume to tell us what to do.”

It is true that most people in America are ignorant about the rest of the world.

May 31, 2010 at 16:38

Wow, BillT, calm down. I’m sure you’re quite passionate in your anti-U.S., anti-west ideology, but John didn’t once mention, or compare the U.S. to India or China mate. Besides, this article is about India and China.

May 31, 2010 at 14:07

“Besides that fact, can you imagine the US with 1,200,000,000 people and 543 states in an area about the size of New England?”

Bill makes a solid point here: not only is the population that much denser than, say, NE in America (if we are to assume for a moment that the US would be an acceptable model from which to judge India’s democratic status), but the geopolitical implications abound on every decision by its government. Could you imagine India adopting a California-like referendum-driven democracy? The diverging opinions and interests among those 543 states within India are far too nebulous to even consider as potentially moving the country forward.

May 30, 2010 at 12:05

In reply to John’s comment…

I suppose that you think the US “Democracy” is better? We are a Plutocracy, ruled by the rich, with a nominal elected government, that has the goal of eliminating the middle class.

Besides that fact, can you imagine the US with 1,200,000,000 people and 543 states in an area about the size of New England?

The BRIC countries are about 1/2 of the world’s population. It is logical that they would form an alliance to balance out the US.

May 29, 2010 at 01:49

The notion of India as an “open and democratic nation” is a joke and insult to all open and democratic nations out there. India isn’t a democracy but a KALISTOCRACY where the government is ruled by the worst and least qualified citizens. It’s a sham democracy and a failed state!

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