Features | Politics | South Asia

Developing Friends

Daily Star columnist Harun Rashid considers Sino-India ties and the prospects for future co-operation between the two nations.

By Harun Rashid for

On 13 January, India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh paid an official three day visit to China. He met with both President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. The Indian leader called engagement with China an “imperative necessity”.

Last October, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi visited China and that visit was believed to be a precursor to the Prime Minister’s visit.

A long-standing mistrust has plagued bilateral relations since they fought a brief border war in 1962 in which China defeated India.

In recent years, both countries have made concerted efforts to normalise relations for mutual benefit. India’s Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee, searching for economic links, started tours in 1993 and 2003.

The most visible sign of progress is in the area of economic relations. Bilateral trade reportedly exceeded $37 billion last year and is growing at a faster than expected pace.

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India’s Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said that: “For us, China is our largest neighbour, a neighbour with whom relations have developed rapidly since 1988 when we addressed the difficult issues and laid out the path for the future development of the relationship”.

What are the imperatives for cooperation?

China and India are the world’s most populous nations and have fast developing economies. Both are emerging new powers on the world scene. Both are nuclear powers. Both are hungry for energy for their breakneck pace of economic growth and have concerns for energy security and climate change. India’s growing consumer market, skilled human resources, and software excellence complement China’s manufacturing capacity and cost effectiveness.

Developments within both countries, such as, population growth combined with environmental degradation, poverty in rural areas, widening disparity within country between rich and poor and the increasingly strident voices of grievances and aspirations of people, pose threats of stability to both countries.
Moreover, on international scene, the differences among major powers so obvious at meetings of the UN Security Council (Kosovo and Iran’s nuclear program) has created a much more fluid situation in the global order. China and India have yet to acquire military profiles commensurate with their wealth. Both are “new kids on the block” in the new world order and need strong relations as they simultaneously enter a global strategic environment unsure of their role.

China and India face a contested border that runs 3,500 kilometres. India argues that China occupies 38,000 square kilometres (14,670 square miles) of its territory, while Beijing claims the whole of the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is 90,000 square kilometers.

Both realise that the dispute needs to be resolved peacefully. The two countries expressed their desire that territorial disputes are not to be allowed to affect the positive development of bilateral relations.
There has been steady progress on the boundary talks and the two sides are “determined” to uphold a 1993 frontier peace accord.

During the visit, India signed 12 agreements and MOUs that included cooperation between the two countries in various areas.

The agreements include, among others,

(a) A Shared Vision for the 21st Century

(b) Cooperation between the Planning Commission of India and the National Development and Reform Commission of China

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(c)  Cooperation between the railway ministries of India and China

(d) Cooperation between the Indian ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation and the Chinese ministry of construction

(e) Cooperation between the between the Indian ministry of rural development and the Chinese ministry of land resources — for cooperation in land resource management, land administration and resettlement and rehabilitation

Both the nations agreed to set a target of $60 billion dollars in bilateral trade in 2010.

On nuclear energy cooperation, India’s Prime Minister said that “India seeks international cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy including with China. The rapid growth of India and China will lead to expanding demand for energy. We have no choice but to widen our options for energy availability and develop viable strategies for energy security.”

China’s readiness for civil nuclear cooperation with India is significant against the backdrop of a controversial nuclear deal between India and US that remains in limbo. Defence cooperation between the two perceived rivals was unthinkable a decade ago, yet both have just concluded joint exercises. The two sides also expressed satisfaction over the conclusion of the first joint military exercise in Kunming in China last month and decided to hold the next exercise in India next year.

India’s desire for Security Council recognition.

The diplomatic language used by both sides revealed the difference of opinion on India’s aspiration for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. It is believed China does not encourage it.

In the joint statement, India stated that “the Indian side reiterates its aspirations for permanent membership of the UN Security Council”. However,  China stated “the Chinese side understands and support India’s aspirations to play a great role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council.”

It is noted that the Chinese statement avoided mentioning the permanent membership of the Security Council but stressed instead India’s role in general within the UN and its organs. It is further noted the attempt to increase the number of permanent members of the Security Council in 2005 was largely foiled because of opposition of China and the US, two veto-wielding permanent members of the Council

Dr. Singh’s visit to China comes amid a thaw in relations between the two Asian giants, with both sides looking to sweep aside past border disputes in favour of strengthened economic ties.

China and India have long-standing misgivings about their strategic intents against each other. Beijing fears India’s deepening ties with the US are in part to contain China, while New Delhi perceives Beijing’s increasing influence on Myanmar and Pakistan a threat to its backyard. It appears India’s Prime Minister is aiming to build confidence that its blossoming partnership with the US is not against China.

However, analysts say that genuine cooperation will only be possible when mistrust between them disappears by settlement of territorial disputes and removal of Chinese anxieties that India is not a part of China-containment policy of the US.

Harun Rashid was Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN in Geneva. He writes a regular column in the leading English daily, The Daily Star, in Bangladesh on political and international affairs. He is an author of several books on foreign policy and international relations.