Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Learning to work together

By Rup Narayan Das (China Daily) Updated: 2012-02-29 08:02

A slow and subtle, yet discernable change is taking place in the relations between India and China. Ever since the United States unveiled its "return to Asia" strategy, there has been a perception that the US is trying to mentor India to balance China's power in the region. But conscious of Beijing's sensitivity, New Delhi has tried to judge its relationship with China and the US with circumspection and finesse.

Although such a fine balancing act is easier said than done, New Delhi has been guided by the neutrality that is entrenched in its strategic culture, its rich historical experience and the sagacity of its leaders.

While the world knows that China and India fought a war in 1962, it should also be remembered that the two also fought together against imperialism and colonialism, and that the border between the two, despite the occasional war of words, has been on the whole a tranquil one. However, both countries need to try and promote concrete progress in their border talks, as well as in other spheres of their complex bilateral relations.

In recent times New Delhi has taken note of Beijing's sensitivity to some of India's concerns with regard to both bilateral and regional matters. This sensitivity has enabled the two countries to resolve some minor disagreements with creativity and imagination. The recent row over the border therefore is unfortunate. Be that as it may, it would be appropriate to say that India and China have become wiser in the way they view their relationship and that relations between them have quietly acquired a degree of resilience over the years.

Time and again, New Delhi and Beijing have reiterated their common belief that "there is enough space in the world for the development of both India and China and indeed enough areas for India and China to cooperate".

The personal friendly relations between President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have provided a soothing hand to the occasional hiccups that have arisen between the two countries.

At the East Asia Summit meeting in Bali in November last year Premier Wen said: "It is important for (our) two countries, the most populous in the world, to achieve modernization and work hand in hand." This echoed the words of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who, speaking to then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988, said that no "Asian Century" would come without the development of China and India.

Of late there is also some degree of convergence between the two countries with regard to South Asia. While Nepal has traditionally been perceived as a buffer between India and China, of late the new leadership in Nepal has been promoting Nepal as a bridge between India and China. When Wen visited Nepal in January this year, he urged Nepal's Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to continue his country's warm and friendly ties with India. This was echoed nine days later by New Delhi when the Indian prime minister expressed the same sentiment to the visiting Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal Bijay Gachhadar.

It is also worth mentioning that during a recent visit to India, Rajiva Wijesinha, a Sri Lankan member of parliament and adviser to President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, "Efforts to present Sri Lanka as a bone of contention between India and China are largely self-serving." In the speech he delivered at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, he stated that China clearly understands the primacy of Sri Lanka's relationship with India. Meanwhile, it is hoped that India's growing engagement with Pakistan will also help reduce the trust deficit with China.

The changing contours of the new equilibrium between India and China were succinctly articulated by the National Security Adviser of India Shivshankar Menon in New Delhi recently, when he said, India and China have "key roles to play in forging a new compact for common and collective security for Asia."

It is against this backdrop that there is a cautious optimism about the BRICS Summit that New Delhi is going to host toward the end of March this year.

The author is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. The views are personal.

(China Daily 02/29/2012 page9)

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