Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Will China-India ties take 'orbital jump'?

By G. Venkat Raman (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-17 07:50

China-India relations are poised to take the "orbital jump", says India's National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. Going by the growth of bilateral trade ties - which is expected to jump from $66.45 billion in 2012 to $100 billion by 2015 - that seems likely. But bilateral trade is characterized by an overwhelming trade deficit for India. The concern is apparently economic in nature but if enough attention is not paid to it, the good work done over the past few years to strengthen bilateral ties could be undone.

Fortunately, the visit of President Xi Jinping to India is being viewed as a path-breaking visit in terms of addressing the questions of "trust deficit" and "trade deficit". If bilateral trade ties are to prosper, both countries need to realize that the solutions to trade deficit and other bottlenecks need not be limited to economic measures. Unless the two countries look at the larger canvas and have a frank exchange of views and discuss the ways and means to overcome the twin deficits, bilateral ties could become hostage to age-old mutual misperceptions.

Until now, both sides have carefully orchestrated a touch of history to Xi's visit. Whereas Xi is keen to drive home the importance of Gujarat while talking about revival of the "New Silk Road", Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen to take Xi to Vadnagar, which ancient Chinese scholar and Buddhist monk Xuanzang visited and mentioned in his travel diaries. Xi's visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, home of Mahatma Gandhi, too, has an element of history in it and perhaps a message - if the two countries have peaceful relations, they can create history the way Gandhi did in the first half of the 20th century.

The Gujarat leg of Xi's visit will allow the two leaders to deepen their mutual understanding before they enter hectic political and strategic discussions in New Delhi. Modi is going against past diplomatic protocol by welcoming the Chinese president in the western province of Gujarat, which many see as India embracing the "Guangdong model of economic development". Also, it symbolizes that India is ready to welcome foreign direct investment (FDI) from Chinese companies to untap India's potential as a major manufacturing hub.

Since the end of the Cold War it has been generally believed that ideological and military rivalries no longer shape the world order. The concept of "security" now includes economic security, signifying a shift from "geopolitics" to "geo-economics". Although the economic and commercial dimension is an important part of bilateral ties, India cannot improve relations with China beyond a point by just focusing on these two aspects, because of their 20th century history. Therefore, the need is to perceive bilateral relations in the "shadow of the future".

In other words, policymakers have to use long-term vision to achieve better positive outcomes in bilateral and multilateral relations even if that means foregoing some temporary benefits in the short to medium term. International theorist Quincy Wright says: "Increased trade relations leads to commercial retaliation and economic blockades. If political relations are unquestioned, economic inter-dependence may increase friendliness." As China-India bilateral economic ties are growing by the day and trade increases, both countries will sooner than later be challenged by questions that are "political". And political differences could still affect commercial interests in the long term despite being "shelved" for the present. That's why it is heartening to note that China believes that the two countries have the "confidence and capability" to resolve disputes through "equitable" and "reasonable" means.

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