India-China and the Spirit of Cooperation


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

In one of his candid statements, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping on 19 March 2013 admitted that the border dispute between his country and its neighbour, India, is one of the most difficult problems the leaders of both the countries confront. Jinping said, “The boundary question is a complex issue left over from history and solving it won’t be easy.” He further added, “However, as long as we keep up our friendly consultation, we can eventually arrive at a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement”. Perhaps it is first time that the highest leadership of China admitted the complicated nature of the border dispute between the two countries. At the sidelines of the high profile two-day BRICS summit at Durban, South Africa, starting from 26 March 2013, the Chinese leader is scheduled to meet Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. Though this single meeting will not lead to resolution of the border crisis but it will certainly add to trust-building between the two countries.

As the two fast rising economies in the world, India and China increasingly realize the futility of armed conflict. Both the countries fought a war in 1962, which did not help to resolve border differences. China is hesitant to accept the border drawn by Henry McMohan in 1914 and claims parts of current Indian territory, while India insists that China must return back the areas which it seized after the 1962 war. There are other tangles added to this controversy, among which the Tibet and Dalai Lama issues and China’s support to Pakistan’s Kashmir policies are prominent. But, these differences have not marred the economic cooperation between these two countries. Last year the bilateral trade was at $74 billion. The volume of trade is set to grow to the tune of $100 billion by 2015.

Both the countries are members of many prominent international bodies including BRICS, G-20 and Russia-India-China Triangle. They have openly espoused the cause of a multi-centered world order in which dialogue and cooperation in a fair format are the key principles. They along with other members of these groupings have advocated for peaceful resolution of international conflicts. Whether it is the international political decision making bodies like the United Nations or its Security Council, or international financial bodies like the International Monetary Fund or World Bank, both the countries have advocated for reform.

In the post-cold war, globalized world, where economics trumps over politics, where economic diplomacy has become a major driving force of international politics, India and China have adapted to these realities of the new world order. Despite differences, they have followed these virtues astutely. It is no wonder that despite a complicated border issue between them, despite conflicts in other areas, the bilateral trade is in full swing. The two major powers of the world seem to turn their gaze to many pressing problems of the world including climate change, terrorism and fundamentalism, drug trafficking and piracy, while keeping the bilateral differences under a low though active shelf.

There is a perceptive change in perception of the people of both the countries towards each other.  The youth of India today no longer consider China as an arch enemy as their predecessors, born during or aftermath of the 1962 war, might have thought of. They have rather moved ahead of these negative perceptions and see China as an emerging partner in the changing world. The success stories of both the countries also move the youth to make a positive assessment of each other. One can see this synergy in the youth in increasing travels between the two countries. The recent months have also witnessed increasing people-to-people interactions between the countries in the spheres of culture, education and business.

When the Chinese President admitted that the border is complicated, he states an item of truth. Perhaps border is one of the most nagging problems that haunt the bilateral relations. The national ego and prestige associated with respective positions further complicate the matter. The good thing is that the rigidity in perceptions is gradually melting. But, to be pragmatic, this Himalayan glacier of rigidity will take considerable time to melt.  The signs are certainly propitious. The Chinese leader’s admission shows the issue needs more thoughtful consideration, prudent calculations and wise decisions. Already there is a bilateral national security advisor level mechanism that deliberates on the matter. Though there is no concrete outcome on the ground so far, this mechanism at least provides a platform in which the representatives can express their feelings, policies and demands.

One may wish the meeting between Singh and Jinping at Durban go beyond formal exchange of pleasantries. The meeting, the first between Jinping and Singh, will help the leaders to develop personal chemistry and will likely goad them to announce something positive and enduring. As I pointed out earlier, though they may not announce something path breaking, their commitment to peaceful resolution of outstanding issues including the border will itself be a big achievement.

The border that is a problem can be turned into a promise. Borders in the 21st century are no more rigid lines of division; rather they have become flexible lines of cooperation. This new realization can be brought to the border between India and China. There are already attempts as in Nathu La. This border pass has been opened since 2006 for trade. There are many other such border passes that can be opened for mutual advantage. Due to border problem, Hindu pilgrims have to take a different route to visit the holy Mansarovar lake. The potential of the border for tourism and trade are enormous. Once the two rising powers realize this imperative of the border and work towards realizing its potential, the protracted border will emerge as a propitious border.

The historical-cultural relations between the two countries are very old and can be traced back to ancient and medieval periods. Whether it is the visit of Fahien to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, or the visit of Huen Tsang during the rein of Harshsvardhan to learn and collect scriptures of Buddhism, or the meditation of Milarepa in a monastery in Lamayuru in Ladakh, or the visit of Buddhist monks to Tibet and China and beyond, the relations are indeed old, strong and enduring. The fabled Silk Road stands witness to these interactions and cross-cultural voyages. It seems the miasma of politics has covered all these subtle and powerful aspects of India and China relations. India and China are still thriving and prospering ancient civilizations. The time has come for both the countries to resolve the differences by applying the finest virtues of their civilizations. They can start with the border by transforming it into a flexible line of contact, commerce and cooperation.


Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and an Indian commentator. His areas of interests include India-Russia relations, conflict and peace, and strategic aspects of Eurasian politics.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Mar 2013.

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