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Sino-Indian Ties Critical for Emerging Strategic Systemic

Cmde C. Uday Bhaskar (Retd) is former officiating Director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • April 11, 2005

    Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's visit to New Delhi on April 11-12 comes soon after that of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (March 16) and will be followed by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit in end-April.

    While this scheduling may be a matter of coincidence, the outcome of the Wen visit and the manner in which it impacts the Sino-Indian relationship has the potential to significantly shape the emerging Asian strategic systemic and related security landscape.

    Currently, both India and China exude a similar set of anxieties and aspirations about their bilateral relationship as they grapple with the turbulence of an animated post 9/11 global and regional systemic.

    It merits notice that the bilateral relationship has never been more positive and while political relations are stable, the trade figures are impressive. From a very modest base in the early 1990s, bilateral trade increased to US $ 5 billion in 2002-2003 and is already poised to cross $ 14 billion. This has increased by a factor of 13 times in a decade and may soon cross the $ 50 billion mark.

    Both nations have been major trading states and it is often forgotten that two centuries ago, China and India accounted for more than half the global GDP. However, whether this will be the pattern for the immediate future as far as the Sino-Indian bilateral relationship is concerned will depend to a large extent on the kind of choices made by the Chinese leadership that is currently consolidating a transition phase.

    China's socio-economic growth indicators over the last two decades are unprecedented and it must be acknowledged that whatever be the reservations about an authoritarian regime, the Chinese leadership has been able to effectively eradicate poverty across a one billion plus demographic profile.

    Today, Beijing consciously encourages the use of the phrase 'the peaceful rise of China' to allay any fears among its Asian neighbours but it is moot as to how successful this packaging campaign has been.

    The facts on the ground suggest that China has stoked nascent nationalism in Japan and currently Beijing and Tokyo are locked in a bitter and emotional recall of the excesses of World War II.

    China has allowed a signature campaign against Japan's entry into the UN Security Council and the 1937 rape of Nanjing is back in focus. The fact that Japan has chosen to identify China as a source of security concern and the reference to Taiwan has heightened Sino-Japanese mutual animosity and aggrieved nationalism just short of becoming militant is the flavour of the times.

    The smaller South East Asian states are wary of what they see as the inevitable pull that the 'dragon' exudes, given its political, trade and military profile, and fear that they will be swamped as their dependency index apropos China is steadily increasing.

    In its second term, the Bush administration has unveiled a more robust pan-Asian policy in which democracy has become the preferred median and this was conveyed unambiguously during Ms Rice's recent whistle-stop tour of Asia that began in Delhi.

    The subsequent assertion by the US that it will assist India in becoming a world power, including the military dimension, will be monitored closely by Beijing which is uneasy about the US ties with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

    While it is nobody's case that the US-India relationship should be predicated on an anti- China plank, it is evident that the emphasis placed by the US on the concert of democracies leads to an unstated concatenation in the Chinese strategic perception.

    The Wen visit comes against this backdrop and it stands to reason that the Chinese leadership would not like to simultaneously antagonise all the major Asian states, thereby lending credence to the perception that the rise of China is synonymous with a belligerent Beijing.

    On current evidence it appears that there is the likelihood of some agreement on the principles that will guide the long-pending territorial and border dispute between the two Asian giants and this is welcome.

    The more complex contestation will be in the manner in which the two elites and the DNA that characterizes their strategic culture (use of force) relate to each other and the external systemic.

    Historically, the Middle Kingdom has chosen force to 'control' events in a manner that they believe is conducive to Beijing's abiding interest and India has been made aware of this trait in 1962.

    Internally also, the authoritarian constituency in China still relies on 'control' and this was the case in both Tiananmen and the Falun Gong. In many ways, this is an extrapolation of the Chinese adage that a single mountain can accommodate only one tiger.

    India, on the other hand, has preferred 'accommodation' and is reticent about the use of force and this trait is derived from the internalisation of both non-violence and the pacifism inherent to the Indian ethos.

    To that extent, there is a certain strategic dissonance between India and China and managing this mismatch between perceptions and actions will be complex and challenging.

    Both countries are trying to make the appropriate choices in relating to the regional and global dynamic and this ranges from the overwhelming US military profile, the compulsions of globalisation, growing energy needs and urgent socio-economic choices linked to environmental issues.

    The US-China-Japan-India strategic equipoise will define the tranquility/turbulence index for Asia and, by extension, the global canvas and to that extent the tea leaves that surround the Wen Jiabao visit should be read for issues beyond contested territoriality and enhanced trade ties.