October 01, 2020
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A New Dawn

China will need more cooperation with India in the coming years than it did in the past. China's new generation of leadership would therefore try to stabilize and further improve Sino-Indian relations.

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A New Dawn


The 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China, which ends today, will lay down the framework of China's future leadership. The change of leadership in China could only bring positive changes in Sino-Indian ties, not vice versa. For the new generation of Chinese leaders the most pressing and also ticklish challenge could be— at the internal level— on social management and social construction. At the external level it would be on the management of Sino-US relations, settlement of maritime disputes and safeguarding sea-rights in the west-Pacific region-which will be the most geo-strategic focus of China's new leadership.

Under such circumstance, China's new generation of leadership, for the next 10 years or so, would try to stabilize and further improve Sino-Indian relations to make their Strategic Partnership more substantial. This is especially important in dealing with shaping the world's new economic order and the Asia-Pacific region. Both China and India have enough reasons and areas to cooperate for their mutual benefit. The global economic crisis and its concomitant economic recession are still disturbing the world. It is an historic responsibility and opportunity for both China and India to work jointly to rejuvenate the world economy. They have the capacity and the world also expects them to do so. It is in this sense that Sino-Indian relations goes beyond their bilateral capacity and gather global and strategic significance. Of course, challenges that China and India face in the next 10 years may still disturb their bilateral relations. But their relations will be much different from what it was in the past and also from what it is at present.

The border issue is one that may create disturbance in Sino-Indian ties. The two governments will have to find new approaches to address each other's concerns and even, sometimes, lower tensions along their disputed border. The 'sovereignty dispute' could be put aside further, if they seek common developments and interactions in border regions that are "not so disputed" to create favourable local conditions and environment for the final settlement. But in any case, in the next 10 years, the border issue has no chance of holding the bilateral relations hostage.

On the factor of a third party—even if India may become less concerned over China's relations with Pakistan, China may be a little worried about India-US relations and India's interactions with American allies in the Asia-Pacific region, stretching from the Arabian Sea to Northwest Asia. The USA will certainly try to put more resources in the Asia-Pacific region to balance China. India's policy towards US's China-oriented Asia-Pacific strategy would make a big difference to the "Great Game" here.

If persistent lobbying by the US convinces India that building 'semi-alliance' relations with the US would allow it to achieve more strategic benefits than maintaining equal distance between US and China and maintaining strategic independence, then Delhi may possibly join the US in checking China. But that would be a major setback in Sino-Indian relations.

The trade imbalance issue would become less and less important in Sino-Indian relations. This is because India has begun, and will continue, to make unremitting efforts in developing its manufacturing capacity and its infrastructure through further economic reforms and by inviting foreign capital, including from China. The transitions in the two societies and economies would make Sino-Indian economic relations more comprehensive and healthier.

The Tibet issue could create a major disturbance in the next 10 years because of Dalai Lama's old age. If something happens to Dalai Lama before the Tibet issue is resolved in line with the expectations of the exiled Tibetan community, there could be chaos within and beyond the Tibetan region. This could create trouble in Sino-Indian relations because India still hosts nearly one lakh Tibetans. How to deal with the Tibetan issue in a post- Dalai Lama era could become a ticklish issue for the leaders of China and India.

The issue of water resources could also loom large in the coming years. Delayed monsoon in recent years with less rainfall has already brought severe damage and loss for India. This makes Himalayan river waters more important for India's economy and social life. What makes it worse is the fact that China itself is a country facing severe water-shortage. But because of the unsettled border dispute there is limited cooperation between China and India in this area.

As for competing for regional influence, this potential challenge could become an opportunity for cooperation for China and India, depending on whether their regional strategy is inclusive or exclusive. For China, as long as India keeps away from the sovereign disputes between China and its maritime neighbours and does not get involved in West-Pacific region, its looming influence is welcome. This is because India's presence would give confidence to the smaller neighbours in dealing with China. More importantly, a stable Asia-Pacific needs India's constructive presence. The future strategic scenario in this region, therefore, should be multi-polar.

The same way China expects India to treat Chinese presence in the sub-continent and in the Indian Ocean and its rim land. China is increasingly becoming dependent on the Indian Ocean route for its energy and trade. China's entry into the Indian Ocean and its rim is to secure the safety and development of its overseas properties through cooperation. It has neither the intent nor the resources to compete with India or the US for dominance in Indian Ocean. But one should not expect China to go away from the Indian Ocean either.

Moreover, being a big power like India, China is expected by many countries to provide security in the troubled waters in areas of the West Indian Ocean. But the challenge for China and India is to overcome the deep mistrust between them. India is upset over the "String of Pearls" strategy of China; a coinage of an American intern of international politics, while China is concerned over India's so called "string of diamonds" strategy in the Indian Ocean to restrict Chinese activities there. What is more worrying is that the two countries don't have any strong functional institution to discuss their overlapping interests in this region. This could pose a big challenge for China and India in the coming years. However, in the foreseeable future China and India relations are likely to be on the right track because of the common ground leaders of the two countries have identified and agreed upon.

The two countries believe that through "reconciliation, both benefit, while through belligerence, both lose." This is because both countries have the capacity for "mutual destruction." Leaders of both countries also believe the world is large enough to accommodate China and India and there are enough areas for the two countries to cooperate. China and India tend to see each other's rise as an opportunity and not a threat. Both countries believe they have the capacity not only to change the world but also this planet's appearance. They also regard their bilateral economic relations as a factor of stability in Sino-Indian relations.

Based on these common grounds Sino -Indian relations could become more mature and rational in the coming years. Moreover, China's focus will be increasingly inward and eastward for which it will need a more stable and healthy relation with India. This would allow China to concentrate more on a balanced development at home and put more of its resources to deal with its problems in the West Pacific region. Simply put, China will need more cooperation with India in the coming years than it did in the past.

Hu Shisheng is Director of the Institute of South & Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies, China Institute for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR)

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