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UPDATED: January 18, 2009 NO. 4 JAN. 22, 2009
India-China Relations: The Way Forward

Of course, ours is a complex and multi-layered relationship. At the same time, in order to make a fair assessment about today's diplomacy, where national interests and realpolitik dictate the actions of state players, no relationship that is intense enough to be called a strategic partnership could lend itself to simplistic portrayal in dichotomous terms of competition and cooperation. There will always be overlaps between competition and cooperation. A fair amount of healthy competition is not necessarily bad and can indeed lead to more meaningful cooperation. But, greater awareness of each other's concerns and aspirations is an essential building block for mutual trust.

It would be difficult to wish away history even as we seek to draw lessons from it. For both countries, settlement of the outstanding boundary question is crucial for realizing the full potential of cooperation. It is also a sensitive issue in both countries. Therefore, it speaks volumes about our common resolve to improve ties that, pending peaceful settlement of the question, we have maintained peace and tranquility in our boundary regions. The Special Representatives appointed by the leadership of our two governments to discuss the settlement of the boundary question have achieved distinct progress in terms of having reached agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for a boundary settlement. Distances are being bridged through enhanced contact and dialogue at the diplomatic and political level, which are indicators of increasing maturity and confidence. On an issue of concern for China, namely the Tibet issue, our government has shown through action that we do not allow Indian soil to be used for anti-China political activities. On the Taiwan issue, similarly, our position has been consistently supportive of the principle of one China. We in India also appreciate China's assistance by way of provision of hydrological data on our common rivers, which has helped flood prevention and mitigation downstream in India; its import has been much more than a technical discussion involving experts.

In the economic realm, even as we congratulate ourselves on the fast growth in trade, questions about sustainability remain in the absence of diversity in our trade basket. At the moment, natural resources constitute the overwhelming proportion of our exports to China, and China's appetite for iron ore has been a happy development for our mining industry for several years. With the demand for natural resources falling sharply during the global slowdown, however, the issue of trade pattern will come under increased scrutiny. Any non-tariff barriers that stand in the way of smooth development of this trade should be removed. Such issues need to be dealt with properly in order to make trade more sustainable and balanced. Let me also stress that there are no country-specific restrictions on Chinese investment in India, and, in fact, Chinese project contracting in the country has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, touching a record figure of $22 billion recently.

Then there are prospective issues, which could potentially lead to a competition of Indian and Chinese interests. Some people talk about the global search for limited and vital natural resources ranging from oil and gas to timber by the two developing behemoths of India and China as inevitably leading to such competition. This need not be so, as our cooperation in exploring hydrocarbon in third countries in Africa and Asia has shown. Even if some spirited acquisition moves by companies on one side have affected the other side's commercial and energy interests, to imagine a politically motivated scramble for resources played in a global theater on the lines of a 19th-century paradigm is neither likely in this age of smooth resource transactions nor appealing to our countries who have borne the brunt of foreign, colonial exploitation in past centuries.

As any serious student of India's diplomatic and national strategy will testify, Western notions like alliance, encirclement and counterbalance are not part of the vocabulary of Indian strategic thinking, which is fiercely independent. If at all, we tend to think more like the Chinese adage "Near neighbors count more than distant relatives." We wish to engage with the wider world, both near and far, for peace, stability and prosperity. It is in this belief and confidence that we welcome growing engagement with China as a strategic and cooperative partner, and also anticipate that we can work together to promote peace and stability in our region. Such cooperation is also crucial in tackling the scourge of terrorism, which affects both our countries. Our two militaries have made a constructive beginning in counterterrorism training since 2007. Such cooperation conveys a positive and powerful signal, both regionally and globally.

Thus our relations hold great promise, and beckon to us to rise to the challenges before us in a rapidly evolving world situation. As long as we keep the long-term and strategic nature of our partnership in mind, we will be able to calmly approach seemingly difficult and intractable issues in the interest of the long-term objectives of peace and friendship, which, as Premier Wen Jiabao has famously observed, have been the mainstream of India-China civilizational ties for 99.99 percent of the time. While the scope for competition and cooperation exists side by side, the choice, of whether to make competition or cooperation the dominant theme of India-China discourse, is ours. After all, as the father of China's reform and opening-up, Deng Xiaoping famously said, "Development is the hard rationale." He also said that a real Asian century will arrive only when China and India have developed. As both India and China enjoy what looks like a sustained high-growth trajectory, we must not let the opportunity of millennial proportion slip by. The ongoing global financial crisis has made it even more important for the two of us to purposefully engage with each other. Equally, we must also focus on bridging the information divide that exists between the peoples of our two countries. This is particularly so where the youth of India and China are concerned. We must intensify exchanges between these segments of our population even more, for they hold the future of the India-China relationship in their hands. The media in both countries can also, and must, play a greater role in cementing understanding between us.

Let me conclude by quoting these beautiful words from the ancient Indian scripture, the Rig Veda:

"Samgacchadhvam Samvadadhvam. Sam vo manamsi janatam."

"Let us meet together, let us talk together: May our minds comprehend alike." (Rig Veda: 10,192)

The author is the Indian Ambassador to China

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