Tuesday, July 24, 2012
The curious case of two Asian giants
The burgeoning interest in India-China relations from around the world is to be expected considering the two giants of Asia are the growth engines of not only the Asian economy, but they also form a crucial cog in the wheel that is driving the world economy forward. The two most populous nuclear neighbors with the fastest growing economies in the world are poised to be the key drivers of what promises to be an “Asian Century”.
The trade between China and India is expected to reach USD 100 billion by 2015, but economics and trade tend to occupy the back pages of the media, which for some reason, basks in the hype news around troop movement and test of ballistic missiles creates in both countries, not to mention the interest it stirs up across the world.
It has been seen more often than not that the media and analysts go into a real frenzy concerning any developments surrounding India and China. It seems to be in a delirious rush to fulfill the perennial appetite for news relating to countries that sustains approximately 40% of the world population – and surprisingly one of them, India, doesn’t even have a seat in the Security Council of the United Nations, which is a travesty in itself for some, and something that many Indians feel strongly about. They argue that it is not surprising that the Council is squabbling over what to do with Syria where there seems to be more vetoes than agreement, made all the worse by the fact that innocents are being killed every day.
However, in essence, and many media practitioners have made this point time and again, that the media isn’t wrong in its entirety as the relationship between the behemoths hasn’t been hunky-dory at the best of times with contentions ranging from respective country’s stance on Kashmir and Tibet; India’s claim to Aksai Chin, which is reciprocated by China’s claim on the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, that China prefers to call, South Tibet – much to the ire of India; India’s asylum to Tibetans and the Dalai Lama; China’s all-weather support to Pakistan; increasing competition in scouting for energy sources around the world, deep-rooted suspicions of expansionism, military coercion and strategic containment on both sides, apart from the stake that the two countries have on international politics and world affairs, which go off on a tangent on many issues, are only some of the factors that dominate proceedings as far as India-China relationship goes.
The latest disputation is arising from India’s presence in the disputed water of the South China Sea with China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei being parties to the dispute. This dispute was the focal point at the recent ASEAN Summit 2012 held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which unfortunately didn’t yield any tangible results. In fact things seems to have deteriorated recently with China clearly expressing its intention on the matter by sending troops to disputed islands in South China Sea, which gives credence to the thought of an armed skirmish in the region.
China also views the rise in arms sales to India by the US is part of a larger plan to counteract its dominance in the region. China has also taken cognizance of the development of a powerful three-dimensional Navy by India to increase its capabilities in the Indian Ocean and beyond, which could also be used to protect its asset in the South China Sea which China lays claims to if such a situation becomes ineluctable.
The South China Sea dispute has the potential to morph into a major military flashpoint if current political powwow for a peaceful resolution doesn’t bear fruit soon, and India’s presence in the region hasn’t gone down well with the Chinese with repeated veiled warnings emanating from China’s official sources for foreign countries, particular India and the US, to stay away, with India refusing to budge as it strives to fulfill the needs of a power hungry nation that is largely depended on external sources to fuel its growth.
All these factors make the relationship between the two countries inordinately complicated and something that the next President of the United States has to carefully manage and no doubt will be one of his top priorities in the Oval Office. It will also be one of the fundamental criterions that will determine the success of his tenure as far as foreign affairs goes - and therefore the Presidential Election of 2012 attains all the more significance as it will determine the dynamics that will shape the future of the relationship between the three great nations. This leaves the role of the US President rendered increasingly non-envious with the mistrust that China has for the US which sees it as trying to position India as a credible alternative in a policy of perceived containment, all part of grand scheme under a geopolitical balancing act that aims to thwart its march to the top.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would do well to have a well thought out plan on how to manage its relationship with India, which is actually flourishing, while trudging a thin line vis-à-vis its delicate yet crucial relationship with China. The US has to make sure that it doesn’t antagonize China and push it to the brink as we are in a world where we need partnerships and not one-upmanship. It will be a tightrope trick that the President of the United States will be expected to play to perfection as the world needs a strong and stable troika of the United States, China, and India.
As things stand now, it is difficult to predict what the future holds for the India-China relationship, but it won’t be surprising if these two countries with one of the oldest civilizations in the world and a shared history of thousands of years were to share a prospering history for a long time to come yet. You wouldn’t find many who will bet against that eventuality, and I for one definitely won’t, as a strong and prosperous neighbor does more good than harm, with Pakistan being a case in point.