February 28, 2020
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India, Chin Chin

There's too much to gain in cooperation for it to be lost in suspicion

India, Chin Chin
R. Prasad
India, Chin Chin
Forget the mutual suspicion for a moment, there are compelling reasons why India and China should cooperate. If they cooperate, they’d spend less resources hedging against each other. India would then deploy less security forces on the line of actual control (LAC); China would act accordingly. Remember, nowhere in the world does a border run at such a high altitude. Sino-Indian cooperation will consequently free immense manpower from being eyeball to eyeball in an inhospitable terrain.

If India and China cooperate, a chunk of military budget could be diverted to economic development. China has been an open economy for nearly three decades; India followed in the last two decades. China managed to tot up a double-digit growth, enabling it to become the fourth biggest economy in the world. India has been doing 5-6 per cent till recently. Had they cooperated, they could have saved more resources for the advancement of their societies.

Again, if Indian and Chinese economies were better off, their people could have afforded more goods and services that the other has to offer. Because of their proximity, despite the Himalayas between them, these goods and services could have been transported at the least business cost.

If India and China cooperate politically, they’d have less need to be apprehensive of each other. It could then free China to handle its Southeast coast, particularly Taiwan’s independence. India, for its part, would also be more confident in securing China’s understanding of and support for its bid to have a permanent seat at the UNSC.

Again, if India and China cooperated, the two Asian giants would embark on a course leading to the eventual settlement of the border question. Assumedly, each side will have to respect the fait accompli but can still bargain to some extent. If and when the border question is resolved, there won’t be any big political barrier left between them.

True, this list of "ifs" is not exhaustive; it can be expanded further. Yet, the reasons cited above are the factors behind the current Indo-China strategic partnership, declared by the two governments when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited New Delhi last April. Their strategic partnership shall not only be political, but also economic. Even though the two-way trade volume between India and China, totalling nearly $20 billion this year, is dwarfed by the Sino-US trade volume, its prospects are significant—with an annual growth rate of 40-80 per cent, India and China could double their trade every one or two years.

Though there are several reasons for the two countries to improve relations, hurdles still exist. There’s the outstanding issue of mutual suspicion. India is certainly improving ties with China, but remains rather cautious, weighing the implications of Chinese investment in India. This seems to be the single-most outstanding new issue between the two Asian neighbours. I should mention here that two of my PhD students who wanted to visit India on a field trip encountered enormous difficulties in securing visas. One, eventually, got the Indian visa, but the other didn’t.

This contrasts sharply with China’s treatment of Indian investors and visitors. For instance, Indian businesses have been opening rapidly in Shanghai; India is more visible in the city—be it its people, its cuisine, its culture or its image. More and more Chinese have started working for Indian businesses. We have taken it for granted that India is a part of our life.

Apparently, China wouldn’t ignore the risk of a foreign presence vis-a-vis the issues of market takeover and national security. But one needs to weigh the benefits accruing from foreign presence against the cost. Really, in the era of knowledge economies, who would care to invade another country for resources? I often ask in what ways will China’s security be imperilled by welcoming Indian investment, and the kind of security India will achieve by refusing Chinese investment. In our contemporary world, it’s technology innovation that renders a country competitive. This can be secured much faster through cooperation and exchange.

Progress can be achieved faster only by commanding the trend of history. Once it’s understood that the Sino-India cooperation benefits rather than harms the two peoples, the two countries will speed up the process. India and China are two advanced and ancient civilisations. In the past century, though, they were both suppressed, inclined to harbouring suspicions in situations new to them. This isn’t surprising for newly decolonised countries. But now it’s time both India and China face each other with renewed confidence. Interaction between them, rather than distancing themselves from each other, will provide them with far more common interests to cooperate upon than now. When 1.3 billion people can get along with 1 billion in Asia, the world is bound to be more peaceful—and also hopeful.

(The author is the Director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai)

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