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The Hindu: Time to Reset the India-China Relationship

Author: Siddharth Varadarajan
December 14, 2010

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Mutual respect for each other's core concerns and a plan to enlarge the areas for common action and cooperation must be at the heart of the bilateral agenda.

When Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jiang Zemin decided in 2003 to appoint Special Representatives (SRs) to explore and presumably accelerate “the framework of a boundary settlement” between India and China, little did they imagine that their vast but disputed borderlands would end up casting a dark shadow on the overall bilateral relationship seven years later.

The Line of Actual Control in the western and eastern sectors may be extraordinarily tranquil but the artificially speeded up prospect of a boundary settlement has increased the salience of territoriality at a time when the relationship most needs a de-territorialised agenda. China and India are confronting the same set of challenges that their spectacular rise has exposed them to, from globalisation and its imbalances to transnational security threats, environmental degradation, piracy, maritime security and political instability in various parts of Asia. As the two preeminent powers of the Asian region, India and China have an enormous responsibility to discharge — and discharge jointly. The burden they carry is too great to allow either the kind of assertive, ‘go-it-alone' strategy the Chinese seem to favour or the ‘bandwagoning with an off-shore balancer' that the Indians appear to prefer. Instead of focussing inward on their disputed border, the two countries need to look together at the wider region and its challenges and see how the pooling of equities they do so well on global issues like trade, financial rebalancing and climate change can also occur on the Asian front. But this is not happening.

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