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Both India and China, the two of the most populous countries in the world, have been moving up the ladder, militarily, economically, and politically, but each has its own priorities, strategies, successes, and failures. These have been discussed and continue to be discussed in detail in several platforms.
Today, these two countries are masters of their own fate and are well on their way to take their rightful place as leading economic powers in the international comity of nations. China is undoubtedly far ahead of India in the development story. China was able to rise again, reversing the 500 years of economic decline. This has been largely due to its cohesion as a society and hardworking citizens. The Government also paid attention to the education and health of its citizens. The new criterion for a super power status is not weapons but economy as well (as the collapse of the Soviet Union proved) and China is well on its way to reaching that status.
The remarkable rise of China in the last three decades has had mixed global reactions. While many countries have welcomed this rise, some other nations, especially some of China’s neighbors and even the US, have viewed it with concern if not consternation. What does this rising China signify for India? How do India’s leading companies feel about dealing with China on trade and technology issues? How much of a threat is China for India, given its none-too-smooth relationship with the former and China’s unqualified support to Pakistan in the strategic field. Would the Indian Ocean be the scene of stiff confrontation between India and China? Or is the “China Threat” an exaggeration or hype as some would hold?
A recent and timely book on China tries to answer some of these queries on the occasion of the fiftieth year of a border war they fought. Some observers feel that the competition for global resources and influence seems to signal an inevitable confrontation between the two powers.
Both India and China as third world countries share a mirror image perception of each other of encirclement. One prominent example of this perception is Pakistan’s all-weather friendship with China. Many in India believe that a nuclear Pakistan is the creation of China to a large extent; and for China, the existence of a strong and confident Pakistan able and willing to challenge India confers important strategic advantage by forcing India to spread its armed strength in two fronts. China continues to view with suspicion, if not hostility, India hosting the “splittist” Dalai Lama in its territory. China is, however, wary of the connection between the insurgents of Xinjiang with their Islamic sympathizers and helpers from across the border in Pakistan.
The increasing gap in military and strategic strength between India and China is of concern to India. As one chapter in the book suggests, India should continue to seek early resolution of the territorial dispute and should meet China’s strategic challenge through both a viable nuclear and conventional deterrence.
In light of the above assessment, it has been argued that rivalry should not be exaggerated to the point that it overshadows genuine attempts to manage the relationship between the two countries. According to one paper, the main challenges that China poses to India is geographic and incidentally strategic.
There is also an alternate view that India has much to learn from China and much to gain from economic co-operation with China to achieve its objective of broad-based development. In the journey towards prosperity in the 21st century, China should be looked upon as India’s partner and both countries should work together to make transition from a uni-polar to a multi-polar world as smooth as possible. India must understand China better and co-operate with it in international forums, and China on its part should accept the importance of India in tackling international issues of common interests like global warming and a new global financial architecture.
At its present level of strategic strength, India does not have the option of following a hostile and confrontational attitude towards China. It must accept the fact that there are problems between the two countries which can lead to confrontation in future and should prepare for that day. Meanwhile cooperation and trade with China are indicated. In the international arena, China could indeed be an ally in the two countries’ common interests, like global warming, energy needs, etc. Diplomacy and trade should be the present policy while acquiring strategic strength should be a long term policy to deal with any future confrontation if such a contingency arises.
This is an extracted version of authors’ recent book, Rise of China: Indian perspectives.