Sino-Indo Relationship: ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ And Beyond

By Sakshi Abrol:

This year saw India and China celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations which has seen and is seeing both highs and lows. India became the 16th nation to develop diplomatic relations with The Republic of China on 1st April, 1950, opening up a saga complete in itself, a chronicle chequered yet at times mismanaged.

Any critical assessment of the so far held obscure interpretation of over-generalisation of the relationship would demand a quick recap of the historical roots of the present day tree. The trade engagement between the present day second largest and the third largest growing economy in the world, respectively, dates back to the ancient days and were carried out through the silk route. After India’s Independence and the victory of People’s Liberation Army to form a People’s Republic of China, both countries prioritised internal development over foreign policy. However, when foreign policy was the front-runner, concentration was on the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the alliance systems which were dominated by the two superpowers.

In fact, until 1959, the situation remained peaceful with our Prime Minister, Mr. Nehru staunchly following the principles of peaceful coexistence or the Panchsheela, as was the name coined. This bonding of tranquility veiling the hitherto suppressed feelings of hatred between the two countries over border disputes was only short-lived. The border disputes triggered by a conflict of interest in Tibet, with Dalai Lama absconding to Himachal Pradesh soon came to the fore and transcended into the Sino-Indo war of 1962.

The naïve assessment of a dangerously pesky neighbor and a detrimentally inept military force exposed Nehru to scathing criticism. The situation was further exacerbated when China sided with Pakistan in the 1971 war. India and the PRC renewed efforts to improve relations after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 but this again couldn’t be nurtured to be able to see the light of the day when a 1962 like situation roused in 1984 when the squads of Indian soldiers began actively patrolling the Sumdorong Chu Valley in Arunachal Pradesh on the orders of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Calendars rolled by and the bitter feelings remained undiluted. It was only her son Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in 1988 that a warming trend in relationship was facilitated. Since then, it has been growing on the positive scale, though the growth was somewhat slow in the 90’s.

This should not however, make the readers deduce that there has been no divergence or lacunae but a dogmatic view that India and China are rivals is an ‘over-generalization and over-simplification’ of a complex relationship that has evolved over generations. As our foreign secretary puts it, ‘I believe the proposition of rivalry should not be exaggerated in a manner that it over-shadows our genuine attempts to manage and transact a rationally determined relationship.’ The leaders of both the countries have time and again re-iterated that there is enough space in this world for both the countries to grow together, which is completely true. Also, with both the countries being super-powers both from the traditional geo-political point of view and the more recent geo-economic point of view, nobody has a luxury of seeing each other in antagonistic terms.

Though we have a disputed border carrying a load of complex historical legacy on its shoulders, ours has been one of the most peaceful of all borders, barring a few incidents of dispute. There is enough maturity on both sides vis-à-vis the border issue which can also be attributed to the various confidence building measures. Another issue of concern is trans-border rivers. Many rivers irrigating and enhancing the fertility of areas in the North-East India arise in the highlands of Tibetan Autonomous Region and there has been some apprehension regarding the kind of hegemony that China can practice given the cards in their hands but China has been sincere enough to assure that it will take no such action so as to negatively affect the flow of rivers in India.

Then there is the issue of China-Pakistan relationship. Not that India is against Pakistan’s good relationships with other countries but then the presence of Chinese troops in the P-o-K is certainly a cause of worry for us. But our leaders have been tactically quick and correct to compare J&K in India to Tibet in China to prove its point of mutual sensitivity to each other’s concern. The issue of giving stapled visas to the J&K residents arises in a similar context and our leaders have been vociferous enough to express their discontentment with China’s actions. This should indeed serve as a clarion call to make them realize that their approach to the issue needs modifications.

On the positive front, our trade with China is growing faster than that with any other country and China is our largest trading partner in goods with trade likely to exceed US$ 60 billion this year. India is no doubt seen as a potential market and has become the hub of foreign investments. Both the countries also partnered well in BASIC for climate change negotiations and also in the BRIC grouping.

Also vis-à-vis, the issue of legally binding emission cuts (REDD+) surfaced in Cancum, both the countries see eye to eye. Over 7000 Indian students study in China, there are a slew of technical scholarships available to Indian students to study in China and CBSE is all set to introduce Chinese language in the curriculum of schools from the next academic session. With the festival of China in India still going on, a paradigm shift in our thinking is required. Everybody knows that the real rule of Realpolitik clearly states that there are no friends or foes; self-interest is the only driving force. As long as both the countries attach paramount important to their interests, they will yearn for a peaceful territory and as our interests get progressively more rigorous and intertwined, a withdrawal from it becomes more difficult.

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2 Responses

  1. Aditi

    Very nicely summarised,the whole situation.And the irony of our need for each other as well as threat from each other.It can culminate into either,depending on what steps we take,hopefully Wen Jiabo’s visit will put things into perspective.Its a classic case of neither can live while the other survives,where survive and live are two different things.

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