SPEAKING FREELY China, India face stability challenge
By Anand V
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
The fifth round of the India-China Strategic Dialogue was held in New Delhi on August 20, between Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin.
The India-China strategic dialogue initiative started in 2005 at the foreign secretary level in the context of an elevation of bilateral ties into a strategic partnership. The main objective of the strategic
dialogue was to enhance this elevated relationship by exchanging views on bilateral as well as regional and global security issues.
Since it began, India and China have conducted four strategic dialogues, in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010. The fifth strategic dialogue took place largely in the context of the Chinese premier's visit to India in May. This was also supposed to prepare the ground for detailed discussions which will be held during the forthcoming visit of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to China in October.
This year's dialogue took place as a bilateral border dispute reappeared to demonstrate its irritant value. The the new leadership in China has nonetheless used it to send favorable signals for future cooperation.
India's is seen as an attractive opportunity for China because it is emerging as a huge market for Chinese goods and services. The investment opportunities for China are immense and under-explored, especially in infrastructure.
At the same time, China can woo India away from the US "pivot to Asia" strategy. That the prospects for defense cooperation are also being explored reinforces this new development in bilateral relations.
New Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's selection of India as the first destination for a foreign visit earlier this year was highly demonstrative of China's emergent emphasis on advancing Sino-Indian relations.
The premier's visit came at a time when the Chinese had military transgressed on Indian territory in Ladakh. Nevertheless, both nations analyzed the situation pragmatically and de-escalated the potential crisis, indicating their willingness to move beyond the boundary issue and towards deeper cooperation. The bilateral strategic dialogue can therefore be seen as part of a sequence of steps being taken by both the nations towards pursuing this goal.
During the strategic dialogue, the contentious bilateral issues of trade, borders, as well as trans-boundary rivers were discussed along with regional and global issues of common concern. The most significant outcome of the fifth India-China Strategic Dialogue was the identification of measures to reduce the balance of trade, which is currently in favor of China by US$35 billion.
These measures, which include a relaxation of import restrictions by China, are supposed to result in an annual reduction of $7 billion from China's trade balance with India in the coming years. The discussions also covered the need for the growth of Chinese investment in India.
A proposal to set up a Chinese industrial park in the Uttar Pradesh state of India has been notable in this respect, and will be a significant bilateral economic initiative if an agreement is finalized. This could also prove to be a first step in the development of many such bilateral initiatives not only in India but also hopefully in China.
During the strategic dialogue, both sides expressed optimism about closing in on a Border Defense Cooperation Agreement (BDCA). It is logically certain that the dispute over boundary lines will continue to remain a daunting challenge in the foreseeable future.
Without any such agreement on the fundamental issue of territorial demarcation, the effectiveness of agreements like the BDCA can only be limited. The pending proposals from the Indian side on either a water commission or an inter-governmental dialogue on water issues related to the Brahmaputra River have reportedly not gained any traction.
China will not diverge from its argument that the existing Expert Level Mechanism on hydrological information sharing is sufficient to address water issues. This mechanism will be useful only in times of floods and does not address India's main concern of water diversion by China.
Though the issue will apparently be raised again when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits China, it remains doubtful as to how much China will shift from its unyielding stand on an issue of its vital concern like water.
Other major bilateral issues which were discussed include the enhancement of cultural and people to people interaction, as well as scientific and technological cooperation. Intensifying collaborations between technological as well as policy research centers in both the countries for solving common developmental problems offers a high potential for cooperation, and needs to be augmented.
There is a fundamental bottleneck situation at the communication and connectivity front - on which collaborative initiatives decisively rely on. The strategic dialogue covered not only the bilateral issues, but also the regional as well as global issues of mutual interest such as developing the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor, developing openness, inclusiveness and transparency in the Asia-Pacific architecture and future cooperation in BRICS.
Post-2014 peace and stability in Afghanistan, which was also discussed, presents an area of increasing convergence for both India and China despite an element of potential economic competition. This is vital due to Afghanistan's location near to the sensitive constituent Kashmir and Xinjiang regions of India and China respectively, as well as for pursuing their economic interests in the country.
Deterring Pakistan from further creating any damage to the nascent and fragile stability existing in Afghanistan is therefore a fundamental necessity. China, with its "all-weather friendship" with Pakistan will be the most effective instrument in influencing Pakistan in this regard. This will be beneficial for the enhancing the prospects for the fruitful engagement of both India and China with Afghanistan.
It is very much evident that the progress of India-China strategic engagement through such strategic dialogues and other bilateral mechanisms will not be without major hurdles. China's growing interest in deep economic and even defense ties with India comes at a time when China's military cooperation with Pakistan is still continuing despite Pakistan Army's cross-border infiltration and offensive actions against India.
These incidents, of late, have also been acting as a stumbling block for keeping the peace in South Asia through the India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue Process. If China wants India to open its doors of cooperation further and move away from the US strategy in Asia against China, it should also be willing to reciprocate by distancing from Pakistan militarily.
Now that the stakes in South Asia as a whole have increased for China as a result of it pursuing a strategic partnership with India, so has its responsibility to accommodate India's interests in ensuring peace and stability in the region. China's understanding of this reality will be key to overcoming the barriers for effectively advancing the bilateral mechanisms aimed at a closer strategic engagement between the two neighbors.
Will such strategic dialogue help India and China in ushering into a new era of friendliness and cordial atmosphere remains a question. The foreseeable future will be guided by mostly pragmatic approaches from both the sides. India and China together will have to lead the world affairs in the twenty first century. Undoubtedly, strategic dialogues help at least in building trust and erasing mutual suspicion on both sides.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Anand V is a PhD Candidate and Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University in Karnataka state, India.