Himalayan Dichotomy

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's been almost two decades since the western media (and investors) started taking a note of the two big emerging economies in Asia. China and India have now become the talking point at many global conferences and the western countries seem to slowly yield to these two countries more and more. The two giants of Asia are said to be marching on to new economic heights and on the way setting the "The New World Order". However, in the recent past the relations between these countries have worsened. Increased competition for global resources, a better share of the world power and increased economic capacity for military spending seems to have put China and India at loggerheads with each other. BBC even made a documentary which discussed the "race to the top of the world" between India and China. They even made it look like a race between the biggest "democracy" and the biggest "authoritarian regime" in the world.

It is quite clear that there is bound to be friction between India and China in the future as their economies demand a larger share of global resources. So far Chinese state-owned and sponsored companies have outdone the much smaller but for-profit, privately-owned Indian companies in the global energy sector.However, the bilateral trade between the two countries have blossomed. China became India's biggest trading partner in 2008 as it relegated the US to No.2 position. The Sino-Indian bilateral trade which stood at $1.9 bn in 1998, is now more than $50 bn in 2008. Impressive!

However, the border "dispute" between the two nations is the biggest obstacle to peace and co-operation between the two. Historically, there is no evidence of any border dispute between Tibet and British India or even the pre-British Hindustan. Also there is no evidence of a dispute between the (what Chinese call) Xinjiang (i.e. Uygur) province and India's northern state of Kashmir. However, after China occupied these provinces immediately after the "revolution" it has had laid claims to parts of India's territory. China has occupied an area 37,250 square kilometres which was part of the erstwhile Kingdom of Kashmir, which was subsequently acceded to India in 1948. The other dispute involves the Arunachal Pradesh of India which China claims as it own and it is called Southern Tibet by the Chinese. A brisk but bloody war was fought in 1962, after India discovered the National Highway built by the Chinese in Aksai Chin. The war resulted in a swift Chinese victory but ironically it did not alter the status quo. Their relations remained frosty and were worsened as China started siding with the "capitalist" countries starting in the Nixon era of the cold war.

Since 1980s, both these countries have seen each other as a threat to their dominance in Asia. India's "peaceful" atomic tests and the proliferation thereafter were primarily a response China's program (and NOT Pakistan's program, but Pakistanis are not convinced.) Although, China's foreign policy white papers do not regard India as a potential competitor, its continued help to shape Pakistan's nuclear program and delivery system (through N.Korea) are obviously targeting India by using Pakistan as a proxy.

What is even more interesting is that very recently, a "think-tank" in China came out with a report on how they can break-up India into 20-30 smaller states. China claims that this is NOT an OFFICIAL policy of the Chinese government but as we all know that there is no freedom of speech in China and that a think-tank could not have published such a report without prior approval of the officials. Also, the number of Chinese ncursions, as India calls it, along the ill-defined border in the Himalayas have increased significantly since 2006. Is it a result of just aggressive patrol? Right after the India- US civilian nuclear deal?

China and India both have several border disputes. India has border disputes with all of her neighbors except Bhutan - Pakistan (in Kashmir, need I say more), Sri Lanka (over an island), Bangladesh (over Boraibari, Meghalaya and Berubari, W. Bengal and several others), with Nepal (in Uttarakhand), with Maldives (over Minicoy Island; now resolved) .
China on the other hand has fought wars with India in 1962 over border dispute, with eartwhile Soviet Union in 1969. China also has disputes with South Korea (Baekdu Mountain and Socotra Rock) , with Bhutan ( over several enclaves which, China claims, are part of Tibet) with Phillipines ( Macclesfield Bank in South China Sea) , with Japan (over Okinotorishima.)
Interestingly the disputes with South Korea was started by the Chinese in 2006 and with Japan in 2004.

In light of these disputes involving India and China, the obvious question is whether the recent tensions between India and China, only a part of their quest for dominance in Asia? Consider the recently concluded deal between India and US, the turmoil in Pakistan which has put Pakistan on the back-foot, relieving India to address other security concerns and India's moon mission and other advancements, one wonders whether the China-India dispute is a real dispute or a "statement".


Chandrakant said...

Well there can be no doubt about the fact that the China-India dispute is real rather than a statement and its bound to escalate further as China tries to claim parts of India and continues to protest visits by the official of the Indian governments. A solution to this territorial warfare which India faces on all its border lies in bilateral talks (which don't bring about anything) or War (like the one in 1962 which is highly unlikely right now).

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