During the recent economic downturn, many have heralded the accelerated rise of the Asian giants — India and China — while others have expressed skepticism about the ascendancy of these non-Western powers.
At the same time, renewed fears of a Sino-Indian confrontation have surfaced, especially in the disputed Kashmir region. Kashmir is a lingering reminder of the painful partition that India and Pakistan experienced in 1947.
Luv Puri is a journalist who has reported on the Jammu and Kashmir conflict from both sides of the Line of Control for The Hindu newspaper. He comments on Sino-Indian border tensions.
China and India have often been portrayed as the major drivers of the future. Ties between the two Asian giants have deep historical roots, and in the recent economic meltdown each has proved its economic worth.
But quite apart from grand economic plans and new global alignments, a different reality is taking shape in both India and China (which are both nuclear-armed). The Chinese and Indian strategic communities are stoking fears about each other, which may hold back economic success by diverting state resources to perceived military threats.
Both countries have demonstrated their resilience and self-reliance. These two countries constitute the bulk of the increasingly powerful BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The BRIC heads of state met recently in Russia, indicating their rising ambition to leverage their enhanced economic clout and influence geopolitics.
But in May, India sent three army divisions — 60,000 soldiers — to its northeastern border with China. India is also strengthening its presence along the Chinese border, in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. Last November, India decided to reactivate an important air strip last used in the 1962 Indo-China war. Indian military officers described this as an attempt to “match” the Chinese.
In December 2007, Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony visited the Indo-China border and stated that he would “vigorously” pursue steps to develop the frontier areas. He said, “It is an eye-opener for me. There is no comparison between the two sides. Infrastructure on the Chinese side is far superior. They have gone far in developing their infrastructure.”
The Chinese swear that they have no evil designs against India, and that their policy is defined by the desire for peaceful co-existence. In Ladakh, Chinese officials stated that the main purpose of building a major road was to improve transport and communication within its territory, as the area connects the Chinese states of Tibet and Xinjiang. An editorial in the China-based “Global Times” stated:
India’s current course can only lead to a rivalry between the two countries. India needs to consider whether or not it can afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China.
China and India are still embroiled in the same boundary dispute that set off the war between the two countries in 1962. The two countries share a border of more than 2200 miles, but ever since the war, they have followed a policy of non-confrontation. High-level diplomatic ties were restored with Indian Prime Minister’s Rajiv Gandhi visit to China in 1988.
However, other thorny issues between the two countries remain intractable. China claims ownership over the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and refers to the area as part of south Tibet. While India describes Arunachal as integral to its territorial sovereignty, China rationalizes its claim by emphasizing the Sino-Tibetan ethnic origins of the people there.
The Sino-Indian Joint Working Group (JWG) was formed in 2003 to resolve the various issues relating to the border disputes, but little progress has been seen.
Trade between the two countries has increased exponentially over the years. Last year, trade grew by 33 percent. But if the Asian economic miracle is truly going to materialize, the two countries will have to manage their border disputes and geo-strategic insecurities.
– Luv Puri