As long as the Cold War persisted, India was in touch with fellow Non-Aligned countries and that included countries both in the Far East and the Middle East. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Non-Aligned movement lost its edge and tended to be forgotten, Besides, countries in the Far East did not seem particularly inviting. The tendency was to ask: What have they got to offer? This trend was sharply reversed with the ascension of PV Narasimha Rao to the Prime Ministership of India.
It was Rao who woke up India from its slumber and made Eastward Look a fulcrum of India’s Foreign Policy. At that point in time China, too, had begun to take the road to economic and political stardom with a vengeance on its way to Super Powerhood, China was leaving no stone unturned. Simultaneously it wanted to show its political muscle. It had to take on India which too, had woken up to the fact that it, too, was capable for making its mark as a rising economic entity. Liberalisation of the economy, beginning 1992 under the joint direction of Narasimha Rao and his then Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, had set the ball rolling. The result has been truly amazing. India has become the international hub for global service industries. Its IT and outsourcing exports now amount to over $ 40 billion.
By 2030, as Sri Lanka’s former Prime Minister Ranil Wichremesinghe recently noted, not only will India become the world’s third largest economy, it will also be the world’s fastest – growing major economy. That should explain why, in the bare space of three months Delhi has hosted the Prime Ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Russia and, of course, the President of the United States. And in the weeks to come we may expect many other heads of government to call on Delhi as well. But all, apparently is not well. China, for example, is charged with attempting to “encircle” India by building close relations with its smaller South Asian neighbours like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma. This “string of pearls” thesis is based on the theory that China apparently wants to be able to frighten India into submission, should there ever be a clash of fundamental interests between itself and India, or India becomes a strategic partner with the US to China’s detrement.
It is a well-known fact that many of China’s own neighbours from Japan and South Korea to Vietnam have, in recent months, appeared to seek closer ties militarily with the US amid riding territorial tensions in South China Sea. China, as is well known, has in the past attempted to cultivate friendship with Burma, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka through financial and military assistance. China insists that this has nothing to do with so-called plans for “encirclement” of India and is just in the nature of things.
India has become too worldly-wise to accept this explanation at face value which will explain the separate visits of President Pratibha Patil and Dr Manmohan Singh to countries such as South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the Far East. Actually, in the past few months there have been many high level official and military interactions between India and Japan, South Korea, Malayasia, Vietnam, Burma, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. That must have sent its own message to Beijing. Indeed, prior to Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Delhi, China’s assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue told the press that Beijing’s cooperation with India has nothing to do with Delhi’s growing relations with the US and that China’s deepening relations with India are a ‘natural outcome’, which it would like to see further strengthened. That may well be true, but considering that many of China’s neighbours have, in recent months, appeared to seek closer military alliances with the US, it is obvious that Beijing is coming to realise that it has to tread softly. Besides, it would be foolish on China’s part to appear aggressive, considering the warmth in which India has been received in ASEAN countries.
Such is the warmth, that Indo-ASEAN trade which in 1993 was a mere $ 2.5 billion is now estimated to cross $45 billion in 2010-11. It would be a very foolish China to turn offensive against India. We are living in an increasingly interdependent world.
To deliberately seek confrontation with India will not only hurt China’s economic interests – India’s trade with China is the largest in the world – but Beijing will become more and more suspect among its neighbours. To make peace with India can be a win-win situation for China, only it must be told clearly that it cannot be a one-way street. India turns out to have a huge trade deficit, estimated to be $ 19.2 billion with China that is unsustainable. Importantly, much of India’s export to China are mineral ores. For India to sell unredeemable ore to China is, to say the least, criminal and self-destructive. It is like selling our wealth. The export of ores to China must be stopped forthwith, even if that means that bilateral trade expected to rise to $ 60 billion takes a downward turn. The Chinese seem to understand that. As China’s Ambassador to India Zhang Yan put it: “We are ready to work with countries concerned to minimise the trade imbalance, because we know that in the long run, a big gap in trade is not healthy and sustainable”. As it is, Indian and Chinese firms have signed as many as 48 business deals worth billions of dollars. That one deal signifying export of ores worth $330 million signed between Vedanta and a Chinese company is not a happy augury. Such sales must be stopped, in India’s larger interests.
But the fact that some 400 strong Chinese business delegation has come to India is hopefully an indication of better things to come. Trading partners don’t plan war. When Jiabao was asked at an interactive session with students why can’t India and China be friends, his answer was: “Who says they are not?” But that must be followed by deeds as in the case of India’s border dispute with China, China’s claims to Arunachal, its reluctance to accept that Jammu & Kashmir is part of India, etc. Were India and China to come to terms and seek to work together to build a better world, Buddha in heaven would surely smile. Jiabao’s statement that India and China are “partners for cooperation and not rivals in competition” must be shown in action. As the saying goes, fine words butter no parsnips. Goodness knows that India wants peace, but peace is a two-way street and can be gained, as Jaibao rightly said, through cooperation and compromise, not through everyday confrontation. Against this background one can only say that the Sino-India Joint Statement is a tremendous disappointment. It fails to address all important issues in Sino-Indian relations.