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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Chindia: Cooperate, compete or confront

June 22, 2008

The Peninsula (Qatar)
June 19, 2008

TWO GREAT civilisations with different post-colonial development
models, different social as well as political setups, different
oriental attributes, and most importantly, different economies that
together account for more than a third of the world's population –
China and India (Chindia) – are not only consolidating their place in
Asia, but also making their presence felt on the global stage.

As the competition grows for energy and raw materials to feed their
rising economies -- as seen in both wooing Africa – and their naval
presence intensifies to protect the supply routes in the Indian
Ocean, the discourse on a potential Indo-Sino rivalry in the future
is gaining pace.

While Beijing is developing strategic port facilities in India's
neighbourhood of Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, New Delhi has
taken the lead in hosting the first Indian Ocean Naval Symposium to
encourage strategic cooperation among the countries in the Indian Ocean Region.

Though their bilateral relations have steadily improved, the history
of war in 1962, unresolved border disputes, economic competition, the
Beijing-Islamabad proximity, and the presence of the Dalai Lama and
Tibetan refugees in India – keep the relations on tenterhooks.

In spite of the challenges, it is important to stop viewing the
developments in mere India-versus-China terms and take an optimistic
India-plus-China approach that guarantees a win-win situation. As the
global economic balance shifts toward Asia, Chindia could engage in
cooperative as well as competitive, and not necessarily
confrontational engagement.

Given the state of infrastructure in India and the realisation about
its linkage with growth, China's success is acting as a catalyst for
change in India. In the prevailing mood of competition, the Indian
leadership has said: "We want to catch up with China," but doing so
requires "greater political consensus" on reforms, which is an
internal dilemma, without China in the picture.

While it is fashionable among common Indians to believe that Chindia
are engaged in a developmental race, New Delhi has reinforced that
China's rise is an opportunity rather than a threat to India. It has
clearly stated that Indians would do well to stop racing with the
Chinese and start admiring – "We are not in a race ... They have
already won the race."

In the foreign policy realm too, "China is a model for India in how
to operate in the new world order and deal with the United States."
Analysts argue that India's new foreign policy diluting non-alignment
is influenced by China's realism. Further, the 'look East' policy
could also be a result of the "concern that a rising China might
economically and politically isolate India from Southeast Asia."

Energy has been the prime reason for competition in recent years, but
has also witnessed cooperation. Chindia are the world's fastest
growing energy consumers, with China and India importing about 40
percent and 70 percent of their needs respectively. They have signed
numerous pacts in the hydrocarbon sector, most notably the 2006
"Memorandum for Enhancing Cooperation in the Field of Oil and Natural Gas".

Yet, India has lost out to China in $10bn of auctions for energy
assets, among others, in Kazakhstan, Myanmar, as well as parts of
Africa. At the same time, however, the two countries partnered
successfully in Syria in 2005.

 From about $1bn in 1995, Chindia's annual bilateral trade inched
towards $20bn in little more than a decade. The two have pledged to
double it by 2010 by signing agreements on science, space
exploration, agriculture, education, tourism, nuclear energy, among
others. China is already India's leading trade partner in the region
and is expected to replace the United States as the top trade partner
in a few years.

Since 2003, there has been a steady progress in security cooperation
too. Starting with joint naval exercises, an agreement in 2004
facilitated exchanging military exercise observers; the following
year, Chindia announced a deal to convert "bilateral engagements into
a long-term and strategic relationship," pledging to resolve
long-standing border disputes and boost trade and economic cooperation.

More recently, the two armies conducted their first-ever joint
anti-terrorism military training exercise in China. Aptly termed
'Hand-in-Hand 2007', the drill was aimed at deterring the "three evil
forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and promote the
development of a bilateral strategic partnership."

Yes, there are problems between Asia's "dragon" and "elephant," but
they exist between India and Pakistan as well. In fact, the Indo-Pak
dimension was, is and will remain more complicated than Indo-Sino
relations can ever get. Yet, if India and Pakistan can stave off
confrontation through efforts to cooperate, amid limited competition,
then why not Chindia?

Again, unlike the Iran-Israel relationship, where ideology determines
geostrategic interests, there are few or no ideological factors
remaining to deter Indo-Sino ties, leaving them to just worry about
geostrategic interests.

Singaporean ex-diplomat and academic Kishore Mahbubani attributes the
lack of regional conflict despite Chindia's simultaneous emergence to
Asia's geopolitical competence -- being innovative and creating new
patterns of cooperation not witnessed by the West.

Thus, while competition is inevitable, there is nothing stopping the
two countries with "oversized egos" from cooperating and avoiding
veering off towards confrontation.

Both countries have extremely good ties with the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) countries, Iran and Israel. Apart from intensifying
economic ties, Chindia can serve as the honest peace brokers between
the capitals of the GCC countries on one side, as well as Tehran and
Tel Aviv on the other.

The future of Chindia ties will, no doubt, be greatly influenced by
the United States. While Washington would desire "a unipolar world
and a multipolar Asia, China would prefer a multipolar world and a
China-centric unipolar Asia." On the other hand, India -- which is
growing closer to the United States and which Washington wants to use
to counter Beijing -- "would like to see a multipolar world and a
multipolar Asia," thereby intensifying Beijing-New Delhi competition.

If the 21st century has to truly be Asia's, Chindia ties have to be
based on the development and security of the two countries and their
people, as well as playing a constructive role in world affairs.

(Dr N Janardhan is a UAE-based expert on Gulf-Asia affairs.)
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