China and India:Looking Into the Future

Only by widening cooperation in improving people’s livelihood can they keep their relations on the right track and bolster strategic mutual trust.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held their second informal meeting on October 11-12 in the southern Indian city of Chennai.

During the meeting, Xi said China and India, as ancient civilizations with several thousand years of history, have carried on exchanges and mutual learning until the present. The two countries’ ancestors overcame various obstacles to carry out extensive exchanges and promote the development of literature, art, philosophy and religion, which have greatly benefited both sides.

Modi said China and India have become important emerging economies, stressing that enhancing exchanges and cooperation is of great significance to the two countries and will promote global progress and prosperity. The wisdom from the two countries’ ancient and profound civilizations can provide inspiration for solving various challenges facing the world today, the prime minister added.

Xi visited India five years ago shortly after Modi was first elected prime minister of India. This tradition was continued as Xi visited again after Modi’s second successful election bid this year. Both trips highlighted the importance of Sino-Indian ties.

Peace and friendship

In 2020, China and India will welcome the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. India was the first non-socialist country to establish ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Even before the founding of the PRC in 1949, the two countries supported each other in their struggle for independence from imperialist and colonial powers. Moreover, Sino-Indian ties made great headway after the normalization of bilateral ties in 1988 and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

Strategic trust

Border issues have been the biggest hurdle affecting Sino-Indian relations. Confrontations have repeatedly occurred in the border area.

Through negotiations, the two countries have made some progress on these issues in recent years and have reduced their military deployment in the area. The two sides have also established various long-term conflict resolution mechanisms and communication mechanisms for border personnel, which have contributed to maintaining peace and stability in the area. With such efforts, a border control and management mechanism has been formed and the two have gradually built some basic consensus.

Workers work in an industrial park of Haier group in Pune, India, Nov. 16, 2017. This is the first industrial park put into production by a Chinese appliance company in India

Another progressive step taken by the two countries is cooperation in the economic and trade areas. In 1990, the trade volume between China and India was only $170 million, but in 2000, the number climbed to $2.9 billion and surged to $95.5 billion in 2018. More importantly, trade and economic cooperation between China and India has consisted of more than just pure trade in goods. An increasing number of Chinese enterprises have gone to India to establish factories, and Chinese firms have built a large number of Indian infrastructure projects, which provide a strong potential for future and long-term cooperation.

After the Cold War, the simultaneous rise of China and India constituted the groundwork for today’s global landscape, which is undergoing major changes. Sino-Indian relations have transcended the bilateral scope and increasingly gained global influence. As Xi said during his visit to India in 2014, if China and India speak with one voice, the whole world will listen.

The two countries have more and more cooperation and interests that overlap on the global level. They maintain close communication and coordination in multilateral mechanisms including the UN, the World Trade Organization, BRICS, the SCO and the Group of 20. In areas like climate change, energy, food security, international financial institutional reform and global governance, they also share extensive common interests and cooperation opportunities.

However, with the increasing gap in national strength between China and India, the latter’s strategic concerns about China have deepened. For example, it worries about China’s economic cooperation with South Asian countries and Indian Ocean littoral countries. Thus, its attempts to “balance” China with external forces have become increasingly evident, a situation caused by a lack of mutual trust.

In today’s international situation, China and India should make efforts to avoid strategic competition in geopolitics and focus on economic development and improving people’s livelihood. To achieve this goal, India needs to strengthen its understanding of China’s independent foreign policy of peace.

Over the past several decades, hundreds of millions of people in China have moved out of poverty, but there is still a long way to go for nationwide prosperity. For example, in terms of per-capita GDP, China still ranks over 60th in the world. Based on this reality, Xi reiterated that China will work hard to achieve the Two Centenary Goals and realize the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the nation. India also faces the same arduous task of governing and developing its country.

Common ground

China and India share common interests in development issues such as disease prevention and control, food, environmental protection and sustainable development.

Only by widening cooperation in improving people’s livelihood can they keep their relations on the right track and bolster strategic mutual trust.

China’s historical experience in achieving an economic development miracle in the past 40 years could be enlightening for many countries in the world. India could draw from not only Chinese economic measures, but also China’s diplomatic practices. Since the adoption of the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s, China has implemented a diplomatic strategy that calls for keeping a low profile while getting something done, which has enabled it to focus on domestic economic growth and partly circumvent geopolitical competition among different powers.

Currently, competition among major powers has intensified, which has provided India with a strategic opportunity and also a strategic challenge. It is vital for India that the Modi administration adopts a wise strategy. Against today’s surging anti-globalization tide and increasing protectionism, India’s development is facing a more complicated external environment compared to the period of China’s economic takeoff.

As the countries with the biggest populations, only by joining hands and offering development opportunities to each other can China and India create benefits for their own people and be the impetus for creating new growth drivers for the Asian century.

The author is a researcher with the International Studies Institute of Fudan University in Shanghai