India and China Should Come Together to Realize “Dragon-Elephant Tango”
China and India, the two largest developing countries and emerging economies, should seek common ground for development while resolving pending issues through dialogue to realize the goal of ‘Dragon-Elephant Tango’ and make this century the ‘Asian Century’.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Goa, India, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting on May 4. Just a week ago, Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Li Shangfu had a meeting with Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh in the SCO Defense Ministers’ Meeting in New Delhi, India.
Apparently, these two meetings by top diplomats and defense ministers between India and China are conducive to mend their stained and frigid ties since the border conflict in 2020. Through the meetings, both sides have released signals to continue easing tensions in border areas and manage the disputes in the bilateral relations between the two most populous countries.
During the meeting with his counterpart, Qin Gang called for joint efforts with India to bring bilateral relations back on the track of stable and sound development, noting that the two most populous developing countries are both at a crucial stage of modernization.
Li Shangfu said that the two sides should put the boundary issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations and work for the regular management of border areas at an early date.
The Indian ministers also responded to their Chinese counterparts with noting the importance of seeking peace and stability in the border areas with China through dialogue and consultation.
China and India, two close neighboring countries, have been at loggerheads since the clash between the front-line troops of the two countries in the Galwan Valley region near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on June 15, 2020.
It should be noted that the 3,488-kilometer length of the LAC along the India-China border has long remained a sore spot between the two nations due to their perceptional differences in where the border lies. As in the words of Alyssa Ayres, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, “China and India have differing ideas of where it should be located, leading to regular border transgressions.”
Mutual responsibility for settling border disputes
The continuing border disputes do not serve the common interests of both countries. Accordingly, right after the Galwan Valley clash, China and India are diplomatically and militarily trying to address the border frictions, keeping their interests as a priority. The China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting entered the 18th round on April 23, 2023, which was held at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on the Chinese side of the LAC.
The 18th round meeting of the Senior Commanders of both sides was an effort to resolve the three-year-old military standoff along the western section of the India-China border following counter-accusations of trespass since April 2020. A statement issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on April 24 stated that the two sides had a frank and in-depth discussion on the resolution of the relevant issues along the LAC in the Western sector, which will enable progress in bilateral relations.
The bright part of the statement of the 18th round meeting is that “the two sides agreed to stay in close contact and maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and work out a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest”, according to Indian MEA. More importantly, the 18th round of the India-China military talks was quite significant before the visit of the Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense General Li Shangfu to the Indian capital New Delhi on April 27-28.
Ministerial meetings renew optimism in Sino-Indian ties
Under its rotating presidency, India will host this year’s SCO summit and G20 summit, which offers an opportunity for Indian and Chinese leaders to meet. The two SCO ministerial meetings are necessary steps to a successful leaders’ summit.
During the first in-person meeting between Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart Minister Li Shangfu, they discussed the lingering border situation and exchanged views on relations between the two countries and their militaries. Li Shangfu said, “Common interest between China and India prevails over discrepancies, thus both sides should view bilateral ties and their development in a comprehensive, long-term and strategic way” and “border issue should be properly managed within bilateral ties.”
Meanwhile, Indian Defense Minister Singh underlined the centrality of the resolution of the border row for the improvement in India-China ties.
Judging the two ministers’ remarks, it can be said that both sides must respect boundary treaties and agreements already in place between the Chinese and Indian governments. Being two vital members of the SCO as well as two major developing countries, both India and China should stick to the principle of co-existence, help each other and share weal and woe, to share the benefits of defense and security cooperation.
The strong welcome to China’s foreign and defense ministers signaled that India’s highest leadership is also willing to reset an amicable Indian-Chinese relationship.
China’s foreign and defense minister’s India visit was of profound significance as India is hosting the annual SCO Leaders’ Summit in July and the G20 Leaders’ Summit in September. India sincerely expects President Xi Jinping’s attendance at the two key summits under its presidency. If any bilateral meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Modi does take place on the sidelines of the two Summits, surely it will provide top leaders of both countries with opportunities to pave the way for the much-needed improvement of bilateral relations. The Sino-Indian relationship is of vital importance for regional stability amid this volatile international atmosphere.
Border situation shouldn’t affect the socio-economic fields
Economic ties, the prime driver of good Sino-Indian relations, have not escaped trouble either. The Modi government reinvested in the Quad – a group that includes the U.S., Australia and Japan in order to position “New India” for future great power status. Highlighting the brawl in the Galwan Valley, many Indian political analysts opined that India “should join with other countries to limit China’s influence” on the global stage.
In the last three years, the Indian government imposed a range of economic measures against Chinese firms and banned a set of mobile apps linked to China, citing so-called security concerns. Media coverage about the India-China relationship also gets quite heated, creating airs of nationalism that have swayed other judgments among common people of both countries.
However, despite the trouble in political relations, India’s bilateral trade with China touched an all-time high of $135.98 billion in 2022, Chinese Customs data showed on January 13, 2023. Although there is a trade deficit, India’s import of equipment and materials from China does reduce the overall cost of “Made in India” products, benefiting Indian downstream industries and consumers. Moreover, Chinese goods have also helped keep prices low in the Indian market, thereby helping the Indian poor. There is no doubt that Chinese products have not only lowered India’s inflation rate but also met the daily needs of ordinary people, especially the low-income ones, and greatly improved their quality of life.
It needs to be acknowledged that Chinese investment matters a lot to India’s “Make in India” programme that has created a large number of jobs for the Indian people and contributed to India’s economic development. The Modi administration needs to take a look at the facts without brooding over fraught border issues: China is India’s second biggest trading partner after the U.S., a critical source of support for India’s fledgling tech firms, and fourth largest export market.
Observing the raids at Chinese smartphone companies including Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo and other China-backed companies by India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED) for money laundering investigation in the recent past, Ms. Ma Jia, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim of Chinese Embassy in India, wrote on March 16, 2023: “We hope that the Indian side could provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies with their investment and operations in India.”
The need for the revival of India-China friendship
“Unless China and India are developed, there will be no Asian century. No genuine Asia-Pacific century or Asian century can come until China, India and other neighboring countries are developed,” these were the famous words of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1988. There is no dispute that the development and resurgence of India and China is an enhancement of the power of developing countries, which will change the fate of one-third of the world’s population, the future of Asia and the world.
China and India, the two largest developing countries and emerging economies, should seek common ground for development while resolving pending issues through dialogue to realize the goal of “Dragon-Elephant Tango” and make this century the “Asian Century”.
The article reflects the author’s opinions, and not necessarily the views of China Focus.