Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Expanding China-India cooperation

By Naren Chitty (China Daily) Updated: 2011-09-28 08:05

India and China are neighboring ancient civilizations, which have exchanged people, goods and ideas over time. If mutual attraction for each other's deep philosophical values and culture, evident in their engagement with Buddhism, draws them together, geopolitics draws them apart. But the concept of harmony, the heart of Buddhism and Confucianism both, is the quintessence of both civilizations.

Today, India emphasizes the harmony of its union of states, marked by linguistic groups of incredible diversity. These groups are held together by the bonds of political pluralism, and its tourism slogan, "Incredible India", captures its demographic and democratic diversity.

China's emphasis is on a more cohesive genre of political order that values an unruffled harmony, which delivers prosperity efficiently. The projection of China to the world through the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games effectively delivered this message.

The two countries have quarrelled over their borders and even fought a war. In the 21st century, the heady mixture of huge populations and rapid industrialization has lifted China and India to new heights. But emerging powers have a propensity to compete strategically, so they need to be careful about nursing their quarrels.

It is a truism that competition engenders enemy images in the minds of competitors. Such reciprocal enemy imagery can be a tinderbox for rival power aspirants. While economic competition is to be encouraged, enemy imagery must be discouraged.

Certainly neighbors and partners of the two countries, like Australia, would like to see a healthy quantum of cooperation that outweighs the kind of competition that could lead to conflict.

Cooperation has an opposite effect on reciprocal images. It encourages positive images in the minds and media of the cooperating countries. The spilling over of positive images encourages cooperation in other areas, and the expanding spill dampens the tinderbox to create a mutually beneficial situation.

At the end of last year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao resolved in New Delhi to settle their border disputes. Their joint statement said: "There is enough space in the world for the development of both India and China, and indeed enough areas for India and China to cooperate." They agreed to cooperate in uprooting terrorists' finance networks in the region and sharing of the waters of the Brahmaputra River (Yarlung Zangbo River).

Australian security studies have shown that while China and India cooperate in security, diplomatic and economic spheres, their cooperation level in the first two is not high and in the second is unbalanced. While the frame of security analysis is important, it needs to be supplemented with the frame of communication and the advocacy of cooperation.

Australia, understandably, wants to see increased cooperation between China and India. In fact, Australia could play a role in facilitating cooperation between the two countries by allowing its high levels of development in science, technology, industry, education and media to play an important role.

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