Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Making China-India peace eternal

By Avinash Godbole (China Daily) Updated: 2011-12-14 07:56

One need not be a political science expert to understand that despite the wishes of the leader of China and India, Sino-Indian relations are vulnerable to a lot of internal and external factors. Therefore, the leaders need to make every effort to strengthen them.

But as the recent past has shown, every upward swing in bilateral relations has been offset by something that has threatened to divert the relations in a negative direction.

That's why the bilateral defense dialogue held on Friday - the highest-level military dialogue since January 2010 - is an especially welcome step. It shows the willingness of the two countries' leaders to maintain a positive momentum. It is hoped that the defense dialogue leads to the resumption of the joint military exercises as soon as possible, because India and China have held only two such drills so far - in Kunming in 2007 and in Belgaum, India, in late 2008.

Joint military exercises can do wonders in improving bilateral relations. They help in tactical understanding of how another actor is likely to behave in a situation of stress, so their signaling and postures are less likely to be misinterpreted.

The latest defense dialogue assumes importance because it followed recent developments that were less than pleasant. The talks between the special representatives on the border issue was the only mechanism that had sustained other strains of the bilateral ties and it was hoped that that mechanism would help develop a commonly accepted mechanism on settling the border issue in a time-bound manner.

But its recent postponement without a decision on a firm date does not augur well for the improvement of bilateral relations. Sino-Indian relations are important not just in the bilateral context but in the changing regional and global contexts as well.

As the 21st century continues to unfold, it is clear that China and India are going to be its strongest pillars. They will also be the guiding forces behind the "Asian Century". The way they carry over their identities as rising powers vis-a-vis each other is going to determine how the other countries of Asia will perceive them in the future.

In this context, the recent announcement by Indian navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma of increasing the contact point between the two navies is also a welcome and much-needed step. Just as the defense dialogue is a step toward increasing the points of dialogue between the two countries, service level communications are important for ensuring that one is not threatened by the activities of the other, especially when both the navies are expanding.

On the other hand, with issues like rising piracy threatening the trade and navigational interests of both countries, hotlines and other maritime cooperation measures, too, could help institutionalize cooperative mechanisms in future.

So how to handle differences? Any news that suggests any form of compromise with national security sells the quickest. It is not the fault of any one sector but that's the way it is. Issues relating to national sovereignty get the maximum media coverage and that is as true of India as of any other place in the world, including China.

In this context, it is unfair to blame the media every time for souring the relationship. In addition, the media would speculate only to the extent to which they do not get accurate information. Therefore, the defense dialogue's paramount objective should be to achieve transparency. To achieve transparency, China and India both have to identify and adhere to bilateral and global norms of good conduct.

Both countries have suffered colonial excesses in the past. Therefore, questions of sovereignty assume dramatic proportion in no time. When the top defense officials sat across a table to discuss issues of mutual interest and concern, one of the principle assumptions was that as dialogue partners, they would not undertake any activity that would undermine each other's territorial sovereignty.

As the global footprints of India and China continue to rise, they need to expand their accommodative approach toward each other, sometimes by discussing mutual interests and at other times by ignoring the rhetoric that is expressed by hardliners, primarily because the core leadership in both the countries sees the benefits of sustained engagement.

Therefore, taking sustainable peace forward should not be difficult for the architects of the 21st century.

The author is a research scholar at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and doctoral scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

(China Daily 12/14/2011 page9)

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