Shape the future now | india | Hindustan Times
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Shape the future now

India and China are too large and too focused on their still gargantuan socio-economic problems to want to get in each other’s strategic hair. Yet, it is questionable if they will ever be comfortable as a geopolitical pairing.

india Updated: Apr 09, 2010 22:35 IST

India and China are too large and too focused on their still gargantuan socio-economic problems to want to get in each other’s strategic hair. Yet, it is questionable if they will ever be comfortable as a geopolitical pairing. The domestic political orders of the two countries are radically different. Their economies are like chalk and cheese. Beijing is wedded to the sort of hard-nosed realpolitik foreign policy that New Delhi hopes to transcend. Only so much accommodation can be made between countries who share both leadership aspirations and a continent. Nonetheless, the relationship has less about it that is overtly hostile than the noise of the past year would indicate.

New Delhi’s renewed engagement with Beijing seems to have two parts. One is to try and clarify a relationship that increasingly muddied with legacy issues, territorial confusion, mutual ignorance and an assumption of rivalry. Beijing is prone to defining its foreign policy concerns in stark and simple terms. India has a reputation for blurring lines between countries. The other is to persuade China to consider the possibility that the rise of both Asian giants is mutually beneficial. Beijing takes economics seriously and has tended to discount the much smaller Indian economy. There is a greater respect for India’s accomplishments today. Which is why the recommendation that the two can ‘leverage each other’s strengths’ may today receive a receptive ear. There is a need to go beyond talk about how service-driven India complements manufacturing-centred China. It is about tackling Chinese non-tariff barriers to Indian goods. It is about dismantling the barriers India puts up in the form of worker visas and obstacles in the way of Chinese investment.

The recent cyberspying on Indian security installations that almost certainly originated from China — a phenomenon reported by many other countries — is a reminder that Beijing is not a government moved by nostalgia or empathy. It will not dilute its Pakistani bond. It will scream and shout about Taiwan and Tibet. But it is a rational calculator of self-interest. India has an opportunity to make a case to China that bilateral relations are not a zero-sum equation, that they can both achieve their national goals if crossing the Himalayas is a less volatile business. For two ancient civilisations, there is something strangely embryonic about the relationship — which is why it can be shaped into something constructive if the two countries wish to do so.