The festering border dispute, China’s close ties with Pakistan, the Tibetan factor, the yawning trade deficit, the notion that India could gang up against China with US and Japan, and the perceived lack of mutual trust between the two countries: the problems between India and China are worrying. But academics and foreign policy experts both in China and abroad broadly believe that with two strong, decisive leaders at the helm, President Xi Jinping’s upcoming tryst with India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi could herald a new, if tentative, beginning.
Broadly, the academics and China watchers told HT that both countries should be pragmatic in dealing with differences – especially the border dispute -- and be positive in charting the way ahead.
Not everyone is gung-ho though.
“Despite the rhetoric that we'll hear about a new era in China-India relations, Prime Minister Modi seems equally interested in deepening relations with other countries in the region, including Japan and Australia. This will put natural limits on the extent of China-India cooperation, particularly on political and security issues in East Asia,” Ely Ratner China expert at the Washington-based Centre for a New American Security said.
So, how much a factor is the “all-weather friendship” between China and Pakistan is shaping Sino-Indian ties?
“I remember that during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit last year, the joint statement mentioned that both countries would take a positive view toward the other to develop constructive relations with any third country. China has to develop good relations with Indian neighbors since they are all China’s neighbours too. But of course not at the cost of others and good relations between China and Pakistan could enable China to have some leverage in encouraging good relations between India and Pakistan,” Hu Shisheng, a leading South Asia expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said.
Andrew Small, who follows Chinese foreign policy in South Asia among other issues for the Washington-based German Marshall Fund, does not agree.
“But Pakistan has always been different (compared to other South Asian countries) given the significant military and security component to the relationship. Sino-Indian ties are always going to have certain limits as long as the India-Pakistan relationship remains as it is and China’s backing to the Pakistani military persists,” he said.
But experts were more hopeful that both countries will be pragmatic in dealing with the border dispute and not allow it hold hostage the rest of the bilateral components in the relationship.
“There are areas of the bilateral relationship where there is real scope for progress but Xi has been very clear in signaling his tough stance on territorial disputes – a more realistic expectation is to manage territorial issues and elements of strategic competition between the two sides effectively and pragmatically, rather than hope to resolve them,” Small.
Lan Jianxue from the China Institute of International Studies, a leading Beijing-based think-tank, agreed.
“It is a very complicated issue. Everybody agrees. But it is an issue that cannot be allowed to define the entire range of issues comprising the bilateral relations,” Lan said, adding that the two leaders have the opportunity to create a favourable atmosphere and leave it to the professionals to handle it.