China and India should welcome a growing focus on business as usual
K. S. Venkatachalam says India-China relations are at a high point, with leaders in both countries taking a pragmatic approach to advance trade
Comparisons between India and China have become inevitable as both develop. Since Narendra Modi was elected India’s prime minister, as part of his “Look East” policy, he has visited neighbouring countries, including China. There’s a growing realisation in India that its development rests on having peaceful borders with China, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
China, for its part, has agreed to invest in India and help in infrastructure projects. However, China’s reluctance to support India’s membership at the UN Security Council has not gone down well, while China’s expansion in the South China Sea is viewed with concern.
It is in this context that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to India assumes importance. In an effort to counterbalance China, Japan has agreed to assist India in civil nuclear energy to help mitigate India’s power shortfalls, among other deals. On its part, India has pledged support to Japan in its efforts to ensure free navigation in the South China Sea.
This should not be seen as an affront to China, as Modi has taken effective steps to promote trade and commerce with China. Further, India will not fall into the trap of joining the US-Japan axis, as such a move would harm its interests in the long run; India’s needs good relations with all neighbours to ensure economic development.
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Despite the geopolitical tensions between India and China, which can be attributed to their contentious border dispute, the overarching challenge is to explore ways to overcome the trust deficit. The only way to engage with one another is by collaborating on trade and business, and leaving the border issue temporarily on the back-burner. Once a better understanding is developed, a spirit of accommodation will help resolve this issue.
This is a great opportunity for both countries to collaborate for the common good. China can help India to build infrastructure and set up manufacturing facilities, where China has considerable expertise. India, meanwhile, can help China in software development, pharmaceuticals, and services.
The two nations have begun several trade initiatives. Further, New Delhi should remove visa restrictions for Chinese workers wanting to go to India.
This is a watershed moment in bilateral relations. In the coming years, there will be more opportunities to forge closer cooperation. Beijing and New Delhi should make every effort to settle their disputes expeditiously. There is every hope that the mature leadership of Xi Jinping (習近平) and Modi will take bilateral relations to new heights.
K. S. Venkatachalam is an independent columnist and political commentator