Can China and India regain their footing as brotherly neighbours?
Cary Huang says the shared experiences of the two Asian giants, once the basis for fraternal warmth, are being sorely tested now as they compete to be the true Asian power on the global stage
China and India have a lot in common, more than most others in the world. These Asian neighbours are the world’s two most populous countries, and both are ancient civilisations which date back some 5,000 years. They share a common religion in Buddhism, which spread to China from India some 2,000 years ago. They have strong cultural bonds, with similar values and traditions.
The two also resemble each other in their modern development: both suffered foreign invasions and colonial rule, and only attained full nationhood in the late 1940s.
Due to their shared destiny, the two new nations forged ties in the spirit of brotherhood (“Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai”). India was among the first to recognise the communist state – the People’s Republic of China – as the legitimate Chinese government, switching its diplomatic recognition from the Taiwan-based Republic of China. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first non-communist head of government to visit China in 1954, where he and Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai jointly advocated the “Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence”, which later became one of the most widely accepted post-war diplomatic doctrines.
Today, as the world’s two largest developing nations and major emerging economies, they share an aspiration for the restructuring of the global order, which has long been dominated by US-led Bretton Woods institutions. More recently, they joined hands to champion economic globalisation amid rising trade protectionism in the West, in their capacity not just as members of BRICS and the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, but also as G20 leaders.
But their similarities have also nurtured rivalry, and both giants are now competing to emerge as the true Asian power on the global stage.
As China and India found themselves in the middle of yet another military stand-off recently, their age-old border problems and deep strategic suspicion is back on the boil despite their much wider and deeper engagement in recent decades. Their rivalry for regional and global influence has intensified, with discord in issues including border disputes, Tibet, trade, military and geopolitics.
Both nuclear-armed military forces are modernising their power-projection capabilities, with plans to build the world’s most powerful blue-water fleets, including a fleet of aircraft carriers second only to the US.
From New Delhi’s perspective, an increasingly assertive China with its formidable naval presence in the East and South China seas and the Indian Ocean is a major security threat. India is also upset by Beijing’s blockade of New Delhi’s quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. India sees China’s “all-weather” friendship with Pakistan, growing influence in Nepal and Bangladesh, and the planned China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as glaring indicators of China’s intentions of encircling India.
Meanwhile, Beijing sees New Delhi’s increasing engagement with the US and Japan as a sign of India’s hostile attitude towards communist China. Beijing is upset by India’s disapproval of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, New Delhi’s increasing role in Southeast Asia, particularly its joint call with the US for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which Beijing sees as an affront to its sovereignty.
Geographically, the Himalayas that separate the two nations have not impeded exchanges between the two peoples for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the natural barrier has also proved useless in shoring up their sense of security.
Cary Huang is a senior writer at the Post