China, India embrace signals bright prospects

By Mukesh Sharma Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/16 15:28:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

To some observers, the India-China bonhomie may come as a surprise premised as it is on a rocky bed of an adversarial connection. However, recent geopolitical dynamics in the Western hemisphere have created an atmosphere of cohesion between the neighbors often seen as competitors. Led by a trade war waged by the US on China, Beijing's relationship with Washington has dived to new lows. Trump's decision to impose tariffs on Chinese imports set the cat among the pigeons in the trade world and the two largest economies seemingly went on a collision course. The US has almost declared China an enemy in its national defense strategy by calling it a strategic competitor. 

With frayed China-US ties getting close to a tearing point, the neighbors have found coming closer can lead to unprecedented synergies benefiting relations. The keenness to come closer hasn't been hurt by the not-so-old bitterness over Doklam — the border standoff in 2017 — that created significant bilateral strains. The nations had earlier expressed willingness to mend fences as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan last year. 

How will the turnaround in China-India ties affect politics in South Asia and New Delhi's complex relationship with Washington? Undoubtedly, the region is going to see ripples if not waves what with India and China agreeing to start a major round of cooperation in areas as disparate as films and academics. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's recent visit to India gave fillip to relations. The chemistry between Wang and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was only an extension of the willingness of the two powers to join hands for the benefit of a third of humanity that they house between themselves. 

How will Pakistan, a strategic partner of China, look at the growing camaraderie between New Delhi and Beijing? With Prime Minister Imran Khan freshly at the helm of affairs in Islamabad, Pakistan will surely factor in the dynamics in its diplomacy with the next-door neighbors. Pakistan is a close ally of the US, and recently India has been seen to be pivoting to Washington. New Delhi will have to tread softly as it can't afford to displease the US at a sensitive moment when China-US ties have cratered and a mercurial president in the White House is prone to gaffes, off the cuff remarks and even reckless actions. 

India's warming ties with China will not only be a test of the neighbors to overlook differences and forge ahead, it will also judge the mettle of the two major powers to navigate the cross currents that are likely to come their way. 

If Washington casts a wary eye on deepening China-India ties and alludes to New Delhi to step back, India is unlikely to buckle under US pressure. The US needs India as a major power in South Asia and it would be unwise of Washington to alienate another major country after its relations with China are going downhill. 

There is more to reap if the two major powers are able to maintain the embrace they seem to be in. There will be detractors and naysayers but the time has come for a third of humanity to fend off challenges against a united existence. A wise man said: Never try to go back and repair the past which is impossible. But be prepared to construct the future which is possible.

The embrace between Wang and Swaraj may have been for the cameras but the "dragon and elephant should be involved in a duet and not duel."

The author is an editor with the Global Times.


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