Is India sincere in wanting to accommodate China for an ‘Asian Century?’
Published: Sep 22, 2022 06:39 PM
China India Photo:CFP

China India Photo:CFP

S. Jaishankar, India's minister of external affairs, said, when he attended an event at Columbia University on Wednesday, that it is in the mutual interests of both India and China to find a way to accommodate each other because if they failed to do so, it would affect the rise of Asia. Jaishankar is currently in the US to attend the annual UN General Assembly session.

In fact, this is not the first time Jaishankar talked about the significance of China and India joining hands for the rise of Asia. During his visit to Thailand in August, he emphasized the term "Asian Century" and stressed the need for greater cooperation between the two neighbors. He pointed out that the Asian Century will be difficult to come about if India and China could not come together. 

Noticeably, the connotation of the so-called Asian Century, as understood by Indians, is not quite the same as that understood by the Chinese. The expression "Asian Century" was actually coined by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1988when he met with then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Deng pointed out that no genuine Asian Century can come until China, India and other neighboring countries are developed. 

However, Jaishankar's Asian Century is actually a great power strategy that serves India. The Asian century that India envisions is a multipolar Asian world, of which India is the most important pole and in which India can play a leading role. The Indian side has repeatedly used the Asian Century in this regard. To a certain extent, it is using the concept of the so-called Asian century to put pressure on China, with an attempt to force China to make concessions on the border issue.

Against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis, India now faces enormous pressure from the US. The US hopes India could stand by its side to condemn and sanction Russia, but India maintains close cooperation with Moscow and does not want to take sides between the US and Russia. Under such circumstances, the only tactic that India can think of is to play the "China card" as a leverage against the US. Moreover, by bolstering the concept of the Asian Century and emphasizing the rise of Asia, India is trying to garner support from China, as India will host the G20 summit and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit next year.

The prerequisite of the realization of an Asian Century will be China and India coming together. To achieve so is a big challenge. First, India only views its China relations as a stepping stone to achieve its major power strategy. If India truly wants a benign peripheral environment, it should carefully manage its relations with China, instead of treating this relationship as something that can be sacrificed. India's one-sided strategic evaluation of the China-India relationship is a prominent obstacle to the long-term improvement of bilateral ties.  

Second, India's rigid stance on the border issue is also a major challenge. After China and India jointly stated that they've begun the process of disengagement in the area of Jianan Daban in early September, China's Foreign Ministry said that the disengagement is a positive development that is conducive to peace and tranquility along the border. Nonetheless, India still adopts a rigid stance toward the border issue. It can be said that the root cause preventing China-India relations from recovering is India's rigid attitude on this issue. The border dispute has existed for many years and cannot be solved overnight. Therefore, the Indian side needs to be more pragmatic and flexible in its border policy, to negotiate with the Chinese side for solutions peacefully, instead of unilaterally exerting pressure on China, or even making military provocations. If the Indian side can adjust its rigid attitude on the border issue, give up its unrealistic demands, and meet China halfway, then China-India relations can be eased and reset. 

Third, the US factor has also brought challenges to the China-India relationship. The US has been seeking courtship with India, which has affected India's strategic autonomy to some extent and even deformed India's foreign policy. It can be said that the US factor has been a major thorn in the China-India relationship.

Fourth, India itself has deliberately created many obstacles to China-India cooperation in recent years, including imposing restrictions on economic, trade and investment cooperation and discriminating against Chinese-funded companies, which violates the laws of the market economy and the principles of the WTO. 

The above-mentioned are the various obstacles that lie in the way of the improvement of China-India relations. If the Asian Century is to be truly realized, then these obstacles still need to be overcome.

The author is director and associate research fellow at Department for Asia-Pacific Studies, China Institute of International Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn