India-China pact a boon for region
The thaw in relations between the two Asian giants should enhance their potential as forces for good
The warming in relations between India and China, the two emerging global powers from Asia, is being closely watched by other countries in the region and beyond. One is the world's largest democracy, the other is the world's biggest communist state. After decades of contention and rivalry, the two giants are now emphasising good neighbourliness and closer economic ties. They have set an ambitious bilateral trade target of US$40 billion to be attained by 2010.
When Asia's most powerful countries show the world that they are hungry more for business and cooperation than hegemonic aspirations, it can only be good news. The increase in trade volume between India and China will stimulate growth in the region and around the world. This is a good sign, as both countries will find that mutual benefits can be a strong incentive for peaceful co-existence and cooperation.
Although India was the first country to recognise communist China back in 1950, it was also the first to wage war with China over a border dispute in 1962. The lingering border problems remain unresolved today. But the Indian and Chinese leaders have become wiser. They have agreed to work together in areas that will enable both countries to reap benefits without having to wait for eventual settlement of their boundary, which may take time.
Both countries realise that their roles in shaping global politics are much greater than at any time in their respective histories. Much of the international community has high expectations of these two countries, which are also founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement. They want to see India and China serve as a counterbalance to US influence in the Asian region. Of course, China has long been trying to manage its ties with the US with both passive and pro-active strategies in its foreign policy.
It is interesting to note that the India-China engagement has a lot to do with the presence of the US in Asia and Washington's attitude towards these two Asian giants. The US has, at this time, engaged China and India quite effectively in a symmetrical way. The US has made clear that it wants to promote India's status as an emerging global power. Washington's intention is to build up a coalition among democracies which stretches from Australia in the south to Japan in the north.
Since the US agreed to share nuclear technology for civilian use with India last year, China has become restless in trying to improve ties with New Delhi. During the official visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to India this week, both sides agreed immediately to cooperation in nuclear technology for civilian use.
China even has to rethink the nature of its relations with Pakistan. For decades, China has sided with Pakistan, India's nuclear-armed rival on the subcontinent. Indeed, Pakistan's nuclear capability was achieved as a result of China's assistance.
As Hu has said repeatedly, the rise of India and China will bring economic prosperity and wellbeing to their own peoples and the rest of the world. There is room for both countries to assert themselves in the world economy as well as on the global political stage.
The two countries pledged to maintain international peace and security. China is a member of the UN Security Council while India is not. Although New Delhi's recent attempt to bid for a seat on the Council fell through, India is already considered a world power by any standard. It is hoped that this new-found friendship will last, even though there is still mutual distrust.
As far as the Southeast Asian region is concerned, Indian-Chinese friendship will serve as a pillar of stability. Fortunately, members of Asean do not have to choose sides when it comes to India and China.
Both India and China are also founding members of the East Asian Summit, designed to promote cooperation among East Asian countries including Australia. As signatories to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, India and China voluntarily abide by the code of conduct worked out by Asean. As such, the group is confident the two giants will live up to their potential as positive forces in the region.