The short answer to whether India and China will always be rivals is a very emphatic YES. But rivals need not be enemies and neighbours need not get fratricidal. If there are two large and rising powers in a region, rivalry is inevitable. France and Germany or Brazil and Argentina come readily to mind. France and Britain were bitter adversaries 150 years ago. The rise of Teutonic nationalism and of Nazism united the two countries against a common enemy. The ‘end of history’ with the triumph of the liberal democracy has largely blunted Franco-German rivalry by entwining them economically, while the advent of the European Union has made the borders seamless. The ratification of the Treaty of Tlatelolco of 1967 by Argentina in 1994, making all of Latin America and the Caribbean a nuclear-free zone, has more or less eliminated any vestigial military fears Argentina and Brazil may have had. On the other hand go to a Brazil-Argentina soccer match or to a France-England rugby game and you will wonder if things have changed at all. Rivalries, it seems, are forever!
The situation between India and China is not very different. Nationalism arrived in both countries at about the same time in the early 1900s with the advent of Sun Yat-Sen in China and Mahatma Gandhi in India. This was after centuries of foreign rule over the Han and Hindu ethnic majorities. After decades of turbulence both countries emerged as ‘free nations’ with entirely different systems in the waning 1940s. Mao Zedong and Jawaharlal Nehru were leaders with entirely different personalities and world views. Mao’s ruthless instincts were honed as the leader of the Communists in a bloody civil war. On the other side Nehru’s were finessed under the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi into that of a somewhat naïve and dreamy idealist. The isolation of the two countries that the British had so assiduously nurtured by supporting an independent Tibet was rudely shattered by its annexation by China in 1951. This and the handing over of Xinjiang by the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to the new People’s Republic of China (PRC) made the Hans and the Hindus neighbours for the first time in history.
To be fair to the Chinese they have at several times offered a package deal of settling by foregoing each others un-historic and unsubstantiated claims in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. India’s leadership has balked at this lest it be accused by the Opposition of the day of selling out.
Since 1954 the legacy of a disputed border has flared up into a bitter row. Both countries are guilty of misinterpreting history to further their claims. India’s claim of the bar
ren and windswept Aksai Chin plateau rests on an arbitrary extension of the border in 1939 to the present claim line first suggested by W.H. Johnson in 1865. Johnson was a discontented official of the Survey of India who made his fortune by vastly extending the Kashmir Maharaja’s domain on the map. The 1939 extension was done to create a buffer between Xinjiang, which had turned into a Soviet protectorate, and British India.
On the other side in China the obsequious courtiers of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty were not averse to some cartographic conquests of their own. Ge Jianxiong, a well-respected history professor at China’s prestigious Fudan University, has written that ‘the notions of Greater China were based entirely on one-sided views of Qing court records that were written for the courts self-aggrandizement.’ Ge has also written criticising those who feel that the more they exaggerate the territory the more ‘patriotic’ they are.
To be fair to the Chinese they have at several times offered a package deal of settling by foregoing each others un-historic and unsubstantiated claims in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. India’s leadership has balked at this lest it be accused by the Opposition of the day of selling out. Only in recent days a new wisdom seemed to be creeping into South Block, but the Chinese have suddenly turned recalcitrant. They now seem to suggest that the package deal is no longer on offer.
As if the border row wasn’t enough to heat up relations, other issues too have cropped up. The global economic crisis has exacerbated problems within China’s rapidly growing economy. With US markets rapidly shrinking China needs to find markets elsewhere to sustain its export-led growth model. The rapidly growing Sino-Indian trade but increasingly unbalanced in China’s favour mostly due to an undervalued Yuan is yet another festering issue. China derives much of its export prowess due to its undervalued Yuan and exploitative practices in the work place. The economic profligacy of the USA and China’s somewhat naïve hoarding of trillions of dollars as reserves makes it the USA’s co-equal in causing the global economic mayhem. There is no sign that China has derived lessons from this and will take a more positive attitude to reconstruct the global economic order.
China still does not seem to have grasped the essential reality of its trade relationship with the USA. Many American economists have taken to describing it as akin to that of a dope peddler and drug addict. China supplies cheap goods to the USA and then proceeds to invest its trade surplus in US securities, which in turn fuels more American consumption. This gives China the two-digit Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates it has got addicted to, and the Americans the high standards of living they have got addicted to. The way out of the current crisis is only when the USA starts to curb its appetite for overseas goods and overseas adventures like in Iraq and Afghanistan, and China gets used to more realistic and manageable growth rates.