The Rediff Special/Zhang Guihong
In 1962, two major powers went to war over territorial claims. Forty years later, the status of the disputed border remains unresolved. Much has happened both in and between the two countries over the past 40 years. China and India, two rising powers in the Asia-Pacific region, now find more and more in common and are willing to improve on their common ground though their differences in views are still considerable.
The history of Sino-Indian relations has experienced ups-and-downs since the establishment of the People's Republic of China and the independence of India. In the 1950s, China and India developed good relations. Both regarded the other side as good neighbours, calling each other brothers. The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, proposed by the prime ministers of the two countries in 1953, was a sign of such a good relationship.
Unfortunately, as soon as the Chinese central government had successfully assumed control over Tibet in 1959, India carried out an offensive "forward" policy that finally led to a border war in 1962. The climate of the Sino-Indian relationship then turned from warmth to coldness.
But the bilateral relationship began to recover after the exchange visits of their respective foreign ministers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The two sides agreed to resume communications and co-operation in the fields of culture and technology. In the late 1980s, both sides took active steps to improve and accelerate the bilateral relationship. China and India set up the Joint Working Group to negotiate the border issue as well as the possibility of Confidence-Building Measures, which finally led to the 'Agreement on the Establishment of Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the China-India Border Area' in 1996.
India's five nuclear tests in May 1998, however, suddenly had a negative impact both on the favourable evolution of the bilateral relationship and international non-proliferation regimes. Nevertheless, Sino-Indian relations have been improved to some extent since 1998 through dialogues and other communications at various levels.
China and India, the two largest developing countries in the world and rising powers in the Asia-Pacific region, share the following common interests: First, both stand to benefit from regional stability. China's foreign policy focuses on East Asia while India tends to concentrate most on South Asia. But as major powers in the region, they can both play important roles in maintaining regional stability --- a key condition for their continued internal economic development.
Second, there is much potential in mutual economic exchange. Following the economic reform in China in the early 1980s and in India in the early 1990s, the two neighbours have developed significant economic relations with other countries; the mutual trade and investment between the two, however, remains at a level unbecoming of two major economic powers.
Third, China and India have similar political philosophies. Both of them highly value independence and democracy in international affairs and are proponents of a multi-polar world order. Fourth, their common interests exist also in the realm of security. Both China and India are now facing the three forces of terrorism, separatism, and religions extremism, which have threatened and continue to threaten their national security. The two countries have much to do to reduce these threats through a certain form of collaboration.
Of course, there are some differences in their relationship, the largest of which revolve around border disputes, the non-proliferation issue, and China's relationship with Pakistan. China's basic attitude to the border issue is based on equality; friendly coordination, mutual understanding, and compromise; reasonableness, and interest in a comprehensive settlement.
In conformity with these principles, China may settle the border disputes on the basis of respecting the Line of Actual Control, along with minor changes according to mutual concessions (China assuming the east line and India the west line, for example). China further holds the opinion that India's deployment of nuclear weapons will not be in its own interests and will only serve to increase danger and deepen the crisis in South Asia.
Regarding the Sino-Pakistani relationship, in my opinion, India may have some misunderstandings. India should notice that China has tended to establish constructive relations with India and Pakistan at the same time. China hopes to develop a normal relationship with India while maintaining its traditional friendship with Pakistan.
That said, there are many common points for China and India: both possess ancient civilizations and huge populations and both are in periods of transition. China and India are the only countries that have more than one billion people, stand among the few economies enjoying more than 6 per cent growth annually, and have nuclear weapons.
Each concentrates its efforts on internal economic development, carries out an independent foreign policy, and strives toward a peaceful international environment. China and India both belong to what former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski described as the "five geo-strategic players", what Dr Henry Kissinger dubbed the "six big powers", and what Harvard professor Samuel Huntington considered "core states of the seven civilizations".
China is a big power in East Asia while India is a big one in South Asia. Each has advantages and influence in the respective regions. But they are not world powers that have global influence. In terms of institutions and comprehensive strength, they cannot even be ranked among the truly major powers of the world.
In recent years in China, both government officials and academics made a fundamental reassessment of South Asia and its importance in global geo-politics, and recognised India's rising stature and its role in regional affairs. The nature of the Sino-Indian relationship should be characterized as "good neighbours in geo-politics, good friends in economic co-operation, and good partners in international affairs".
Such a relationship, I think, must be based on common sense and an understanding of mutual interests. Through economic co-operation and strategic dialogue, China and India should and will be able to reach a "win-win" situation.
(The author is deputy director and associate professor at the Hangzhou-based Institute of International Politics of Zhejiang University, and a PhD candidate at the Centre for American Studies of Fudan University in Shanghai. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Henry L Stimson Centre in Washington, DC, conducting research on 'The Changing US-Indian Security Relationship and Its Implications for China'.)