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First the US, now China tries to woo India

China's Wen Jiabao arrives in India Saturday to talk trade, borders, and better ties.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 8, 2005


Like the prettiest girl at a fairy-tale ball or in a Bollywood movie, India suddenly has lots of suitors calling.

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A week after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to India, talking of India's growing strategic and economic importance on the global stage, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will make his first-ever visit to New Delhi with virtually the same message.

In talks starting Saturday, China and India aim to resolve 43-year-old boundary disputes and set the stage for a growing cooperation on trade and security issues.

Yet beneath the surface of this seeming popularity, there is a larger game at work. Neither the US nor China can afford to ignore a growing regional player like India, or to have it working directly against them. Beijing in particular has reason to be wary of Delhi, as the US courts India to be a counterweight to a rising China. But many Indian officials and scholars say the future of Indo-Chinese relations may be less competitive and aimed more at allowing each other to grow large enough to make the world multilateral once more.

"There is no question that the US follows a doctrine of unilateralism" and that is an area of joint concern for India and China, says Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea, former director of the Institute of Chinese Studies in New Delhi. "The bottom line is that we are the neighbors here. We share a border. I would like to see America take a wiser approach to these relations, and see the cooperation of India and China - which includes elements of competition - as a positive thing."

Nobody here expects India and China to return to the days of "Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai" ("India and China are brothers"), the Hindi slogan used during the 1962 visit of China's Vice Premier Zhou Enlai to Delhi. That visit was followed by a brief invasion by Chinese forces into Indian territory, an event that soured Indian and Chinese relations for nearly four decades. This visit aims both at resolving some past boundary disputes from that time, and restoring some lost trust.

"India and China tend to swing between the two extremes, between the undying friendship of Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai on one hand, and veering off to the other extreme of being a foe," says Nimmi Kurian, an associate research professor at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. "Mindful of the fact that we are both rising superpowers, with elements of competition and cooperation, we should forge ahead and not let the difficulties thwart areas where there can be cooperation."

It's a realpolitik policy that is more in step with Henry Kissinger's cold-war d├ętente than with Washington's current war-on-terror mantra of "you're either with us or against us." But it's a policy that is already showing some signs of progress.

After decades of advocating Tibetan independence, India now accepts Chinese control of Tibet, much to the chagrin of thousands of Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala. China, for its part, has recently accepted Indian control of the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim. What remains to be sorted out are China's occupation of Aksai Chin, a 16,500 square mile chunk of Kashmir, and India's control of Arunachal Pradesh, a 35,000 square mile province in India's northeast.

Premier Wen himself calls on both countries to "refuse to let questions left over from history disrupt and impede the development of bilateral relations."