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Chindia: Not going so well?

Updated On: Nov 17, 2006

At the peak of Sino-Indian ties, a new term came into being: Chindia. It symbolized collaboration/closeness and not rivalry between the two emerging giants in Asia.

But is Chindia possible? Both countries are busy competing for influence in Southeast Asia, for oil and energy supplies globally and are courted by US as balancers against each other’s rising power. These priorities seem to clash with the idea of a full Sino-Indian reconciliation and genuine strategic partnership between the two. This is the very reason why nobody was unduly surprised when a land spat between the two became the focus of media attention ahead of Chinese President Hu’s trip to India on 20 November 2006.

Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi Sun Yuxi said in an interview on 13 November 2006 Monday that the north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh was Chinese territory. But India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukerjee had other ideas. 'In our position, the whole of what you call the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory and Tawang (district) is only one place in it and we are claiming all of that - that's our position,' he told the CNN-IBN news channel.

China realizes that India’s rise is also beneficial to her. As Chinese ambassador to India Sun Yuxi once said: 'Only when China and India develop well can one claim that the century of Asia has come. If China and India strengthen cooperation, Asian unity, stability and prosperity will be very hopeful; the world will be in peace and make more progress.' Symbolic of this, China and India restarted cross-boundary trade at the Himalayan Nathu La Pass in July, 44 years after the Sino-India border war.

In April 2005, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited New Delhi and took Sino-India ties to new heights. Economics-wise, China is India's second-largest trading partner, growing from US$260 million in 1991 to US$18.7 billion in 2005, and is expected to surpass US$20 billion in 2006. Because of such outreach, Chindia is running strong. China and India collaborated in Syria and Sudan and won a joint bid to buy PetroCanada's 37 per cent stake in Syrian oilfields for US$573 million (S$862 million). China Petrochemical Corp and India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp also created a joint-venture company and invested US$850 million for a 50 per cent stake in Omimex de Colombia.

Yet, despite the growing bilateral ties, historical and geopolitical issues will continue to plague the relationship. The latest spat over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh between China and India in a case in point. How would it affect Chindia?

Some background facts are needed. India in fact lost Aksai Chin when they were caught unaware after the Chinese had constructed National Highway 291 linkingTibet with Xinjiang through this salt terrain. As for Arunachal Pradesh, it is a leftover from British imperialism, at an age when the Great British empire redrew the world’s boundaries arbitrarily. In this case, British administrator Sir Henry MacMahon drew out the boundaries of this territory within the purview of British-occupiedIndia. Fortunately for China, the enlightened Chinese Republican representatives at the 1913-14 Simla conference refused to sign the document legitimizing the MacMahon Line which was instead signed by the Tibetans who had no sovereign power at that time. In 1962, Premier Zhou Enlai reiterated that the McMahon Lin was a “legacy of British imperialist aggression”.

Perhaps, in view of strong Sino-Indian economic relations, a swap has been proposed with proponents on both sides pushing it - India retaining the state of Arunachal Pradesh while China would continue to keep Kashmir's Aksai Chin area that has already been under effective Chinese control for about five decades. In fact, many say that, unlike Western powers, the Chinese are adept at playing Asian political games, especially in working around what is known as the face factor. Some analysts hint that Chinese mention of its claim to Arunachal Pradesh, especially to the gullible Western media, may very well be an indirect reference to how much China is willing to give up in exchange for Aksai Chin (where China’s real asset Highway 291 rests).

Sources:

Sino-India land swop can aid ties (Straits Times, 16 November 2006)

China-India relations: Rivals and friends (Straits Times, 15 November 2006)

India, China in spat over border dispute ahead of Hu visit (Straits Times, 14 November 2006)

Beijing and Dehli ‘unlikely to build close strategic ties’ (Straits Times, 15 November 2006)