Sanjib Kumar Sarma
Ever since civilizations have existed, there have been interactions between India and China. The history of India-China relations is as old as the history of both of the civilizations. There is an unparalleled example of such peaceful co-existence supplemented with materialism and spirituality throughout the history. But from last six decades or more both have witnessed an entirely different scenario in terms of their relationship. Those mutually beneficial and good earlier days of interaction are hardly talked about. In fact, the latest contentious period of relations has created gloomy shadows over those multifaceted and multi-textured old days and is now merely the topic of academic research and discussions. Nowadays, those ancient periods are referred to once in a blue moon. Thus, this is clearly a condition which deserves proper attention and needs to be set right.
The bilateral relations between India and China are much talked about in the contemporary world. This is because both these countries carry a considerable weight in international politics. Mutually beneficial bilateral relations help in maintaining peace, and security among nations. These bilateral relations are developed in different domains like cultural, political, economic etc. Sovereign states conduct their relations through the mutually-agreed framework. Better relations between the countries can help in realizing a stable and peaceful world order.
India and China are geographically located in Asia. Both the countries are witnessing economic boom from last two decades after opening up of their economies. They are also the most populous countries of the world and are connected by shared civilizational links. The nature of relations between these two Asian giants is closely linked with the peace in the region. Both the countries emerged to formally take shape in post-independence era. They went through many twists and turns in last seven decades. The relations had witnessed times when euphoric slogans of "Hindi-Chini bhai bhai" were raised, but subsequently these were hit by suspicion and hostility following the Tibet issue and boundary problems. This hostility pushed both these countries to a short-duration war in 1962.
In 1979, the then External Affairs Minister, AB Vajpayee, made a landmark visit to China, and political contacts were restored at highest level after almost two decades. Subsequently, the visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in December, 1988 was an important milestone in India-China relations. It marked the resumption of political dialogue after an interval of 28 years. Both sides agreed to develop and expand bilateral relations in the areas of mutual interest and at the same time continue to address the problematic issues in peaceful manner. Various agreements were signed and it was agreed to establish a Joint Working Group (JWG) to resolve the border issue. Also, Joint Economic Group (JEG) on economic and commercial issues was formed to foster better economic ties. Thus both the countries moved in the direction of improving the relations in many areas.
India is endowed with a rich and vast maritime boundary with a total coastline of 7,516 km. It shares maritime boundaries with many countries such as to the east it shares with Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar; to the west with Pakistan; to the south with Sri Lanka and also shares maritime boundary with Maldives. Maritime power is immediately linked with trade and economic growth. Jawaharlal Nehru was very futuristic in envisioning that economic growth.
Maritime power can be defined as a capability of a state to utilize its waters or seas in order to achieve its national interest. It helps in formulation and implementation of strong national and military strategies. The term Maritime Security has different meanings. While some perceive maritime security in a narrow sense as measures for force protection and defense against sabotage, others include actions to combat terrorism and illegal activities like piracy and trafficking; still others expand it to embrace the protection of territorial waters and sea lanes. Adopting an inclusive approach, maritime security is defined as comprising a collection of all the issues that pertain to the seas, and have a bearing on national security. These include seaborne trade and infrastructure for its pursuit, management of sea resources, environmental issues and employment of naval forces
India is a maritime state with a long coastline. Also there are many island territories off its eastern and western coast. India occupies a dominant position in the Indian Ocean. India lies between latitude 9 to 37 degrees north and longitude 68 to 76 degrees east. Indian land juts out far into the Indian Ocean and thus gives India a good frontage.
In the present scenario, both India and China can jointly formulate new guiding principles based on their experiences and taking into consideration the changing international politics as the present phase of Panchsheel provides them a sufficiently strong political foundation to build up their confidence in order to put the idea of Panchsheel into practice. Both can act as articulate advocates of Panchsheel principles in the present world by re-determining the patterns of their state behaviour and more importantly by settling down their territorial disputes which otherwise continue to fuel the rivalry and suspicion over each of them.
During recent years, India and China relations have seen an upward trend in many areas like trade, investments, people to people contacts, but at the same time some issues pop up time and again that act as a stumbling block to the normal course of relations and thus add to the trust deficit among these two countries. Of late, one can see many issues on which there is hardly any convergence between India and China, and thus holding the relationship back. The contemporary issues like NSG membership issue, Masood Azhar issue, Doklam crisis etc., have given a serious jolt to the bilateral relations between India and China.
Historically, the relations between these two countries started hundreds of years ago with export of Buddhism to China from India. This article specially looks into the history of India-China relations after India was created into sovereign nation-state. With the end of British Raj, India and China were left with undemarcated borders. The early period of the post-independence era reflected optimism in their bilateral relations. After 1990s, India started liberalizing the economy and subsequently trade between India and China increased remarkably. What persisted as the thorn in relations were the border issue and the related Tibet problem. Many skirmishes kept on happening on the Indo-China border and recently we have seen the Dokhlam stand-off at India-China-Bhutan tri-junction.
At present both India and China are developing fast and are subsequently increasing their own influence in other regions. Both countries are nowadays trying to increase their presence in the Indian Ocean Region and thus it will be interesting to see in which direction relations between these countries will go. India is still very far from China in different matters, but this state of affairs might change some day as India is progressing speedily. So it is important for both India and China to negotiate with each other and settle their issues.