China-India relations and Pan-Asianism

MUHAMMET ALI GÜLER
Published 31.10.2019 01:33

China and India, the two rival Asian giants with exceptional populations and growing economies, as well as assertive regional and international policies, are looking for more stable relations to secure their future.

The total population of the two countries alone comes to around 3 billion, which creates tremendous opportunities in many areas, such as economy and trade, for Beijing and New Delhi. Their combined gross domestic product (GDP) accounts for around 20% of the global GDP, while bilateral trade volume hovers around $100 billion.

China has learned to cook its meat with its own fire while India is a U.S. ally; both are the major counterbalancers for the U.S. in Asia. However, both Beijing and New Delhi have their own goals in Asia and China is one step ahead of India as an emerging power.

China has carried out tremendous reforms that range from poverty alleviation to technological development. Over 800 million Chinese citizens have been lifted out of poverty in the last few decades, which is a remarkable achievement and China aims to eliminate all sorts of poverty by 2030. However, the pollution in Chinese cities as a result of rapid economic development has created serious problems for its people.

India has also seen success in reducing poverty with around 300 million people saved from poverty in a decade. However, India still struggles with many social problems. One such frequently discussed problem is the lack of access to toilets for millions of Indians which can lead to many health problems. And thus needs an urgent solution.

On Oct. 12, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a second informal meeting in Chennai, India. They discussed issues ranging from cooperation, political trust and border issues related to the Kashmir conflict.

The first informal meeting took place in China last April and the outcome was deemed positive, with the rapprochement between the two leaders.

China and India have different views and stance on several issues, including Kashmir, China's Belt and Road initiative, the Aksai Chin area and India's Arunachal Pradesh.

China claims that Arunachal Pradesh, currently under Indian administration, is part of South Tibet. Meanwhile, Aksai Chin is located in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region and is claimed by China while India claims it is part of Kashmir. These border disputes have caused wars, skirmishes and political tensions between the two nations since the independence and establishment of India in 1947 and the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Both countries have made headlines in international media for similar reasons: Policies that oppress their religious or ethnic minorities. The international media has criticized China for oppressing its Uighur Muslim community while India has ignored Indian Muslim voices regarding the country's political system.

Furthermore, the current Indian government is on the way to turn the country into a Hindu nation, which means all the other religious minorities are brushed aside. Then there is the revocation of Article 370, which took away the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. This found its place in international discussions and the Indian military iron-fist rule in Indian-administred Kashmir has shocked the world.

Can it be achieved?

China has already proved itself in many fields and has become a global measuring stick in many Asian nations. For instance, China is aiming for success with its Made in China goal by 2025. Besides, they want to be number one in investing billions of dollars in other Asian countries. As for India, it has its own agenda such as the New India goal by 2022 and policies that look toward the East.

Both countries pay great importance to their neighboring countries. Therefore, we may see the beginning of Pan-Asianism if these giants can overcome their differences or one major, dominant Asian power matching the U.S. arises.

However, given the current regional and international system, this seems impossible for now. Beijing and New Delhi have different political systems; China is a communist regime while India is the world's largest democracy.

It is unclear whether China and India have commonalities on the ideology of Pan-Asianism. But, if both countries introduce Pan-Asianist views on their agenda, it may be achieved through non-imperialistic approaches, mutuality, inclusiveness, cooperation and peaceful means toward other Asian nations. And, this may shake the Western nations when their superiority is challenged.

Challenges to the realization

As emerging powers, both China and India have used their clout negatively against some countries when they voiced displeasure on certain issues. For example, China uses its army of tourists to gain political advantages, which is quite normal for the world's second-largest economy.

At present, even India is in the same vein as China with this approach of using their clout negatively. For example, there are claims in the Asian media that India will reduce its purchase of palm oil from Malaysia in response to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's remarks on the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan.

Therefore, if these two developing nations act in such threatening and repelling ways that the world has normally seen from the West, other Asian nations may search for alternatives. The countries that are still in the "developing class" will always be at risk of concrete and decelerating countersteps from much stronger nations and blocs. So, the ideology of Pan-Asianism with these two nations could differ from its historic context.

Today, many countries are against Western unfairness, subversive policies and discourses. Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi reiterated during informal meetings that their relationship should be based on mutual dialogue and cooperation. This mutual dialogue and cooperation should also be applied to overcome other differences between the two countries.

Then there is the dominance of the U.S. in the region. In fact, the U.S. is still a major player in comparison to the other great powers, including Russia and China. In addition, India is becoming an increasingly important ally for Washington. Therefore, the U.S. will not be eager to see India moving away from its orbit.

Lastly, these two countries are locked in border issues that were initially created by the British. Neither China nor India are willing to make any concession over land, perceived to be part of each other's motherland and deemed holy in both cultures. And due to the growing nationalism in both countries, it seems overcoming mutual issues would take much longer.

* Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the University of Malaya, Malaysia

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