It is fashionable in China today to speak of a “new type” of great power relations, indeed of international relations as a whole. In Chinese terminology, this approach is based on three key concepts: non-conflict and non-confrontation including proper handling of differences, mutual respect including for core interests and major concerns, and common development that seeks win-win solutions.
We could read these as reflecting the growing interdependence of a globalized world, the increasing dispersal of power, where one power or set of powers are no longer dominant, and the possibility of convergence on some issues coexisting with contradictions on others.
" It is natural that as neighbours, India and China will be confronted with situations that call for a larger political vision. On trans-border rivers, there are worries in India about the possible impact of Chinese development projects on downstream areas. Both common development and mutual respect warrant a more reassuring Chinese position"
Applying this approach to India-China relations offers some interesting insights.
Interdependence has put the premium on stability, predictability and risk management in India-China ties. On mutual respect, it is at the heart of India’s long-standing commitment to non-alignment and multi-polarity. A more democratic world order, reflected in international institutions and regimes, has been a long-standing quest.
India also believes that global multi-polarity requires one in Asia. It has its own core concerns that it expects to be respected by all.
In regard to common development, a prime example is China itself where our bilateral cooperation has developed steadily even as our boundary negotiations continue.
" For the first time, there was a commitment to also take a positive view of each country’s friendship with others.
These declarations are significant, because each one of them represents a positive evolution from the Indian perspective of the discourse between the two nations"
While the last few decades have witnessed the rise of China, they have also seen that of India, even if not to the same degree.
Assessing the current China-India equilibrium is, therefore, more complex than doing the same for China with more static powers, let alone declining ones.
India has its own interests, demands and expectations. It is also legitimately concerned that interdependence and connectivity should serve larger global concerns rather than a national agenda.
It was recognized during the visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India in May that the India-China relationship was based on coexistence and common development. Mutual sensitivity for each other’s concerns and aspirations was deemed very important.
It was also noted that there was enough space in the world for the development of both nations. Both sides agreed to respect each other’s path of development and not allow their territories to be used against the other.
For the first time, there was a commitment to also take a positive view of each country’s friendship with others.
These declarations are significant, because each one of them represents a positive evolution from the Indian perspective of the discourse between the two nations.
Today, constraints on conflict and confrontation are indisputable. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh noted in May that peace and tranquility on the border was the basis for continued growth and expansion of our ties. Thereafter, in July, the defence ministers of the two countries agreed that it was an important guarantor for the development of bilateral cooperation. This bears reiteration and we should never underestimate the importance of public perceptions.
It is natural that as neighbours, India and China will be confronted with situations that call for a larger political vision. On trans-border rivers, there are worries in India about the possible impact of Chinese development projects on downstream areas. Both common development and mutual respect warrant a more reassuring Chinese position.
India and China are busy constructing an economic partnership that works for both of them. Given that their economies are so different, it is inevitably a complicated and sometimes controversial exercise.
Addressing Indian concerns about market access in China can really help in creating a more durable basis for what is clearly in mutual advantage. On India’s part, the benefits of Chinese investment that could expand the manufacturing sector require objective consideration.
There are three levels at which India and China can practise this new thinking.
We could see more pragmatic cooperation based on complementary capabilities and mutual needs. We could see structural cooperation as well on a larger stage that reflects our shared interests as developing economies and sovereignty-conscious states. Nor can one rule out more strategic cooperation that takes into account historical trends including the re-emergence of Asia.
Each one of these levels, however, has its own contradictions and their effective handling will be crucial.
The author is Indian Ambassador to China. The article is an excerpt of his keynote speech delivered at the Observer Research Foundation-China Foreign Affairs University Conference on Monday.