MENDING FENCES: A Chinese army officer (left) works with an Indian soldier to secure a fence at the Nathula Pass at the border on July 5, 2006 (STR/CFP)
Mutual trust needed
Objectively speaking, India's enhancement of its defensive strength in the border region is understandable and undisputable. However, some Indian media and analysts and the Indian military frequently use the "China threat" as an excuse for India's military build-up. This shows that the mutual trust between China and India is insufficient. A recent survey shows that 9.5 percent of China reports in the Indian media are negative, 4.2 percent are positive, and the rest are neutral, among which the so-called Chinese army "invasion" of India is the most frequently reported topic. In comparison, negative reports are more likely to occupy the front pages. But in China, 16.2 percent of India reports in the Chinese media are positive and only 1 percent is negative.
The border dispute between the two countries is undoubtedly the major cause of the low mutual trust, while the development gap between the two countries also leads to anxiety on the Indian side.
In a recent China-India media exchange program held in Beijing co-hosted by the Global Times Foundation and the India-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chilamkuri Raja Mohan, renowned Indian columnist for the Indian Express and expert on strategic research at ORF, made a comprehensive conclusion about the bilateral mutual trust insufficiency from the perspective of the Indian side. He said that Indian media and people are always expressing five "sentiments" about China—India admires China's rapid rise; both countries have an important influence over Asia and the world; India is trying to learn from China's economic growth; Indian people are yearning for more opportunities in China; and India is scared of China's rise, especially its swelling military strength. In the last 25 years, the increasing exchanges between India and China, as the first four sentiments indicate, have brought back to life a lot of unresolved issues, such as border issues, which led to the fifth sentiment.
It is not so worrying that there are differences, competition and even conflict between the two countries. The key problem is how the two sides try to enhance mutual understanding and create a cooperative atmosphere with trust. The proper settlement of the "tent confrontation" incident of the two armies reflects that the militaries and foreign affairs departments of the two countries are able to have close and timely communication with each other through the established working channels to deal with the problems. It also shows the two countries have the wisdom and capacity to continually develop the bilateral cooperative and friendly relationship while managing existing divergences.
Nevertheless, we should not deny that the military exchange between China and India is far from that of India with other countries, including the United States. The bilateral military relationship should be further expanded. Fortunately, the bilateral high-level military exchange which was suspended in August 2010 has been resumed in 2011 and will continue again this year. It is a positive signal. But the development of India's national defense should not be based on hyping the China threat, which could only fan the flames of nationalism and destroy an already fragile political mutual trust.
China and India are neighbors as well as the world's two largest developing countries. The successive rise of the two countries has become the most significant event in the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean region. The two have become the major driving forces for the future development of the world economy. Their development also promoted the gradual integration of the Asia-Pacific region. But the insufficient mutual political trust caused by the half-century long border dispute is still the major obstacle of bilateral relations. Under the context of the U.S. rebalancing strategy, the development environment of China and India is also changing. It adds complexity to the variation of the future regional pattern of the Pacific-Indian Ocean region together with the border dispute-affected China-Indian relationship. As long as both China and India follow the three-step roadmap for settling the border dispute and give full consideration to historical factors, a final settlement on the China-India border dispute is no doubt possible.
The author is a research fellow with the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
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