21/12/2015 8:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

What China And India Stand To Gain From Resolving Border Dispute For Good

Diplomatic handshake between leaders from China and India with flag-painted hands.
Kagenmi via Getty Images
Diplomatic handshake between leaders from China and India with flag-painted hands.

This article is about two great nations that have the potential to be twin engines of Asia analogous to what France and Germany currently are in Europe.

The 1962 Sino-Indian war originated due to differing perceptions on a border not defined by the respective nations and miscalculations by politicians on both sides. Subsequently, due to an expanding Sino-Pakistani relationship that began during the Cold War, India continued to mistrust China. China's recent attempts at intrusions near Ladakh and the issuance of stapled visas to residents of Arunachal Pradesh have caused increased friction in India.

However, in my opinion, India has more to gain by solving the vexatious border issue permanently on the basis of rational national interests rather than being tied to emotional sentiments of the past. This is not a reincarnation of naive notions of "Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai" but a pragmatic recognition of the reality of the advantages of having mutually beneficial relations with a currently strong and prosperous neighbor while remaining conscious of strategic considerations.

Trade in the form of buying power from China or joint hydropower projects will bolster the economic development of the Northeast.

View from the Northeast

1. As of 2015, infrastructure that China has built across the border far surpasses what the Congress governments over the decades built in Arunachal Pradesh or the northeast in general. One strong reason for the separatist movements in the seven sister states has been the lack of reasons for the people to trust mainstream India or the governments in Delhi. Prime Minister Modi has been so far quite proactive in reaching out to those states. Trade in the form of buying power from China or joint hydropower projects will bolster the economic development of the Northeast.

2. Chinese tourists are among the biggest spending tourists in the world. And the government is already trying to woo them. Obviously, any efforts to promote the Buddhist education and tourism circuit especially in Arunachal Pradesh will be aided if the border issue is permanently solved.

3. Drug smuggling from the Golden Triangle can be curbed by working with the Chinese from across the northeastern states.

The economic case for resolving the border issue

1. From the macro economic standpoint, India has joined the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to obtain larger access to dedicated funds. In July 2015, India also joined Shanghai Cooperation Organization for expanding her strategic and economic footprint in central Asia.

There are lessons that both countries can learn from one another in running such railway networks to serve huge populations. For example, Indian railways can gain by adopting Chinese track, stock and signaling technology and management structures and practices rather than outdated British-era ones.

2. It's not far-fetched to envision software from Indian companies running some Chinese-built ports, electronics manufacturing and construction companies. India's strength in the English language could also play a role in globalising relatively small Chinese companies.

3. Modi and Xi Jinping have signed a pledge for cooperation in space based on their proven accomplishments and respective strengths. Such strategic cooperation for scientific and commercial explorations cannot reach its full potential without mistrust on the border being resolved.

Pakistan's reaction

The border issue between India and China is solely a matter between the two nations. And if it involves de jure recognition of Aksai Chin as a part of China, it does not change anything de facto for Pakistan. So, it is unlikely that Pakistan will have too many objections.

Redeployment of army resources

The resources for raising mountain strike corps against China can be reallocated against Pakistan.

India can negotiate over helping China curb terrorism by giving up Aksai Chin in return for China's neutrality in any discussions with Pakistan over Kashmir...

Common problems

A largely little known fact in India is that China is struggling with terrorism, emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan, in her own provinces, such as Xinjiang. Perhaps realising this, particularly after the Paris attacks, India and China have agreed to share intelligence on terrorism. Like India tries in the Northeast and Jharkhand, China is making huge investments in building infrastructure to win over its population there. For this reason, China's national highway 219 linking Tibet and Xinjiang, continues to remain the primary reason for our neighbour's interest in Aksai Chin even in 2015.

For all the above reasons, India should strongly consider reaching a border deal with China. India can negotiate over helping China curb terrorism by giving up Aksai Chin in return for China's neutrality in any discussions with Pakistan over Kashmir and giving up claims over Arunachal Pradesh. China signed an agreement in 2005 that status quo should be maintained in populated areas but has since been adamant about Tawang. If India can convince China out of her insecurity over Tibet -- in that Tawang will only be a religious centre under Indian rule and not be involved in any political activities against China in Tibet -- then this could be resolved.

One way to explicitly acknowledge that would be if people going from Tawang to Tibet (and vice versa) for religious reasons did not need a visa, or at least not a stapled one. Another would be for India to formally negotiate non-interference in Tibet as a quid pro quo for China withdrawing any remaining support to the separatist movements in the northeastern states.

Managing strategic risks

History and prudence dictate that India goes about negotiations in a calibrated manner and manages possible strategic risks by:

1. Continued support for Dalai Lama and his successors for Tibetan cultural (not political) autonomy, even if not as a foreign policy priority.

2. Strengthen focus on cyber-security, especially defense when using Chinese equipment and penetrative offense against their firewalls. Collaborate and obtain training from Russians who are the best in this area to train Indian security professionals and build capacity and potency to thwart Chinese hackers whether they are state-sponsored or not.

3. Strengthen the Indian navy by acquiring more assets such as nuclear submarines, destroyers, deploy aircraft carriers and if required, collaborate with Indonesia and Malaysia to keep option the option of strangulating the Strait of Malacca to prevent oil ships from reaching China if such a scenario of brinkmanship were to arise, perhaps even as an additional negotiating tactic. Continue Malabar exercises.

4. Continue developing commercial relations with neighbours of China, such as Vietnam, who have sought to develop relations with India as a safety net. For example, ONGC did not exit Vietnamese offshore blocks.

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