Posted on January 3, 2013
From: SAIS Review
pp. 99-108 | doi: 10.1353/sais.2012.0030
Abstract: Half a century after China and India fought a bloody Himalayan war, the two demographic titans have gained considerable economic heft and are drawing increasing international attention. Their rise highlights the ongoing shifts in global politics and economy. This growth has been accompanied by rising bilateral tensions, with Tibet remaining at the core of their divide and India’s growing strategic ties with the U.S. increasingly rankling China. Even as old rifts persist, new issues have started to emerge in the relationship, including China’s resurrected claim to the sprawling northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, almost three times larger than Taiwan. Booming bilateral trade has failed to subdue their rivalry. Although in 1962 China set out, in the words of Premier Zhou Enlai, to “teach India a lesson,” the real lesson that can be drawn today is that the war failed to achieve any lasting political objectives and only embittered bilateral relations. China has frittered away the political gains it made by decisively defeating India on the battleground—the only war it has won under communist rule despite involvement in multiple military conflicts since 1950. In fact, as military tensions rise and border incidents increase, the China-India relationship risks coming full circle. World history attests that genuine efforts at political reconciliation and bridge building can achieve more than war. This essay argues that the future of the Asian economic renaissance and peace hinges on more harmonious relations between the important powers, especially China and India.
A fast-rising Asia has become pivotal in global geopolitical change. Asian policies and challenges now actively shape the international security and economic environments, while Asia’s rise serves as an instigator of global power shifts. Asia, paradoxically, bears the greatest impact of such power shifts. Consequently, the specter of a power imbalance looms large in Asia. At a time when it is politically in transition, Asia is also troubled by growing security challenges, apparent from the resurfacing of Cold War-era territorial and maritime disputes.
Against this background, the tense relationship between the world’s two most-populous countries holds significant implications for international security and Asian power dynamics. As China and India gain economic heft, they are drawing ever more international attention. However, their underlying strategic dissonance and rivalry over issues extending from land and water to geopolitical influence usually attract less notice.