China and India live side by side and have a long history of interactions. The story of the famous Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang who lived during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), who travelled from China to India to study Buddhism, has been told from generation to generation.
Both China and India are geographically linked with the Himalaya mountains, but are apart in their hearts because they lack deep understandings of one another.
After India won its independence in 1947 and the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, the two countries established diplomatic relations in early 1950. They put forward the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which has far-reaching influence and contributed to the building of a new type of international relations after World War II. Since the end of the Cold War in the late 20th century and the warming of relations in the early 21st century, economic and trade relations between Beijing and New Delhi have witnessed unprecedented levels of development. The two countries have signed agreements to stabilise the border and conducted border talks. Based on their common concerns and interests in the regional and international arena, the positions and policies of the two countries have become more coordinated.
Thus, bilateral relations have entered a new period with more platforms for cooperation such as cooperation mechanisms of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, G20 etc.
Although the two countries have signed agreements to stabilise their borders and conduct negotiations, no substantial results have been achieved so far. It will be more difficult to reach an effective agreement in the foreseeable future.
If disputes drag on for a long time, they will inevitably cause trouble, like the Doklam standoff in 2017 and the recent incident in the Galwan Valley region. At a time when both countries are growing in overall national strength, it will be harder to reach a border agreement.
The differences in the two countries’ strategies and interests seem to have become a gap blocking the development of bilateral relations. As a rising country, India’s strategic pursuit and established goal is to be a global power. It is eager to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, but because of the different positioning of its strategic interests, China is cautious in this regard. Beijing insists that the case should be addressed in a comprehensive UN reform plan – it should not be addressed as a stand-alone issue.
Another example is the US-launched Indo-Pacific Strategy with an aim to contain China. Clearly Beijing opposes this. Yet Washington has been drawing New Delhi into its Indo-Pacific efforts. When it comes to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, New Delhi, out of fears that Beijing will take this opportunity to enhance its influence in the Indian Ocean and strengthen its presence in Pakistan and other South Asian countries, strongly opposes the initiative. All those will cloud cooperation efforts between the two countries. Many contradictions between the two countries have also become stumbling blocks in bilateral ties.
A cooperative Beijing-Islamabad relationship and confrontational Islamabad-New Delhi ties have long become a puzzle that cannot be easily resolved anytime soon.
The author is a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and dean of the Institute of International Studies at Shandong University. GLOBAL TIMES