New Delhi: It made strategic sense for India and China to sort out their differences which can otherwise be used by other countries to their advantage, said former foreign secretary S Jaishankar.
Ties between the two Asian giants can go either way but the summit of leaders of India and China held earlier this year in Wuhan was an attempt by the two countries to move their relationship among a positive trajectory, Jaishankar said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi on Saturday.
If India had problems with China, New Delhi needed to recognise this and deal with Beijing in a firm manner, he said at a session on “India-China relations: Emerging Trends” where Jaishankar shared the dias with Wang Huiyao, founder and president of the Beijing-based think tank, Centre for China and Globalization (CCG), and Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor at the department of Government and International Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University.
“If India-China relations are particularly frictional, I think everyone else will take advantage of it, including countries that are friends of India or friends of China,” said Jaishankar, who was also formerly India’s ambassador to China. Jaishankar is currently, president, Global Corporate Affairs, at Tata Sons.
“So I do see a great strategic sense in improving the relationship, because, today in a much more multi-polar world where everybody is playing everybody, it is not in India’s interest that our relationship with one big pole of the world is particularly bad. That was the argument, which, in many ways impelled the Wuhan meeting,” Jaishankar said.
India and China share an uneasy relationship, especially since their 1962 border conflict which ended badly for India. Large sections of their mutual borders remain undemarcated despite many rounds of talks since 1962. Last year, the two countries were locked in a 73-day military standoff on the Doklam plateau in Bhutan – seen as an offshoot of their border dispute. The standoff was resolved on 28 August with both sides pulling back.
While Huiyao argued for a change in narrative with greater people to people interaction to reduce the trust deficit between the two countries, Jaishankar pointed out that many young Indians in the present scenario might not remember how badly the 1962 war played out for India but many would recall China’s backing for Pakistan, the China-Pakistan economic corridor or Beijing blocking India’s attempts to get Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistan-based terrorist, declared as such by the UN. India has been trying to get Azhar proscribed by the UN Security Council which will put limits of his travel and capacity to raise funds. Azhar was in prison in India since 1995 but was freed in exchange for the more than 100 passengers of a Air India flight that was hijacked while on its way from Kathmandu to New Delhi in December 1999.
According to Cabestan, one of the reasons for China to rescript ties with India after Wuhan was due to the unpredictability of the US and the policies followed by President Donald Trump. Chinese President Xi Jinping would like to “limit the number of fronts that China needs to fight. The big fight now is with the US,” he said referring to the trade wars between the two largest economies in the world. “So China is sort of inclined to mitigate its tensions with India, with Japan and other players. I think the Modi-Xi summit in Wuhan was part of it. Now how strategic or tactical this move is, I am inclined to think it is more tactical than strategic,” Cabestan said, adding that he was of the view that the competitive elements of the India-China relationship would resurface once again later.