A Stubborn Relationship

India and China

India–China relations have always been shaped by contradictory factors, with forces of cooperation limited by competing geopolitical ideas and interests. This complex model of interactions has served both sides reasonably well, and attempts to elevate one mode of interaction as the dominant one have invariably failed. The recent Doklam crisis showed that, despite efforts from both sides to transform the relationship to one of outright rivalry and conflict, the basic framework proved resilient enough to pull back both countries from the brink.

The history of India–China relations has witnessed it all. Nearly every facet of strategic interaction: from learning to coexist after a prolonged period of colonial debilitation, groping for a new framework in a common neighbourhood, colliding at their common frontiers, engaging in ideological competition, and cooperating to reform the fraying United States (US)-led order. This relationship has always been too complex to classify under a single theme. Competition–cooperation–conflict is an often evoked typology underscoring the contradictory nature of the relationship. Deng Xiaoping and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had arrived at a framework for the relationship much before any fashionable typologies came into vogue.

A three-point formula was established during Vajpayee’s 1979 China visit after it was proposed by Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua. Both sides agreed to pursue a resolution of the boundary dispute to maintain peace and tranquility during that process, and that there should be no impediment to the development of bilateral relations in various fields. This basic framework was formally enshrined in the 1988 Deng Xiaoping–Rajiv Gandhi summit and, in retrospect, its efficacy stands affirmed even if it did not prescribe the blueprint towards a final rapprochement. The levels of economic and institutional interdependence that we witness today, despite a lagging and persistent territorial dispute, is the consequence of that modest modus vivendi in the closing years of the Cold War.

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Updated On : 5th Oct, 2017

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